Kool Kat of the Week: We’re Off To See The Wizard Mark A. Harmon: There’s No Place Like the Fabulous Fox This Week!

Posted on: Jun 23rd, 2016 By:
Mark A. Harmon

Mark A. Harmon plays Professor Marvel, aka the Wizard of Oz in the new musical adaptation this week at the Fox Theatre.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

There is little in American pop culture as universally, cross-generationally and continuously beloved as the 1939 film adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Everyone knows the characters, the songs, and why wicked witches don’t shower. The national tour of stage musical THE WIZARD OF OZ, running June 21-26 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, takes audiences arm-in-arm back down the Yellow Brick Road.

Oz had already appeared on the big screen by the time Judy Garland went over the rainbow, including silent versions in 1910 and 1925, and a 1933 cartoon, as well as several stage versions (including one by author L. Frank Baum himself in 1902). However, it’s the MGM classic that became the definitive version immediately upon its release 77 years ago this summer. It was nominated for Best Picture (but lost to GONE WITH THE WIND) and won Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.

The musical, which premiered in London in 2011, is based on the 1939 film, with all your favorite moments reimagined for the stage. That means Munchkins, flying monkeys, and dead witches! And what would Oz be without the vibrant Technicolor hues of the film—ruby slippers on yellow bricks to the Emerald City! Expect the same rainbow palate on stage. In addition to the classic songs, the production features new songs by musical theater legends Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The Wizard of Oz himself, Mark A. Harmon, took a few minutes last week to chat with ATLRetro.

ATLRetro: I’d wager you’ve been an enormous fan of the 1939 MGM masterpiece your entire life, but I guess you don’t necessarily have to be. Why did you want to be in this production?

Mark A. Harmon: Of course! I’ve been a huge fan! I remember as a child one of the major television networks would run it once a year I believe around Thanksgiving. It was always a major event that you waited for all year. I have to admit that when I was asked to audition I was a little hesitant at first. I thought “How can you possibly do a live version that could even come close to the beauty of the movie?” Then I saw some clips from the first national tour and was completely blown away! We’re seven months into the tour and I’m still amazed at the production quality of this show.

Professor Marvel brings his magical wagon to Kansas in THE WIZARD OF OZ stage adaptation.

Professor Marvel brings his magical wagon to Kansas in THE WIZARD OF OZ stage adaptation.

What new does this production bring to the story?

The main story remains faithful to the movie and all the original songs are performed. There are new songs added by the brilliant Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. One of them is “Wonders of the World” which is sung by yours truly as Professor Marvel. There have also been some changes to the dialogue. But rest assured, all your favorite lines are still there.

As an actor, is it difficult preparing for such a famous role?

It is a little daunting at first. There’s always the possibility of being compared to such a well known performance. But each actor brings a unique quality to their role. Even though the audience may have a familiar performance in their head, I believe they quickly start accepting you as that character.

In addition to the 1939 film, there have been countless adaptations, interpretations, sequels and prequels to Baum’s original book (1900). What is it about the story that has kept inspiring revisits to Oz for over a century?

I’m sure there are whole books devoted to answering that question. But for me personally, I think it’s one of the classic coming of age stories. What adolescent hasn’t felt misunderstood and wanted to run away?

Dorothy and her friends meet Oz the Great and Powerful in the Emerald City,

Dorothy and her friends meet Oz the Great and Powerful in the Emerald City,

What’s it like on the road? Do you get to spend any time exploring the cities you visit?

It depends entirely on the schedule. This is my third tour and I’m not going to lie, some can be downright grueling. I’ve done tours where we’ve played five or six cities in one week traveling by bus. I think it’s important for people to know that when you go see a touring show, especially one that is only playing one or two nights, that the actors may very well have spent anywhere up to eight hours on a bus that day. This one, however, has been without a doubt the most enjoyable mainly because of the fact that we’ve been playing each city for no less than a week. It’s been such a treat to be able to have the time to do some real exploring!

Thanks again for chatting with ATLRetro. Break a leg!  Anything else you want to mention?

You’re very welcome and thank you.  I’d just like to say that I’m so excited to be returning to the beautiful Fox Theatre and invite everyone, young and old, to come see this spectacular production of THE WIZARD OF OZ!

The Wizard of Oz runs June 21-26 at The Fox Theatre. Show times and ticket information are available  here. All photos are used with permission.

