Kool Kat of the Week: Blair Crimmins Promises Prohibition-Era Pandemonium at the Plaza Theatre Premiere of OLD MAN CABBAGE Sat. Feb. 4

Posted on: Feb 3rd, 2012 By:

Blair Crimmins and the Hookers. Photo credit: Scott McKibben.

With HUGO and THE ARTIST nominated for a bevy of Oscars this year, silent films seem to be getting a lot of love lately reimagined in creative ways for the 21st century. From what we’ve heard about OLD MAN CABBAGE, a short film co-produced by popular neo- ragtime band Blair Crimmins and the Hookers and Atlanta’s Ninja Puppet Productions, it sounds like a fantastic local addition to the oeuvre and a great reason to come out to the historic Plaza Theatre again this Sat. Feb. 4 at 10 p.m. But the night’s much more than just seeing a cool movie – Blair and the band will be playing the soundtrack live as the film unwinds on the big screen and then a complete concert afterwards in the alluring art-deco setting of the Plaza stage.

Based on a Blair Crimmins & the Hookers song and set in a farm forgotten by time, OLD MAN CABBAGE tells the tale of two dust bowl farm kids who find their lives flipped upside down when they are caught in an accident with an abusive father. Like so many classic children heroines, they run away to join the circus, only this particular one is distinctly supernatural. Without giving too much away, the cast features performers from the Imperial OPA Circus, well-known to the steampunk community. OLD MAN CABBAGE is directed by Raymond Carr, the founder of Ninja Puppet Productions, a collection of artists and professionals dedicted to the creation of innovative art and storytelling of all sorts.

As we pointed out in a previous short feature on Blair, you might think of ragtime as kind of quaint, but you wouldn’t be talking about his and the Hookers’ take on this 1920s form of jazz. Remember that they didn’t call the Twenties Roaring for nothing. In fact, you might even describe Crimmins’ high-energy style as “in your face” as rock ‘n’ roll. Except the groupies would be flapper girls, and the band is playing instruments your grandparents would approve of from banjo to accordion, saxophone to piano, trumpet to trombone—and may be accompanied by antics inspired by the best vaudeville comedy. Oh, did we mention that while the music swings, the lyrics to many of the songs are also delightfully decadent and dark.

ATLRetro has thought for a long time that it’s high time for Blair to be Kool Kat of the Week, but this week we had no excuse but to catch up with one of the Atlanta Retro scene’s most talented performers to get a sneak peek into what promises to be a sensationally surreal Saturday night at the Plaza. Tickets to the screening and concert are just $10 in advance and can be purchased here or $12 at the door.

What’s the story behind OLD MAN CABBAGE and your involvement with Ninja Puppet Productions?

“Old Man Cabbage” is a track off THE MUSICAL STYLINGS OF, which tells the story about a young man who moves into an old house and becomes possessed by the ghost of an old ragtime musician who lives there. It’s a biographical dramatization on how I became so enamored with early jazz. Raymond Carr took that ghost story and expanded it to give more backstory to the characters, and instead of the haunted house created a whole speakeasy of specters who reenact their gruesome demise every night. Quite a story. I won’t give the whole thing away.

So is it an extended music video or is it a movie? And what’s the running time?

Raymond calls it a short narrative film. I jokingly refer to it as my jazzy version of “Thriller.”  The film runs about 15 minutes long.

Is it performed with puppets or human characters since Imperial OPA is involved?

You won’t find any puppets or ninjas in the film, although we did use some sets built in miniature and green screens.  We brought in a lot of other local talent and used the video as an vehicle to showcase our Atlanta favorites. The circus group Imperial OPA, the cabaret troupe Davina and The Harlots, some aerial acrobats and a number of fantastic swing dancers all put their talents in the film, not to mention the people behind the scenes in makeup and costume who brought the prohibition style to the screen.

There seems to be a rebirth in fascination with circuses and carnivals, from the popularity of Cirque de Soleil to books like THE NIGHT CIRCUS, by Erin Morgenstern, which explore their darker, more mysterious side. There’s even that surreal, crazy Guinness commercial. Do you have any thoughts on the current appeal of circuses and where does OLD MAN CABBAGE fit in?

There certainly seems to be a renewed interest, and I’m glad to see troupes exploring all the different facets of the circus tradition. From the classic freak and sideshow acts to the more bohemian variety stuff, many young performers finding their place on the periphery of mainstream performance theater. I don’t know if that’s entirely new, but I can say I [have seen] a lot of very interesting [acts] just in the last few years.  I do think that Atlanta is grabbing a place in art and culture that can now compete with some other big cities.  There is a very youthful and unjaded excitement in the artistic community here.

