Hello Dolly vs. Groundhog Day: the Classic Musical vs. the Classless One

Whenever I visit New York, two items are always at the top of my to-do list:  eat fantastic food and see exciting Broadway musicals.   The food rarely disappoints (Peter Lugar Steakhouse and Katz Delicatessen); it’s the musicals that sometimes can be a crapshoot. To hedge our bets, my wife and I try to see one classic and one new one each trip so that at least the tried and true show will not fail.


This summer we went to see Tony Award winner Bette Midler in “Hello Dolly” which has received rave reviews since the revival opened in April.   Premiering in 1964, Jerry Herman’s classic remains so even 53 years later.   Hummable tunes, colorful costumes, imaginative lighting and set design, and a chorus of singers and dancers.


The new musical we saw was “Groundhog Day” based on the 1993 Bill Murray comedy about a man who keeps waking up to the same day over and over again.  Since our teenaged sons had seen the film, we thought this would get them excited to see the musical version.


Even though the film was rated PG, we live in the age of “The Book of Mormon” so I researched “Groundhog Day” to make sure it would be appropriate for my kids.


After multiple sources verified it as family-friendly, I bought the tickets.


Anytime I am about to attend a live performance of a musical or an opera, I listen to a recording of it beforehand to get familiar with the story and the lyrics, and so I bought the “Groundhog Day” cast recording.


I knew I was in trouble when in the second number “erection” was used.   The language went down from there, literally and figuratively.  The producers turned a PG film into an R-rated live performance.  Finding a clean piece of entertainment these days is as hard as finding a piece of watermelon that actually has a taste.


In addition to the requisite four-letter words that a modern piece of entertainment can’t be without, here is a partial list of the sexual and scatological references that are put to music:   nipples, pubic hair, masturbation, foreskin, enemas, semen, defecating in one’s pants and swallowing vomit.


It was as if the composer was paid by the number of off-color word and bodily functions he could fit in a Broadway show.


Hardly any of the 17 songs were clean, or memorable for that matter.  I’m sorry, but hearing pretty voices sing ugly words does not sound good.  All the parts of the body in the key of C doesn’t change the fact that they are singing dirty words.  Also, it does not reflect well on the composer who goes in the gutter for rhymes instead of creating more imaginative word choices.


The filthy language also will date this musical quite quickly.


Clearly, what I consider family-friendly and others differs greatly.  Just this week Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote a piece on an 85-year-old grandmother who once she saw herself dancing on the huge video screen at Dodger Stadium, decided to pull up her shirt and flash her breasts (thankfully in a bra).  To me, that behavior should not be cheered, yet I recognize I may be in the minority.


Meanwhile, “Hello Dolly” without the obscenities remains timeless.  And that is why it is a classic. “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “It Only Takes a Moment,” and the title song stay in your mind long after leaving the theater.


I doubt that in 2037 there will be a revival of “Groundhog Day.”  Unlike the main character who continues to relive Feb. 2, no one should relive this musical.

Trump is no Boy Scout

Further proof that the words dignity and Trump will never form a complete sentence was his inappropriate remarks last Monday at the Boy Scouts’ National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.

Trump hijacked the scouts’ largest event occurring every four years and put the focus on his favorite subject—himself.

Addressing 35,000 scouts ages 12 through 17, Trump claimed there were 45,000:  “You set a record today.”  He still overestimates how many people come out to see him, and wanting others to believe wherever he appears, large crowds and long ovations break records.

Trump spoke for 38 minutes not caring that this venue was not the place for his stump speech.

Promising to “put aside all of the policy fights” because “who the hell wants to speak to politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts,” Trump proceeded to do just that.

Within minutes he veered away from the teleprompter remarks, always a cover-your-eyes moment, and resurrected his favorite audience-pleasing targets:  health care (“killing this horrible thing called Obamacare”), the media (“these dishonest people”), and election day (“was that a beautiful date”).

It didn’t help that some of America’s best kids behaved like a Jerry Springer audience chanting the jingoistic “USA, USA.”