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RETRO REVIEW: Don’t Get Them Jolly! GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH Brings Hell-iday Cheer to Splatter Cinema at Its New Location Cinevision!

Posted on: Dec 7th, 2014 By:

splattergremSplatter Cinema presents GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990); Dir. Joe Dante; Starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates and Christopher Lee; Tuesday, Dec. 9 @ 8:00 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room; Tickets $10 (cash only); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema is back! After a brief spell hosting films at the Chambers of Horror Halloween haunt, Splatter has teamed up with ATLRetro Kool Kat Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film and the Cinevision Screening Room to bring us the brilliantly bloody and the sublimely sickening. And while this month’s feature probably isn’t the first flick to spring to mind when you think “splatter,” its wildly imaginative and horrific effects work, combined with its completely uninhibited attitude, all add up to a perfect way to kick off a new era of Splatterdom this holiday season. Because after a seven-year search for a 35mm print, they have returned to bring you…GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH.

There are people who sincerely believe that a sequel is automatically inferior to its predecessor. They’ll tell you, for instance, that STAR WARS is a de facto better movie than THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK because it laid the necessary groundwork for the latter film’s existence. These people are what I like to call “wrong.”

Case in point: GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH. Now, don’t misjudge my feelings: I unabashedly love the original GREMLINS. It’s one of my favorite Christmas movies and I’ve gone on about it at length here before. But I have a special place in my heart for its sequel. And that place is front row center. While GREMLINS paints a raucous picture of monster-fueled anarchy breaking out in idyllic Small Town, USA, GREMLINS 2 is pure madness in the Big Apple from start to finish.

As opposed to the more direct plotting of the first film, the storyline in GREMLINS 2 is more a series of hooks from which director Joe Dante can hang gags; and as such, it’s pretty all over the place. After the death of Gizmo’s owner Mr. Wing, the mogwai falls into the hands of the science division of Clamp Enterprises (headed by the always-welcome Christopher Lee). He is rescued by old friends and coincidental Clamp employees Billy Peltzer and his fiancée Kate Beringer (Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, reprising their roles from the first film). However, a series of accidents cause more mogwai to be created, and havoc erupts in the locked-down Clamp Center as the gremlins plan to escape into New York City. There are constant sub-plots about disgruntled cable-show hosts, Billy’s job prospects and his flirtatious boss, out-of-town visitors, etc. But as I said, they’re mainly there to provide launching pads for parodies and jokes.

gremlins-al lewisWhile the first movie evoked the feeling of Chuck Jones Looney Tunes shorts with its self-referential send-ups of Spielbergian cinematic suburbia, it still played within the confines of a Spielberg movie or a late-period Jones cartoon. It was dark and violent, but still warm in the way that producer Steven Spielberg’s family films and so many of Chuck Jones’ later cartoons frequently are. Jones’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, for instance, lets us relish the Grinch’s delicious villainy by softening the blow with redemption and acceptance. Lessons are learned, people get better, and he—he himself, the Grinch—carved the roast beast.

GREMLINS 2, on the other hand, channels pure bizarro Jones. I’m talking DUCK AMUCK. THE DOVER BOYS AT PIMENTO UNIVERSITY. DUCK DODGERS IN THE 24 ½TH CENTURY. It’s almost nothing but wall-to-wall psychosis and fourth-wall breaking. It knowingly and overtly parodies GREMLINS. (At one point Leonard Maltin shows up to pan the first film, and is attacked and devoured by mogwai.) It features Christopher Lee as…well, Christopher Lee playing a villain. Sure, the character is nominally Dr. Catheter, but the point of his presence is for Christopher Lee to be identifiably playing Christopher Lee playing a villain—much like how he shows up in THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN to play Christopher Lee playing Dracula. There are countless in-jokes hidden away in background details, like some Will Elder story in a 1950s issue of MAD. There are parodies of other films, like RAMBO, THE WIZARD OF OZ, KING KONG, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and many more. Daniel Clamp, the head of Clamp Enterprises with a burgeoning cable television empire, is a parody of both Donald Trump and Ted Turner. Even Al Lewis’ late-1980s stint for Turner as “Grandpa” hosting horror flicks on TBSSUPER SCARY SATURDAY is parodied. Hulk Hogan shows up for no good reason whatsoever. A plot turn that sees the mogwai become genetically mutated not only allows a Wile E. Coyote-esque “super genius” gremlin to exist, but also creates a hotsy-totsy female mogwai in order to bring us some “Bugs Bunny in drag” sequences. And to drive the point home completely, Bugs and Daffy Duck bookend the movie. If the first movie let the insanity of a Warner Brothers cartoon invade our mundane reality, this movie rejects your reality and substitutes its own.