How did you prepare for scoring OLD MAN CABBAGE?

I prepared for scoring the film by watching other silent movies. Of course, the classics METROPOLIS and CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, which are always fantastic, but I also watched THE GOLEM for the first time, which was one of the earliest monster movies ever made. It was filmed in 1920 about a rabbi who makes a giant man out of clay and brings him to life to protect the Jewish neighborhoods of Prague. I really dug that one and would recommend that to anyone with an interest in silent film.

Anything you’d like to share about the why behind the 1920s speakeasy setting and what the filmmakers did to ensure set, costumes and music were authentic?  

There wasn’t a lot of discussion on why the film should have a Prohibition era style.  That’s where my inspiration lies. That’s where home is for me. I know Raymond did a lot of research and studied old photos to ensure that film looked authentic.

And it’s silent, which seems even more apropos given the popularity and Oscar nominations for THE ARTIST and HUGO, two movies that pay tribute to the silent era. I’m supposing that was just lucky timing? 

Current trends always herd people to different areas to search for new life, to find something that they’ve been lacking, an oasis. I can see people who are finding that needed refreshment in the silent film era. Being beat over the head with the GLEE stick and AMERICAN IDOL will get anyone to pay for a ticket to silence.

Blair Crimmins. Photo credit: Katie Bricker.

What else do you have planned for Saturday night at the Plaza and do we need to dig out our bowties, golf caps, spats and flapper dresses?

Seeing a well-dressed crowd always brings a smile to my face. You won’t be the only one dressed up if you choose to do so. Davina and The Harlots will be dancing onstage and throughout the room in full flapper gear. The OPA will also be working the crowd in their usual fashion. The whole evening promises to be taste of pandemonium.

How did you personally discover and fall in love with ‘20s ragtime music and vaudeville?

It’s just music that endlessly amuses me. You know when you’re doing something you truly comfortable with as an artist because you never get tired of it. Once my writing steered in the right direction, the ship took off on its own.

Your gigs are always packed and your music and performances embrace the past but sell so well in the 21st century. Are you surprised to see how many people enjoy a musical style that’s nearly a century old in a time of fast-passing fads? Any thoughts on why Retro is so hip?

I don’t think it’s a fad or new thing. I feel as if people of every generation reach an age when they discover something cool from the past. Chances are, if you find something that you identify with, you’ll find a whole group of people that love it, too. As you watch new people discover it, there is a tendency to think “Wow, this is really catching on”; the reality is that it has never gone anywhere.  Its popularity is always fluctuating but never dies or becomes reborn. Some of the bad trends die and hopefully never wake up, i.e. polyester suits, but the really good stuff sticks around forever for generations to enjoy.

After Saturday’s screening, will OLD MAN CABBAGE be heading out on the film festival circuit or what are the plans for the film?

Yeah, Raymond is going to talk more about that at the film premiere.

And of course, what’s next for Blair Crimmins & the Hookers? 

We have a lot of great touring on the books for this year. There will definitely be new singles out this year and maybe a record. I’ve already been talking with some of my favorite local artists about the next music video, and I’ve got some other film opportunities in the pipe. Things are about to get real busy for The Hookers. I’m trying to do as much as I possibly can and never lose an opportunity to let the music take me somewhere new.

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Off to Be The Wizard with Mark Jacoby of WICKED, Broadway’s Upside-Down Journey Back to Oz

Posted on: Sep 14th, 2011 By:

Mark Jacoby as the Wizard in WICKED. Photo © Joan Marcus.

From the original L. Frank Baum novel to the 1939 musical movie version of THE WIZARD OF OZ, the tale of Dorothy Gale, her dog Toto and three misfits who deemed themselves incomplete without a physical brain, heart and courage could easily be called the quintessential American fantasy epic. Like Middle Earth is England in simpler, more magical times, Oz is an expression of Retro-Americana Midwestern know-how and whimsy. And that spunky little girl from Kansas, like her prairie counterpart Laura Ingalls Wilder, is an uniquely all-American heroine.

That is, until Gregory Maguire turned that heroine’s journey on its head, gave the Wicked Witch of the West a name, Elphaba, and had the chutzpah to suggest that things went down considerably differently and were rewritten by a government-run, propagandist media, as it were. (Shades of contemporary media politics? Well, the original Oz may have had some circa 1990 political satire between its pages, too.) The Broadway version of Maguire’s novel WICKED is more a twist on the familiar movie than the book, and whether or not you approve of tampering with a classic, the imaginative sets and costumes look even more magical on the Fabulous Fox Theatre stage, where it opens today and will be playing through Oct. 9 as part of the Broadway Across America series.