He highlighted members of his cabinet, some present on stage, who were Boy Scouts, curiously overlooking Eagle Scout and Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was not there.

He joked about getting rid of Health and Human Resources secretary Tom Price if Obamacare isn’t repealed, using his old chestnut, “you’re fired.”

When meaning to say “American success,” out came “American sex,” quite a Freudian slip considering Trump’s mindset.

When he boasted that President Obama never came to a Jamboree, Trump turned to the cabinet members behind him where they guffawed about the comment, public servants joining in the mockery of a former president in front of an impressionable audience.

Actually, Obama did record a 94-second greeting in 2010 for the Boy Scouts’ centennial.  Understanding his audience, Obama eschewed politicking and instead celebrated scouts in history, including those who aided during World War Two.

Obama could have gained their favor by mentioning his scouting days, something Trump would have exploited to no end, but he didn’t.

Meanwhile, Trump rambled about real-estate builder William Levett who “bought a yacht and a very interesting life” intimating, what, that he was a ladies’ man?

If I couldn’t make sense of this story, imagine how a 13-year-old absorbed it.

The speech dragged on for so long that Energy Secretary Rick Perry can be seen in the background using his phone.

Referencing his election, Trump said “what we did is an unbelievable tribute to you.”  Wait a minute, most of the crowd hasn’t even reached voting age yet.

Then, out of nowhere he said “under the Trump administration you’ll be saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ again when you go shopping.”  It is July, right?

Trump told the scouts “you should take great pride in the example you set for every citizen of our country to follow . . . you inherit a noble American tradition . . . remember your duty, honor your history.”

If only Trump could have been in the audience hearing his own words pertaining to the presidency.  Trump needs to take great pride for inheriting a position only 44 other Americans were blessed to hold and honor their history as well.

Instead, he torches their legacy.

And he taints the spirit of the Boy Scouts’ oath “to help other people at all times” for back in 1989, the Trump Foundation donated $7 to the organization, according to the Washington Post.   This was when $7 was the membership fee and when Don Jr. was 11 years old.

Showing how even when it comes to helping others, Trump’s most important cause is himself.  And that is why Trump could never be a Boy Scout.


Making Pirates of the Caribbean Ride PC or Ruining Walt Disney’s Legacy

If you haven’t heard, Pirates of the Caribbean, the last ride Walt Disney himself personally supervised, is going to be changed for 2018.

The ride has previously been altered.  Pirates no longer chase women (it’s food they really crave), and Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow appears a few times to help take us out of the original ride’s storyline.

Now, it’s about to be butchered, further desecrating the legacy of Walt Disney.

The famous “take a wench for a bride” auction scene will be replaced with “surrender yer loot” where wealthy people stand in line to give up their possessions.  The famous redhead will transform into a pirate.

For those who feel that too much emotion is placed on preserving a ride, not a national monument by far, remember this.

Pirates of the Caribbean was “the final attraction which Walt saw basically to its completion . . . the pinnacle of his theme park career . . . perfect on every level,” according to what Disneyland expert David Koenig said in a documentary on the ride, often referred to as the “greatest theme park attraction ever made.”

That is why preserving it exactly as it was originally intended is so critical.   If Disneyland were a museum, this would be its Mona Lisa.

The auction scene in particular tickled Disney’s fancy.  In a 1965 episode of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” he narrates a scale model of the ride, referencing this scene:  “here their shipmates are auctioning off the town’s beauties.”

The auctioneer pirate, which was the most sophisticated audio-animatronic built by Disney Imagineers at that point, was the only fully-dressed and operating pirate that Walt saw in a mock-up at the WED warehouse in Glendale shortly before he died.

Disney was pushed through on a dolly as if it were one of the boats to see the progress of the ride.  As mentioned in David Oneal’s documentary, “this test run-through of the auction scene would be Walt Disney’s last time working on any Disney theme park attraction.”

It would be curious to find out if Disney has had endless guest complaints about this scene or if just a few company officials were bothered by it.

Let’s face it, there is more scandalous female objectification in a Carl’s, Jr. commercial.