All this to say that there is nothing in this movie I do not love wholeheartedly. Far from being sleek and streamlined, this movie is maximalism in action: gag piled on top of gag, with everyone involved in the movie completely game. Joe Dante is at his peak here, with impeccable timing and incredibly nuanced detail all in the service of pure wackiness. Christopher Lee gets to show off his rarely utilized comic chops. Tony RandallTony Randall, people!—is absolutely perfect as the super-intelligent Brain Gremlin. Dick Miller has a sizeable role, and that’s practically reason enough to see it right there. The screenplay by Charlie Haas (OVER THE EDGE, MATINEE) captures just the right balance of meta-humor and cleverly constructed plot dynamics so that we are never just bogged down in jokes; there’s a solid through-line that propels us along. Throw in the typically top-notch (and at times both monstrous and disgusting) effects work of Rick Baker and his crew, along with the gift of a bigger budget, and you’ve got a sequel that is every bit the equal of its predecessor, if not surpassing it.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Mallory Lewis Loves Her Life with Lamb Chop

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2014 By:

Mallory Lewis and Lamb Chop.

When ATLRetro heard that Shari Lewis’s daughter Mallory would be bringing the world’s most famous sock puppet Lamb Chop to the Center for Puppetry Arts for a new show LAMB CHOP 2.0 this Saturday April 26 at 3 p.m., we knew we had our Kool Kat of the Week.

Before the Muppets, Lamb Chop and Shari Lewis were household names. Then in the 1990s, a whole new generation was introduced the world’s most famous sock puppet with the PBS series LAMB CHOP’S PLAY ALONG. Mallory’s visit was prompted by a new Lamb Chop US Commemorative Postage Stamp, which will be launched at the Center on Friday. Her Saturday show, part of the Center’s National Day of Puppetry celebration, includes not just a Lamb Chop performance, carrying on her mother’s legacy, but also anecdotes, clips and an audience Q&A about life with her mom and the world’s most famous sock puppet!

Needless to say, ATLRetro had plenty of questions of our own, so we nabbed an exclusive interview with Mallory, whom we found out quickly was as cool and fun as her celebrity mom. If you think you have to be a kid to go see her, well, she’ll quickly set you straight. As she says below, her audiences typically are the adults, aka big kids, like us. Oh, and yes we sure did ask her about her mom’s STAR TREK connection and found out that there actually are two!

ATLRetro: What’s your earliest memory of Lamb Chop?

Mallory Lewis: I don’t know the first, but there was always Lamb Chop in my life. My mom put her in my crib when I was a baby, and I put her in my son’s crib when he was a baby.

When you were little, did you think Lamb Chop was real?

I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Of course, Lamb Chop’s real. Funny story about my son though. My son is a straight A student, always has been, top private school, really smart. He was about 10, and we were coming back from a gig and Lamb Chop was in the trunk of the car and my husband was driving. And Jamie said, “you know, Mom, I don’t think Lamb Chop was as funny today.” I said, “oh, OK.” Then all of a sudden his eyes got really big, and he goes, “do you think she could hear me in the way, way back? I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” I said, “no, I don’t think she could hear you, sweetie.” So Lamb Chop is very real to our family.

Were the ‘60s really the prime of Lamb Chop’s fame?

Not really. Mom went on TV in 1956 and went off TV in 1999. LAMB CHOP’S PLAY ALONG years were the second wave. That’s was the ’90s when she was on PBS every single day. That’s why my audiences tend to be adults because the 20somethings all grew up with Lamb Chop and the ever-present song that doesn’t end. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy performing for the troops so much because they remember Lamb Chop and it’s a very happy time in their life as opposed to the current time in their life where people are shooting at them.

But there was a period between the original show and the rebirth in the ‘90s when Lamb Chop was not on the air? What brought Lamb Chop back?

My mother’s indomitable will. During the years when she didn’t have a series, she performed at state fairs, she wrote 60 books, she conducted symphonies. She was simply not going to not come back.

