Sunday, September 25, 2011

Banned Books Week 2011

Banned Books Week this year goes from September 24 to October 1. While I might not get to post about it as much as I like (seriously, this semester is slowly but surely killing me), I wanted to give you some resources so you can celebrate banned and challenged books this year.

As always, the ALA has some excellent free resources for schools, teachers, librarians, and other organizations.

The Learning Network at The New York Times (one of my favorite teacher resources) has list of 10 ways to celebrate Banned Books Week.

To get a different perspective on Banned Books Week, Jonah Goldberg had a provocative article in USA Today. While I don't agree with his points (and yes, I've lived in places that have tried to ban books like To Kill a Mockingbird), I do think it is worth a read since it really makes us think about what this week is about.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Review: "Something's Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination"

When I first came across Something's Coming, Something Good in my local Barnes & Noble, I immediately knew that I had to buy the book. As a theatre junkie and a huge fan of West Side Story, I thought that this book would be a great addition to my library (yes, I do have a musical theatre/theatre subset within my books). After reading the book, I've found that my initial enthusiasm might have been a little premature. Misha Berson offers an interesting and well-written look at West Side Story, but rather than presenting new scholarship or perspective on the show and its creation, the entire book is more as a compilation of previous research and information.

The book examines West Side Story from its origins to its role as a touchstone of American culture. The most engaging chapters come early in the book, as Berson addresses the show's staging, music and lyrics, and choreography. I also appreciated the chapter dedicated to the film version of the musical, which included a list of differences between the movie and the stage show. These chapters are very heavy on the research, but Berson integrates other people's thoughts and ideas in a way that is cohesive and easy to read.

Unfortunately, some of the other chapters suffer by comparison, and several seem like filler added to make the book longer. The most egregious chapters are "The Rise of the Dancer-Choreographer," "Broadway's Youth Musicals," and "West Side Story and the Rise of Juvenile Delinquency." These chapters seem unnecessary and distract from the strong scholarship that Berson brings to the rest of the book. For instance, I'm still scratching my head over the inclusion of the youth musicals chapter. Not only are the included shows unsurprising (Hair, Rent, and Spring Awakening are all mentioned), but the few connections Berson attempts to draw between these shows and West Side Story are obvious at best. These factors, combined with the fact that the chapter is a slight three and a half pages (and one page is a picture), makes me wonder why this chapter wasn't cut altogether. What makes this truly lamentable is that the basic idea (West Side Story's influence on later musicals about teen angst and rebellion) has the potential to be much more interesting than the actual chapter suggests.

Given all of these factors, I do recommend Something's Coming, Something Good, albeit with some reservations. This would be a great resource for someone who has just found the show or for a theatre director who needs to brush up on the show's history and conception. Berson has certainly done her research, and references to previous biographies, books, documentaries, magazine articles, and interviews abound. With all of this information, this book provides a good springboard for those who want to do further research into the show and read the primary sources Berson quotes. There is also a very fun section on references to the show in popular culture, which would be a great way to introduce it to a theatre class.

In short, this book provides a great introduction for people who want to learn more about the show, and it even makes sense as a quick reference guide for those of us who know a great deal about the musical's origins and influence. However, don't be afraid to skip some of the lighter chapters that only have a tangential relationship with the show.

Three Views: "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through"

Follies, straight from Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center, recently opened on Broadway, and the reviews have been mostly positive. Although I probably won't be able to get up to NYC to see the show (funding and time are not on my side right now), YouTubers have been diligently putting up videos from the Kennedy Center production, and I'm certain that some videos from Broadway will be up soon. With that in mind, I thought it might be interested to look at and compare three interpretations of one of my favorite numbers from Follies: "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through" from the Loveland section and starring the younger versions of our four main characters (Phyllis and Ben/Sally and Buddy).
From the Papermill Playhouse Production (1998)

Although this wasn't a Broadway production, it was perhaps the next best thing. Starring Ann Miller, Donna McKechnie, and a host of other notables, this production received a lot of attention. Although the sound and video quality isn't great, you can really see the talent of the cast and the vision of the choreographer (Jerry Mitchell). I particularly like the pairing of Meredith Patterson and Michael Gruber. They do a nice job portraying their characters' brittle veneer of sophistication without delving into caricature.

From Sondheim: The Birthday Concert (2011)

Yeah, I know this wasn't a production, but there is a lot to like about the staging and interpretation of this version. Although I really don't like Jen Colella's take on "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" (I'm giving Matt Cavanaugh a pass because he's more subtle than Colella), Laura Osnes and Bobby Steggart totally won me over with their adorableness in "Love Will See Us Through." Their wide-eyed sweetness is a charming counterpoint to the utter smarminess of the other couple.

On a terribly shallow note, I think that Jen Colella is a perfect example of why you shouldn't get a tattoo in a super-conspicuous place (or why, if you do, you might want to wear a dress with sleeves).

Kennedy Center Production (2011)

Based on this video, I'm torn about this version of the song(s). The Ben/Phyllis duet is fine if not terribly exciting, while the Buddy/Sally version is just too broad for me to get behind. I feel like the entire "Love Will See Us Through" piece is done with too much of a knowing wink to the audience; the couple's discomfort is obvious and palpable. Although I know that we are supposed to get that Sally is not terribly happy for having to settle for Buddy, pulling it back just a bit would have helped the number immensely. One thing that I really liked about Osnes and Cavanaugh's interaction (see the concert version) is that the Sally/Ben interaction is subtle but very telling. By this point in the show, we don't need to be hit over the head with the fact that Sally is not happy with Buddy. Trust me, we know.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September 2011 Birchbox

Unlike last month's Birchbox craziness, I received this month's box with no problems. Although it was slightly delayed, the Birchbox team sent me an email letting me know that it would be arriving a little late. However, given what I've seen from the box, it was definitely worth the wait.