If you are going to ruin the ride, you might as well go all the way and drain all of the offensive material; in other words, the best parts.

Too many drunk pirates are seen in the ride.  Replace all bottles with baguettes.

The pirate who tries to have a cat drink rum can instead offer some Meow Mix.

The jailed pirates trying to get a dog to give them the keys so they can escape say “grab his ears” and “hit him with a soup bone.”  Delete these lines before the SPCA claims animal cruelty.

Change the signage on all the rum barrels to read “root beer,” then sell Pirate Root Beer in the gift shops and restaurants.

Do away with the burning of the town.  Turn it into a 4th of July firework spectacular (another thing that can be used by the marketing department).

And the dunking of the town magistrate is an act of water torture.  Replace him with the executive who approved this idea.

Of all the amusement parks, Disneyland is the only one supervised by Walt Disney.  That is why it needs to be protected more than any other park.

What I don’t get is how come a made-up fantasy of pirates’ lives holding an auction of women in an amusement park ride (emphasis on “amuse”) is viewed so inappropriately, yet no one seems to complain of billboards advertising cartoon excrement in “The Emoji Movie,” an upcoming PG-13 movie geared towards children?

It’s a small (minded) world, after all.


Americans No Longer Know One Another

How many of you remember this TV jingle?


Hot Dogs…Armour Hot Dogs; What kind of kids eat Armour Hot Dogs?
Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks;
Tough kids, sissy kids; even kids with chicken pox;
Love hot dogs, Armour Hot Dogs; the dog kids love to bite


Written by Clay Warnick and entitled “The Dog Kids Love to Bite,” you would probably have to be at least 50 years old to recall this ditty.

Examining the lyrics, no way would this song pass muster (not mustard) in today’s times which includes fat shaming and gay shaming.   Shows you how different the era we live in.

Such a song captured a majority of Americans’ fancy, ingrained as part of their collective TV memory, something that would be challenging to do nowadays.

The water cooler effect, of people excited to share with their fellow co-workers about something that was on TV the previous night, united a group of unlike people.

“Did you see the game?  Did you hear what Carson said?  Who shot J.R.?” are echoes from the past, a past when the regular happenings in America were discussed among all people.

We may come from different heritages, but finding common ground made us Americans.

Such sharing is impossible today.   There is not much to bring us together.

People tailor-make their own lives, self-absorbed in watching what they want when they want to, selecting radio, TV, and internet fare that reflect only their views.  In effect, they are standing at the water cooler talking to themselves—no need to be part of the American experience.

In the 1960’s, there was the generation gap; today we have an identity gap.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans think that America’s identity is fading away based on a poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Sure, the Pledge of Allegiance is still recited at schools though students can’t be forced to say it or stand for it.  But civics curriculum, learning the duties of citizenship, is no longer required.

Nearly half of all Americans say grace before a meal a few times a week based on a recent survey by the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation, but the other half does not.

Multilingual ballots and product packaging enable immigrants to get by without knowing English.

And only one-third of citizens think that the USA is the best country in the world; that means two-thirds do not.

These are troubling numbers.

As the country has become more diverse, it has become more divided, proven with the past presidential election.   These fissures prevent us from forming common ground.

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently addressed the loss of identity related to race.

“We have to emphasize identities people have in common, [build] an empathetic relationship [so] people can learn one another’s racial experiences naturally.”

Brooks said that “rebinding the nation means finding shared identities.”

In other words, sharing experiences.

At least for the Fourth of July, we can all share a holiday weekend, eat hot dogs, and be reminded what happened 241 years ago that has brought us to this day.

That’s a beginning.


“The Godfather”: 45 Years Later

Just like a good book, a good movie deserves repeated examinations.   To commemorate the 45th anniversary of its release, “The Godfather” played in theaters last week and I went to see it again.

In 1972, I was too young to see the film when it premiered so it was a few years later when I saw it at a revival house.  However, I have strong memories of my older brother taking my father to see it because it was the last film my dad ever saw in a movie theater.  At the time, my parents rarely went to see new movies so it was exciting that my dad was seeing such an anticipated film based on Mario Puzo’s huge bestseller at the time.