Why do you think Lamb Chop bridges the generations? Lamb Chop in the ’50s and the ’60s and Lamb Chop in the ’90s and now?

What’s so interesting about Lamb Chop is she’s one of the great characters on television or in media. She is as real as character to people as Alan Alda’s [Hawkeye] was on M*A*S*H. And it is sort of the purity of her character—I don’t man purity in a religious way—but the honesty of who she is as a character that resonates with people. She says things that everybody wishes they could say.

When you were growing up, you met a lot of celebrities. Do you have a favorite memory of meeting someone famous?

I have two favorites. When I was five years old, I was terrified of THE WIZARD OF OZ. It was the scariest movie on the planet. I came into my house, and [Margaret Hamilton] the woman who played the Wicked Witch was sitting in the living room. I took one look at her and screamed and went running upstairs. My mother was like “Margaret, I am so sorry!” Margaret was like “that’s OK, it happens to me all the time.” The other was coming into the house when I was older, but not a lot older, and Tiny Tim was sitting in my living room playing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” on his ukulele.

You traveled a lot when your mother was on tour with Lamb Chop. What were some of the more exotic places you got to go?

Well, Mom used to every year trade her services at the Aloha Bowl. She would do the half-time show and trade it for a vacation in Hawaii, so that was fun. I do a lot more exotic travel with Lamb Chop now than I did as a child. I rode through Africa on horseback going from Masai village to Masai village performing with Lamb Chop. It was very interesting. They have no history of puppetry. They don’t know what ventriloquism is. So I pretty much made children cry in each village until they got to know me.

I take my son almost everywhere with me, and one of the reasons I started doing Lamb Chop is I wanted my son to understand who his Grandma was to people and what Lamb Chop meant to people. The only way to do that was to keep her alive. She’s been such a blessing. I was eight weeks pregnant when Mom died. My son is 15 now. But he knows who she is through all the performances.

Can you tell us a bit about the show on Saturday?

The show that I do now is a hybrid show. It’s half me and Lamb Chop performing and half me telling stories about Mom and showing videos. Little kids love the show, no question, but my audience is usually 80% adults. Five people in a family will drag one three-year-old to the show. The three-year-old has no idea who Lamb Chop is, and the five adults stand in line to meet her afterwards. My show stars me and Lamb Chop and Mom, and that’s really fun.

Mallory Lewis and Lamb Chop with Nicolosi, the artist behind the Shari Lewis US Commemorative Stamp.

There’s a Q&A at the end. Are you surprised by the questions people come up with?

No, people often will tell me that they had a very bad childhood and that my mother was the adult that they loved the most in their childhood. She was the one who made them feel that it all was going to be OK. So that’s really the nicest thing.

Do you have anything special planned for the Center for Puppetry Arts?

Well, yeah, I do, because the day before on April 25, Mom is getting a US Commemorative Postage Stamp. The artist who painted it is a gentleman named Nicolosi. Remember that show, INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO? This show at the Center has some elements of that where I am going to be interviewed, and then there’s the Q&A also at the end of the show. So it’s going to be unusual in that I don’t normally perform with any other live people on stage. I will be singing, there will be comedy, there will be video and there will be questions. , magic

How did you transition to performing with Lamb Chop? Was it a challenge or a natural experience?

Totally natural. When mom died, if I hadn’t picked up Lamb Chop, then Lamb Chop would have died, too. So that was not possible. I couldn’t let that happen. I was at an event where Mom was getting a posthumous award, and I tucked her in the podium first because I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. I put her on, and she just said “Thank you so much. Shari would be so proud.” Then there was this silence, and then there was a gasp. And then there was all this applause. I thought, I like this.

I never had to learn how to do Lamb Chop. I had to learn the material, and I had to learn stage presence. So I did a two-three minute show at the LA Zoo, then a five-minute show. Then I started performing at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. It just sort of grew that way. One of my favorite shows was the last time I was at the Center for Puppetry Arts four years ago. I performed in front of a huge crowd of thousands of people [at the Ferst Center]. It was so wonderful because [the audience] was all puppeteers. Anyway I was so scared because the group that is going to criticize you the most are your peers. And everyone was so kind. Vince [Anthony, founder of the Center] came up to me afterwards and said, “That was a triumph.” One of those memories in my life that makes me the happiest is when I think of that.