Since this month marks the company's one-year anniversary, the theme for September is "Thanks to You!" According to the info card, the featured products are some of the Birchbox team's favorites that "represent every aspect of the Birchbox personality," ranging from girly to minimalist. This month I received:
  • Colorscience pro sunforgettable mineral powder with SPF 30 (minimalist)
  • Incoco Nail Polish Applique in a glittery gold color (adventurous)
  • Jouer Lip Enhancer (practical)
  • Truth Art Beauty Face Nourish - Birchbox Blend (crafty)
  • Birchbox Friendship Bracelet (this was my extra)
I really like the diversity of products in the box. The nail polish strips were a breeze to put on; I'll be very curious to see how they last on my nails (they are supposed to last for two weeks). I'm also looking forward to trying the other items. Look for a review at the end of the month!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Memory Of...

"New York, New York" by Ryan Adams (filmed on September 7, 2001)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Foodie Fridays: Food Truck Adventures (Part I)

Boston always seems to be a few years behind most trends, and the food truck craze is no exception. However, from my recent experiences, the wait was worth it. During the past month or so, I've noticed a lot more food trucks around, with offerings ranging from Vietnamese-inspired sandwiches to cupcakes to fried chicken. While my food truck adventures are ongoing (I haven't come close to eating at all of the city's food trucks or even hit up the majority of them), here are my experiences so far:

Kick*ss Cupcakes - I love a good cupcake, but I've found them frustratingly hard to find. Many of the cupcake places I've tried tend to be overpriced, dry, and too sweet. One of my favorite places in Boston for cupcakes is Kick*ss in Davis Square. However, there isn't an easy way for me to get to Somerville, so my cupcake cravings often went unanswered. Then the cupcake place got a truck and started coming into the city. Now I've gone to the truck an embarrassing number of times and managed to try a number of cupcakes. While the vanilla, chocolate, and Super Chocolate ($3.00 each) are all safe bets, my personal favorite is the Boston Cream Cupcake-A-Go-Go. It is basically a Boston cream cake parfait, with yellow cake layered with chocolate, custard, and whipped cream. At $4.00, it is a decadent and very satisfying treat.

Staff Meal Food Truck - The staff meal is a tradition at some restaurants, where the cooks prepare a meal for the restaurant's staff (hence the name). The Staff Meal truck is based on this idea, and it features what seems to be a rotating menu with creative takes on classic recipes. When I visited the truck, I asked the guys running it for a suggestion, and they recommended the "BlLT," which is basically a BLT with bacon loaf instead of regular strips of bacon. The bread is grilled and crisp, which results in a variety of textures and temperatures in the sandwich. With the bacon loaf (the cooks take bacon, throw it in a meat grinder, and form it into a loaf shape), the sandwich is tasty but very rich and makes for a filling meal.

Bon Me - Bon Me specializes in Vietnamese-inspired food and serves noodle salads, rice bowls (both white and brown rice), and sandwiches. You get to pick a protein (chicken, tofu, or barbecue pork), and it is served with the carbs of your choice along with greens and veggies. Their rice bowls are very good (I love the brown rice); the pork provides a salty and savory counter-note to the rice and greens. My only (tiny) quibble is that the pork can sometimes be a bit too salty. However, I'm looking forward to trying the chicken rice bowl.

Bon Me also has excellent chocolate rice pudding. I was never a huge rice pudding fan before, but this was enough to convert me. Be certain to show up early if you want the pudding - it sometimes sells out!

M&M Ribs - I must admit that the M&M Ribs' truck is a little hard to find, but it does seem to make regular appearances at the SOWA Sunday market. I came across it when I was having a serious craving for fried chicken, which is hard to find in Boston. Despite my initial hesitance when I came across the truck (who would think of buying fried chicken from a food truck), my cravings won out and I purchased some wings and fries. When I first got my food, I thought my fears were confirmed. The fries were on the pale side, and the chicken didn't have much of a coating. However, the food was good. The chicken was juicy and flavorful, and the thin outer coat was crisp (if not as crunchy as I would like), and the fries were surprisingly tasty in their greasiness. While I don't know when I'll make it back to SOWA (Sundays are usually reserved for work), I definitely want to try to the rest of M&M's menu.

Next up on the food truck front, I'm hoping to try Roxy's Grilled Cheese, the Redbones truck, and The Cupcakory. If there are other trucks you'd like to recommend, please let me know here or on my personal twitter account (@sweeks1980).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Get 20% Off at Jasmere Now Through September 17

Back to school is upon us (or, depending on where you live) in full swing. While I'm not quite ready for the end of summer yet (the move-in insanity, the paperwork, the start of classes), Jasmere is making this time of year a little sweeter by offering a 20% discount on one purchase through September 17, 2011. Just enter the following code at checkout: SF2053B1E608.

Happy shopping, and please feel free to share the discount code with your friends and family (just please don't post it on any coupon sites!). Jasmere is having a contest to see whose code is used the most, so sharing is definitely encouraged!