Back then, multiplexes did not exist.   Each city had its own single-screen movie theaters:    Glendale had the Alex and the Glendale; Burbank had the California and the Magnolia.

And movies opened in select theaters, not in every city.  When a first-run film eventually screened in the San Fernando Valley, it was weeks, sometimes months later.  So, if one wanted to see “The Godfather,” a person would have to travel into Hollywood or Westwood and stand in line for hours if the film was popular.

Along with 1974’s “The Godfather II,” both films were nominated for 22 Academy Awards, winning nine including Best Picture for each; some critics even think the sequel superior to the first one.

All the still-living principal actors of director Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece—Al Pacino (age 77), James Caan (77), Robert Duvall (86), Diane Keaton (71), Talia Shire (71)—including Coppola (78) were on hand in New York recently, organized by Robert DeNiro (73) for his Tribeca Film Festival, who, even though he was not in the first film, portrays the younger Don Corleone (the Marlon Brando character) in the sequel.

Two things surprised me in seeing it again.  One, the film’s notoriety over its violence has much to do with the way Coppola handled those scenes.   Of its three-hour length, only minutes of it contain violent moments.  It is the way the scenes are edited that creates the impact on the audience.

The violence often erupts when you least expect it, and it is over quite quickly.  But the violent acts are depicted realistically, leaving the viewer with the impression that “The Godfather” is an ultra-violent film.

When Michael Corleone guns down the police captain and a mobster in an Italian restaurant, it is the acting of Pacino, the close-ups of his eyes, that holds the emotion in that scene, not the killings themselves.  The audience shares what is going on in his mind, that his next move is going to the bathroom to retrieve the hidden gun.

Also enlightening was that the film did not have one f-word or s-word.  It would be hard to make a film like this today without a plethora of obscenities.

Another integral aspect to “The Godfather” is the iconic music by Nino Rota whose Academy Award nomination for Best Score was ruled ineligible when it was revealed that the love theme music, while his, was actually composed for the 1958 Italian movie “Fortunella.”  He did win the Oscar for the sequel, sharing it with Coppola’s father Carmine.

Finally, this absorbing three-hour epic did not seem 180 minutes long, another reminder how riveting it is to watch a film on a big screen in a darkened theater.   Home viewing, be it on a 60” TV or a cell phone, drains the cinematic experience of its life.

Of course, just as with books, not all movies provide revelations upon repeated viewings.  A cast reunion of another 1972 offering, “The Thing With Two Heads,” has not yet been arranged.

Life Lessons: How to say “goodbye” to students

At the end of the school year, I often struggle finding an appropriate way to sum up all the work with the students.

Thanks to my son’s seventh grade English teacher at Muir Middle School in Burbank, Lynn Rothacher, the proverbial light bulb went off above my head.

At the end of the course, Ms. Rothacher passed out a handout entitled “life lessons from the literature we’ve read this year,” a brilliant idea that crystalizes all the important literary works students studied on a single page.

The lesson to “open your heart (and your pocketbook) to others” derives from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

This inspired me to create a similar document as a way to say “goodbye” to my tenth grade students.  In addition to listing the life lessons and the works, I added a quote from each piece of literature that supported the lesson.

First, I modeled an example. For Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, one lesson is to be tolerant of those different from you:  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Next, I had my students come up with their own lessons and quotes for the other works including Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address.”

After they shared and presented these, I had them write reflections.  What they had to say made the previous 179 days of school with its ups and downs all worthwhile.

“This is my favorite thing we’ve done the whole school year.  I feel like at school, the place we’re supposed to be preparing for the real world, we’re never really taught life lessons.”

“I love these quotes so much I plan on keeping them with me because I feel that they can be seen at any point in life and give hope, or inspire you to do certain things. Reading them really made me reflect on life.”

“With these lessons and morals in mind, we can make ourselves better people and influence others to become better also.”

“This creates more of a long-lasting positive impact than anything else we could have done.  This activity reminds us of all that can be taken from literature.”