A scene from the STAR TREK episode, "The Lights of Zetar."

What do you think about the role of the Center for Puppetry Arts?

It is the classiest place in the country for puppets. The curating that they do of the Henson characters and all the characters is magnificent. The shows that they bring in are such high quality. It is such a treasure to have such a cross between a museum and a performing arts center and a boutique educational center. You can experience puppets any way that you want to there. You can look at them. You can watch them. And you can learn things about them. I think it’s a really valuable place, and it’s run very beautifully. I could have debuted this and had the stamp unveiling any place in the country and I chose the Center because I think it’s such a valuable place in our society.

I want to ask you one non-Lamb Chop question. You would have been very small, but what can you tell us about your mother’s experience co-writing a STAR TREK episode, The Lights of Zetar”?

Yes, I’ll tell you a STAR TREK story. My family are complete STAR TREK geeks and DOCTOR WHO. Total geeks. I want a DOCTOR WHO movie to come out so badly, and I would like to be a Companion. My mom wrote that STAR TREK episode with the intention of starring in it as Lieutenant Mira Romaine, and three weeks before the show shot, the producer’s or director’s girlfriend got the role. It was something my mother never got over. She was mad about that for her entire life.

My uncle Lan O’Kun created the character of Lwaxana Troi, Deanna Troi’s mother. What’s funny is my whole life people have said that character reminds them of me—the wacky mom—and all the women in my family. I didn’t know my uncle had created that character until two months ago. Now it makes sense as to why that character rings so true.

Click here to find more info or purchase tickets to LAMB CHOP 2.0.

 

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Retro Review: Fly Into the Past Aboard CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG at the historic Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Mar 29th, 2013 By:

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968); Dir. Ken Hughes; Starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howe, Gert Fröbe and Lionel Jeffries; Starts Friday, March 29 ; Plaza Atlanta; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett, Contributing Writer

The Plaza Theatre has a long, storied and—at times—notorious past. So leave it to them to revive one of the most frightening memories of my childhood by bringing CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG  back to the big screen.

As a tiny tot, my family would drive across town every weekend to have lunch at my grandparents’ house. And being a movie fiend at even that young age, I’d plop down to watch whatever was playing on the Sunday Afternoon TV Movie that week while everyone talked in the kitchen and prepped the meal. There was a certain rotation to the movies they’d schedule, and it seemed like every couple of months or so they’d show either the Beatles’ YELLOW SUBMARINE or—more likely—CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. And I’d sit enraptured by the movie every time, even though I knew what was coming and that it would scare the pants off me.

Sure, most of the movie is harmless enough stuff. It’s set in the salad days of the 1910s, before the specter of World War I darkened the horizon. There’s Dick Van Dyke being his typical charming self as the perpetually failing inventor Caractacus Potts, but he could play charming in his sleep. There’s Sally Ann Howe in the Julie Andrewsas-Mary Poppins-eque role of Truly Scrumptious (Andrews herself was offered the role, but turned it down; it then went to Howe, who had replaced Andrews on Broadway in MY FAIR LADY). There are memorable songs from Disney’s celebrated in-house composers Richard and Robert Sherman. There are a couple of precious kids, a kindly grandfather and, best of all, a magical car named Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (after the sounds it makes while running). Despite the film’s meandering tone and frequent tangential detours, once we start seeing the car in action, it becomes something thrillingly charming.

The story has its roots in the children’s book by—strange as it may seem—Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. He was sidelined from writing the Bond novels due to protracted lawsuits surrounding THUNDERBALL. Constantly stressed about the case, Fleming suffered two major heart attacks. During his recuperation, he set out to write a book based on a bedtime story he’d concocted for his son Caspar. Fleming, sadly, did not live to see the book published. A mere two months before its publication, on Caspar’s 12th birthday, Ian Fleming succumbed to a third and fatal heart attack.

Fleming is not the only Bond connection to the film, though. It was produced by Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, co-producer of the classic Bond films. It was directed by Ken Hughes, fresh off directing his segment of the Bond spoof CASINO ROYALE. The film co-stars Gert “Auric Goldfinger” Fröbe and Desmond “Q” Llewellyn. And, most importantly, it was adapted for the screen by the screenwriter of the previous year’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE: renowned children’s author and close friend of Fleming’s, Roald Dahl. And that’s where things get weird. And scary.