WICKED focuses on who’s the real good witch and who’s the real bad witch. But actor Mark Jacoby, a Georgia State University alumnus, got to tackle the conundrum of an all-American carnie man who landed in Oz accidentally and found himself, thanks to his seemingly magical balloon-borne arrival, declared Wizard and ruler of the capitol Emerald City. Jacoby is no stranger to playing sympathetic villains, having donned the mask of the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA for three years on Broadway. He’s also stepped into the shoes of many of American musical theater’s most iconic characters including SHOWBOAT’s Gaylord Ravenal (Tony Award nomination for Harold Prince revival), FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’s Tevye (Barrymore Award) and Father in the original Broadway run of RAGTIME. ATLRetro caught up with Mark recently to find out how he approached America’s most famous humbug in this villain-friendly version of Oz.

How is the character of the Wizard different in WICKED than in the 1939 movie WIZARD OF OZ and even the book? Do you think it is different? One of the intriguing things about this piece is how it’s been overlaid on the story we’re all so familiar with, mostly from the movie WIZARD OF OZ. They are the same people theoretically in context. You’re just looking at them from a different angle. I suppose an actor doesn’t have to take that literally. He can do what he wants. But I tend to think and the powers that be also do, that I should approach him as the same character we encountered in THE WIZARD OF OZ.  You just find out different things, and different things are emphasized. He’s flushed out a bit more. There’s more explanation as to how he got there, why he’s there, and what makes him tick.

The Wizard's dramatic counterfeit persona from the original Broadway company of WICKED. Photo © Joan Marcus.

I think the Wizard of Oz was someone who was in the right place at at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time, whichever way you look at it. He’s regarded by the people of Oz as somewhat supernatural. As he says, I never asked for this, I was just blown here by the wings of chance. One could take that literally or is he telling a story? I choose to think he is talking literally. He has wound up in this situation, but he wasn’t malevolent. He wasn’t planning to become a tyrant or anyone overbearing with the population, but now he’s stuck with it. I’m not saying he’s a perfect man. He got hooked with all the adulation and all the power and all he has to do to maintain it.

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Blair Crimmins Releases the Kraken at Fernbank’s Martinis & IMAX Tonight

Posted on: Mar 4th, 2011 By:

Forget Hollywood’s cheesy 3-D CLASH OF THE TITANS. In fact, ATLRetro hopes you already have. Instead you’ll have much more fun at this week’s Martinis & IMAX at Fernbank Museum of Natural History, redubbed “Night of the Kraken,” which promises to be fantastically out of time and marvelously in tune with the recently opened MYTHIC CREATURES: DRAGONS, UNICORNS AND MERMAIDS special exhibition. Attendees are encouraged to compete in a fantasy-inspired costume contest hosted by Professor Morte, “ghost host with the most” of the Silver Scream Spookshow. Bartenders will be serving up mythic-themed cocktails including a Krakentini, featuring Kraken rum. And playing in the shadow of the skeletons of the world’s most gigantic dinosaurs—primeval beasts whose bones perhaps inspired medieval belief in dragons—fittingly is one of Atlanta’s most imaginative bands, Blair Crimmins and the Hookers.

You might think of ragtime as kind of quaint, but you wouldn’t be talking about Crimmins’ take on this 1920s form of jazz. Remember that they didn’t call the Twenties Roaring for nothing. In fact, you might even describe Crimmins’ high-energy style as “in your face” as rock ‘n’ roll. Except the groupies would be flapper girls, and the band is playing instruments your grandparents would approve of from banjo to accordion, saxophone to piano, trumpet to trombone—and may be accompanied by antics inspired by the best vaudeville comedy. What does this have to do with mythic monsters? Well, let’s just say in the midst of the madcap mania, some of the lyrics are also decadently dark.

ATLRetro caught up with the mastermind behind this one-of-a-kind act for a last-minute preview of this not-to-be-missed hootenanny themed around a giant monster of the deep.

1. What drew you personally to the ragtime, 1920s sound?

Early Ragtime jazz and Dixieland represents a time when jazz was brand new and exciting. People [were] taking classical instruments and making these wild sounds with them. It’s like the first time someone turned up the overdrive on their guitar amp. It made people turn their heads and say “What the hell is that sound?!”

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