“School is not great on covering how to apply our knowledge in the real world.  This class had a purpose.  Now I know the importance of literature and I am more aware of life.”

“This is something that will stick with us throughout the rest of our lives.  We probably won’t remember the technical aspects of literature as well as the life lessons they provide.”

“I have gained an immense understanding of human nature as a result of these pieces of literature and I know for a fact that I will never forget any of the life lessons.  I feel like I know how to be a better person and hope others do as well.”

“This shows us why we spent countless hours reading and understanding these books.  It puts all our work into perspective and makes it worthwhile.  In this class I’ve learned the most about myself and what kind of person I am.”

“Talking about this definitely has an emotional element to it.  You don’t realize in the midst of reading, annotating, analyzing, and taking tests on these works that they’ve actually been specially chosen to teach you things that aren’t required by the school.”

“I loved doing this.  It made me explode with happiness and excitement.  No one really notices the meaning of why we read the books we read and why our teachers assign these books.  This lesson really opened my eyes.”

Even after nearly 30 years in the classroom, I am still learning new ideas.   Thank you, Ms. Rothacher.



My son, the high school graduate

The end of high school for seniors is often bittersweet for their teachers who may have known the students for up to four years.

The end of high school for a parent of a senior, however, resonates deeper for it marks a significant rite of passage.

One senior graduating this year in particular means a great deal to me.  He is my son.

People who know Ben frequently comment that “he’s a good kid.”  Any parent would be proud of a child who generates that reaction from others.

Goodness is in short supply in today’s world.  It does not show up on a standardized test.

Ben is very polite, always responding to a meal at home with a “thank you for the tacos” without any prodding; it comes naturally to him.

I overhear him talk to grown-ups on the phone asking “How are you?” interested in having an adult-like conversation.

He makes his own breakfast of eggs and oatmeal each morning, and often assists me with dinner.

He engages in adult-like perceptions on politics and the world.  Our family TV time is watching Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN and “60 Minutes” on Sundays.

He knows cultural history, recognizing an Ella Fitzgerald vocal or an Alfred Hitchcock film.

He has a taste for long-established restaurants such as the Smoke House.

He doesn’t mind getting dressed up to go out for dinner, or picking up after the dog in the backyard.

He rarely wants anything.  His iPhone is not new, his car as old as he is.

He still sleeps in the same bed that he got back in elementary school, though lies diagonally accommodating his nearly six-foot frame.

His only luxury is a flat screen TV that his uses primarily for playing videogames on his PS4.

Something else Ben does:  when he is out, he always calls us (not texts) when he is coming home.   This is not something that we have demanded; it comes from Ben’s own sense of responsibility.

What is the recipe for a good kid?  Along with love and support from family and friends, Ben’s teachers deserve recognition: kindergarten teacher Ms. Solyom, third grade teacher Ms. Rostomyan, fifth grade teacher Ms. Essex, sixth grade social science teacher Ms. Lamb, sixth grade P.E. teacher Ms. Asmussen, seventh grade English teacher Mr. Martin, eighth grade English teacher Mr. Rothacher, biology teacher Mr. Margve, astronomy teacher Mr. Movsessian, AP Psych teacher Mr. Collazos, AP English Lit teacher Mr. McNiff, and AP U.S. History teacher Mr. Thomson.

My wife and I were amazed as his maturity blossomed earlier this year.  Within a matter of weeks, he made the decision to attend CSUN and got his first job.

It was a surreal feeling to have my photo taken with my son in front of CSUN”s Oviatt Library where I graduated 35 years ago.

Back then, the idea that one day I would have a son who would attend the same college as I did was not even a flicker of a thought in my mind.

When we moved into our house 18 years ago, Ben was three months old.  Today, in that same bedroom lives an 18-year-old.   Oh, the baby still lives in the man.  You can it in his eyes, his smile, and the way he speaks.  And you can see his younger brother looking up at him from an early age, absorbing Ben’s life as a textbook on how to grow up.

Ben, you have had a good life so far.  I hope you continue being good and doing good in the years to come.