See, Dahl’s sensibilities were so black as to be nearly morbid. His CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, for example, has so many kids meeting their (non-fatal) ends that it’s practically THE HUNGER GAMES set in the candy manufacturing industry. So Dahl (along with director Hughes) took great liberty with the source material and created something nearly as traumatic as the boat ride in 1971’s WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY or the flying monkeys in 1939’s THE WIZARD OF OZ.

During the course of the movie’s ambling narrative, we learn that Baron Bomburst, the tyrannical leader of Vulgaria, wants to steal Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He sends two spies to kidnap Potts and force him to build a duplicate, but they kidnap Truly Scrumptious’ father and Grandpa Potts by mistake. Caractacus, Truly and the kids take off in Chitty to rescue the oldsters, and fly to the dreary country.

Why is the country so dreary, you might ask? Because there are no children on the streets of Vulgaria. And why not, you ask again? Because of…

The Child Catcher.

*shudder*

A character created entirely by Dahl for the film, Sir Robert Helpmann’s portrayal of the grotesque Child Catcher is one of the most frightening cinematic creations ever to be foisted upon unsuspecting movie-going children. The character is in the employ of the Baron and Baroness Bomburst, who hate children so much that the sight of them sends the couple into fits of fear and loathing. With his spindly legs, pasty face, black clothing, warped top hat and enormous nose (with which he can smell the very presence of the little rugrats: “This nose of mine has never failed me. And if there are children here, my friend, you will die.”), he tempts children out of hiding with promises of lollipops and treacle tarts and then takes them away in his carriage to be imprisoned.

And this is where I’d be sent into paroxysms of terror. Not even the presence of Benny Hill as a gentle toymaker could save me. No, this guy wormed his way into my consciousness and took root. He still freaks me out a little. And I’m not the only one. The character was voted in a 2005 BBC poll as “the scariest villain in books,” despite never appearing in the book. In 2009, a poll carried out by Penguin Books named him as the seventh scariest character of all time.

The Child Catcher even figures prominently as an avatar of childhood fright in the earlier, funnier work of Marilyn Manson. On the band’s debut album, PORTRAIT OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY, he is obliquely the subject of the song “Organ Grinder,” which features samples of the character calling out “Here we are children! Come and get your lollipops! Lollipops! Come along my little ones!” Manson’s second release, SMELLS LIKE CHILDREN, was even named in the character’s honor and featured Mr. Manson on the cover dressed in the Child Catcher’s garb.

So toss your cynicism aside and let the film take you back to a more innocent time. The journey may go all over the place, plot-wise, but it’s a scenic route. And the Plaza may not have a magical flying car, but taking a trip with CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG costs you only the price of a ticket. Come along, kiddie-winkies!

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

 

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‘Tis the Season To Be Bono: Yacht Rock Revue Kicks Off St. Patrick’s Day Early at Park Tavern and Muses on Stepping Into the Shoes of So Many Rock Icons

Posted on: Mar 1st, 2012 By:

Photo courtesy of Yacht Rock Revue.

Shamrock with Yacht Rock Revue kicks off Atlanta’s St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans early this year with the ultimate U2 tribute experience on Sat. March 3 at Park Tavern at Piedmont Park. The event, featuring one of Atlanta’s most popular classic rock cover bands, kicks off at 2 p.m. and live music starts at 4 p.m. with special guests Saturday Night Beaver presenting a glamorous stage show that celebrates the artists that brought sex appeal to popular music such as Rick James, Rod Stewart and George Michael. Then U2 tribute band Uno Dos Tres Catorce performs followed by two sets by Yacht Rock Revue. Drink and eat up with an ultimate Bloody Mary bar, green beer and plenty of hearty fare. ATLRetro caught up with two of the six members of Yacht Rock Revue, Nick Niespodziani and Peter Olson to find out more about the Gaelic goings on and what it’s like to step into the shoes of so many classic rock icons.

What do you have planned for March 3? Will it be an all-U2 show?

Our plan starts with Irish Car Bombs. Then Uno Dos Tres Catorce – starring Bueno and the Wedges. I play Bueno, everyone else is a version of the Wedge. Then it’s a long block of soft rock in our Yacht Rock Revue persona. Actually two long blocks. That’s a lot of music, especially after doing Led Zeppelin IV and Dark Side [of the Moon] last night at the 40 Watt and Sgt. Pepper’s tonight at Smith’s.

Yacht Rock Revue does so many specialty shows from Beatles tributes to Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon played in sync with WIZARD OF OZ at the Strand last fall. Fans of different bands can have high levels of scrutiny, so what do you do to prepare in general for gigs that focus on a specific band? And what will you be doing to prepare for stepping into the shoes of Bono and The Edge?

Each of the shows requires a totally different approach. It’s a lot like being an actor in the theater. Led Zeppelin is the guns-blazing action star. Yacht Rock is the like-able bad guy in an ’80s movie. How do you play Prince and MJ without coming off as a perverted prick who can’t dance as well as those guys? How do you pay tribute to the Beatles without coming off as a smarmy mop-top wanna-be? These are the questions that challenge us at our job.

U2 is the unironic one-dimensional sci-fi hero.  It’s not much of a stretch for me to play the self-righteous, self-aggrandizing social activist role of Bono…  since it’s basically who I am in real life, without the religion and millions. Their music definitely gets your adrenaline pumping. Vocally, it’s a real workout. So I’ve been increasing my throat push-up regimen in preparation.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Rock Revue.

Is there a particular U2 song you are especially looking forward to playing live?

We’ve never done “Pride” before, and we’re trying it this year.  It’s impossible to sing, so we’ll see how it goes. It seems especially appropriate to play it in the home city of MLK.

What’s your favorite tribute show you’ve done so far?

Purple Rain and Thriller was pretty epic last year – we had a 25-person choir in purple robes singing all of the backing vocals. We’re all big Prince fans, so taking on that album for the first time was a very fulfilling challenge. And then we played Thriller in Storm Trooper outfits.

What’s been your most challenging gig? 

The most challenging gigs are the ones where the music isn’t the reason people are there.  We’re spoiled, in that every time we play a show in public we get so much positive energy back from the audience.  When we get into some (not all) of these corporate event situations and we don’t get that vibe back from the crowd, it becomes a lot more difficult to do our job.

Is there a tribute show you’re really dying to do but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

Queen’s “Night at the Opera” versus Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814.”  Also, some of our guys have a project called “Dwight Snake” that re-envisions White Snake’s best tunes through the lens of Dwight Yoakam.  I can’t wait for that show.

How do stay fresh while working with classic cover material?

We always try to put some of our own stank on the tunes – it’s the only way to make it happen.  The key is not to treat the music with kid gloves, you’ve got to smack it around and roll with it in the dirt.  We treat these tunes irreverently, as if they’re our own songs.  That’s the attitude that makes the music and the show compelling.

What are your parameters in terms of what qualifies as a Yacht Rock Revue song?

Whatever we say goes.  And it can’t be written by Jimmy Buffett.

What’s the story behind how Yacht Rock Revue get started?

We were doing a variety show at the 10 High called the Surprise Party where we did a different show every week, including classic albums, comedy, our own original material, etc.  We thought a ’70s AM Gold Show would be hilarious.  It was spearheaded by our drummer Mark and our guitarist Mark.  I didn’t even know half of the songs.  And now it’s the joke that keeps on giving, as the saying doesn’t go.

St. Paddy’s Day is still coming, so do you have plans for any more U2-inspired shows?

Not this year – Park Tavern is the only one.  So catch it whilst thou can.

What else does Yacht Rock Revue have planned for this spring?

We’re recording a studio album, mixing a live album, planning more national-scale tours, launching another Summer Series at the Park Tavern, and cloning ourselves.

What question do you wish someone would ask you but nobody ever does? And what’s the answer?

Q:  Where’d you get your boots?  A:  I’ll never tell.

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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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Band on the Run: Burt & the Bandits Race Up to Marietta’s Earl Strand Theatre Sat. July 30 & Invade the Starlight Drive-In & Smith’s Olde Bar

Posted on: Jul 27th, 2011 By:

Burt and the Bandits, 8 p.m. Sat. July 30; $12 advance; $15 at the door; Earl Smith Strand Theatre, 117 North Park Square, Marietta.

When ATLRetro launched in January, we knew the first Kool Kat of the Month had to be Jon Waterhouse. In a city fortunate to have several strong contenders for its most Retro Renaissance Man (Or Woman), Waterhouse is an undisputed 20th Century Pop Culture King. And that’s not just because he hosts a radio show called THE POP CULTURE KING SHOW on AM 1690, though that show, along with a regular freelance gig with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, allows him to interview many 20th century icons.

No, what’s so cool about Jon is the quantity and diversity of Retro culture that he’s tapped into. He’s done promo work for Van Halen and fronted Van Heineken, a Van Halen tribute band. He hosts all of Blast-Off Burlesque’s shows, transforming seemingly effortlessly into a succession of creative characters from a sci-fi nerd to Rip Taylor. For four years and over 100 Silver Scream Spookshows at the Plaza Theatre, he played Retch, Professor Morte’s lovable sidekick. He’s collaborating on a book related to the 1939 classic movie THE WIZARD OF OZ.

And just when you wonder what he could possibly do next, Jon’s latest adventure is Burt and the Bandits, which pays homage to the 1977 Burt Reynolds hit SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. They’re playing the awesome art-deco Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta on Sat. July 30, and after getting the lowdown from Jon, we can’t think of a better reason to dust off the old Trans Am, get loaded up and truckin’, never mind them brakes, put that hammer down and give it hell all the way to OTP…

Burt & The Bandits. From left to right: Jon Waterhouse, Barb Hays, Benny Boynton, Tim Price and Doug Williams.

ATLRETRO: How did you get the idea of a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT tribute band?
JON WATERHOUSE: Well, as a child of the ’70s, I remember the days when Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star going. There really hasn’t been another film celebrity like him since. He kind of cornered the market with a perfect mix of machismo and silliness. I have a special spot in my heart for his films, especially his earlier exploitation flicks like WHITE LIGHTNING and its sequel GATOR. Of course the original SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT is at the top of the heap. Anyway, many of his films featured great, fun music. You’ve got the Jerry Reed tunes from SMOKEY, and even the Ray Stevens title track from CANNONBALL RUN.

So about six or seven years ago I had the idea of a band that would play songs from Burt Reynolds movies dressed as the SMOKEY characters. And the set would be supplemented with what I call “classic country comfort food” from the same era, back when country was at its coolest. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton. It would be a tongue-in-cheek, comedic presentation, while still showing respect for the music. Heck, they did it with HEE HAW. Even Jerry Reed, who was a Chet Atkins disciple and one of the greatest finger pickers of his day, laced his music with humor. So that was the basic idea.

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If You Talk Like That, People Will Call You Crazy: A Sneak Peek at This Week’s Silver Scream Spookshow & the Wacky Wonderful World of Being Jon Waterhouse

Posted on: Jan 27th, 2011 By:

Silver Scream Spookshow Presents FRANKENSTEIN (Universal, 1931); Dir. James Whale; Starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke; Plaza Theatre, Jan. 29., 2010, 1 p.m. kids matinee & 10 p.m. adult show

You know him as the “Retch,” lovable, laughable sidekick to Professor Morte at the Silver Scream Spookshow. Or if you don’t, you’ve missed out on one of the most creative collaborations in Atlanta—an ATLRetro five-star must-see.

Like the Frankenstein monster who will haunt the Plaza’s big screen this week, Shane Morton raised the old-time live and TV spookshow from the dead, putting Atlanta on the map as having one of the nation’s most active classic horror scenes (watch for a feature on Plaza twisted sister Splatter Cinema in the next few weeks). Before the movie, audiences are tricked and treated to a manic one-of-a-kind variety show featuring magic tricks, fun-filled frights and song & dance inspired also by the zany spirit of the PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW. But Shane couldn’t have done it without unearthing a terrifying, titillating and talented team of cast-members such as Nick Morgan (Mumbobo the witch doctor, the conspiring Dr. Wertham), Amy Dumas (Pandora the spooksmodel), Gayle Thrower Rej (Persephone, spooksmodel in training), Nick Hood (rock ‘n’ rollin’ Frankenstein “all the way from Horrorwood, Karloffornia!”), the gorgeous guys and ghouls of Blast-Off Burlesque, and Waterhouse.

ATLRetro caught up with Jon recently and asked him what it’s like to costar in one of the city’s coolest creations, as well as what the multi-talented, self-described “ADD personified” writer/actor/musician/DJ/rasslin’ manager is up to with regard to his numerous other projects.

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