Thursday, March 31, 2016

Cowgirls at PTC

Last night I went to see PTC's production of Cowgirls and I must say that I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would!  Country is my very least favorite genre of music but, by the end of the show,  even my foot was tapping just a little bit!  Jo Carlson (Leenya Rideout) has inherited Hiram Hall, her father's country and western saloon, but she has also inherited his debts and the saloon is about to be foreclosed.  In a last ditch effort to repay the debts and save Hiram Hall, she has hired the Cowgirl Trio to perform during the grand re-opening.  Unfortunately, she has, in reality, hired the Coghill Trio, a group of classically trained musicians.  The Coghill Trio has reached the end of a disastrous three month tour and, eager to prove themselves, they convince Jo that they can learn to play country music to the dismay of Jo's waitresses (Karis Danish and Ashlie Roberson) who think they could do a better job.  As she coaches Lee (Jessica Bradish) a cello playing New Age lesbian, Rita (Lindsay Zaroogian), a pregnant pianist afraid of losing her identity when she becomes a mother, and Mary Lou (Angela Chatelain Avila), an uptight violinist, on how to play country music, Jo must deal with the fact that her mother abandoned her for a career in country music.  The songs they sing take each of  them on a journey of discovery and I particularly enjoyed "Kingdom of Country," "Songs My Mama Sang," "Looking for a Miracle," "Don't Look Down," and "Saddle Tramp Blues."  While the plot is simplistic, the songs and choreography are quite entertaining and I was extremely impressed by the fact that the actors play all of their own instruments on stage (much like the actors do in the musical Once).  The set of the saloon also reminded me of the bar in Once with audience members invited on stage to have a drink and watch the final performance of the Cowgirl Trio.  I did grow a little weary of the stereotypical portrayal of the down-on-their-luck and hard-living waitresses (they even sing a song called "Don't Call Me Trailer Trash") and the twang (a big reason why I don't like country music) is definitely over the top!  However, I highly recommend this thoroughly entertaining show about women learning how to take a risk!  Cowgirls plays at PTC through April 9 and tickets may be purchased here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Eye in the Sky

It has been quite a while since I've been to the Broadway, my favorite art house theater, so last night I decided to see Eye in the Skya film I have been anticipating since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. To say that it is intense would be an understatement.  Usually when I say that I was on the edge of my seat it is a metaphor but, during this film, I literally moved to the edge of my seat, balled my hands into fists, and held my breath during a particularly suspenseful scene.  I  may have even yelled, "Hurry!" at the top of my lungs!  Luckily, everyone else in the audience was in a similar state of agitation!  Katharine Powell (the always brilliant Helen Mirren), a general in the British army, has been tracking a British national involved in a terrorist cell for six years.  She receives intelligence about her location, along with two other high profile terrorists including an American, in a safe house in Nairobi and plans a joint operation to arrest her and the other terrorists with the USAF using drones for surveillance.  When the subjects move to a Somali occupied area in Nairobi, the rules of engagement change from a pick up order to a kill order prompting much debate among COBRA, a British intelligence agency comprised of military and political leaders (most notably, Alan Rickman in one of his final roles, and Jeremy Northam, one of my favorite actors).  Using an agent on the ground (with some really cool, yet scary, technology), the team discovers that the terrorists are planning two imminent suicide bombing missions.  This convinces COBRA to authorize dropping the Hellfire missiles on the terrorists.  However, the pilots of the drone discover a little girl who will most certainly be killed as collateral damage prompting more debate.  The film ends during the aftermath of their decision leaving the viewer to  wonder if they made the right one.  This film is highly charged, to say the least, as the various participants try to justify losing one life versus losing many lives as a result of a suicide bomb and multiple perspectives are explored so you are not sure what to think by the time they take action.  The tension builds and builds with incredibly affecting performances, especially Mirren because her character is motivated by personal reasons and she chafes at the inability of the committee to make a decision.  It is a film that will leave you thinking long after you leave the theater and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring Break Avalanche Game

Every year my Dad and I try to go to at least one Colorado Avalanche game and this year we picked a game against the Minnesota Wild during my spring break.  It's a long drive but we've done it so many times that it has become part of the experience!  We have traditions and rituals with things we do and places we stop.  Right before we left, Denver had a huge snow storm and I-80 was actually closed for a while which made us nervous to drive but we only had snow flurries here and there.  Whenever I travel to Denver alone I usually stay at the Motel 6 but with my Dad it is first class all the way and we stay at the SpringHill Suites downtown.  This hotel is so nice!  We checked in late Friday afternoon and the plan was to rest for a little while and then go to dinner (I love Old Chicago and we don't have one in SLC) but I fell asleep and, by the time I woke up, it was too late to go anywhere!  I'm such a party animal!
The game was Saturday afternoon and my Dad and I were so excited!  I think the Pepsi Center is such an amazing venue for hockey.  I can smell the ice as soon as I walk in the doors!
We had absolutely fabulous seats right at center ice!  This game was really important for the Avalanche because they are chasing the Wild for a playoff spot and it was intense during the first period.  It felt like playoff hockey to me with lots of shots on goal and really tight defense.  Then the Avalanche totally fell apart in the second period.  Their puck handling was terrible and there were so many giveaways that I stopped counting.  They had several power play opportunities but couldn't convert.  In fact, they didn't even get one shot on goal during one power play.
The only thing that enlivened the second period was a visit from Bernie, the Avalanche mascot.  The Wild scored twice in the second period and then got a short-handed goal and an empty-net goal in the third period.  It was disappointing but, like last year, we invited my cousin Blaine to go to the game with us and it was a lot of fun to talk to him (especially about Batman v Superman).  I love the Colorado Avalanche, so even though they lost the game, and most likely a chance at making the playoffs, I lhad a great time watching them play!  Next year my Dad and I are hoping to see the Avs play the Maple Leafs in Toronto!
Many years ago I started a tradition of getting an Avalanche hat at every game I went to.  Even though I have more hats than I know what to do with, I had to get another one!  I really wanted a hat with the new logo on it and my Dad wanted one, too!
Even though the Avalanche lost, at least we got matching hats!

Note:  Several years ago I almost ran out of gas while driving in Wyoming.  I could have stopped in Green River but I thought I would make it and then barely coasted into Little America only to discover that the power was off!  I vowed that I would never, ever, do that again because my Dad always tells me not to let the tank get that low!  Last night when we reached Green River, we had 1/8th of a tank left.  My Dad and I decided that we could make it to Little America and the gas light immediately came on!  I think we made it to Little America on fumes but, at least, the power was on this time!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman v Superman

Yesterday I had the chance to see an early screening of the much anticipated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and, I must say, it did not disappoint!  It is an incredible spectacle and I absolutely loved it!  After a flashback to the murder of young Bruce Wayne's parents, this film picks up where Man of Steel ends with the epic battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon).  We get an on-the-ground view of the battle through the eyes of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) as he witnesses the collapse of one of his buildings.  Angry at the collateral damage, he deems Superman to be a threat and his alter ego, Batman, tries to find a way to stop him.  Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a tech savvy genius who also views Superman as a threat, finds kryptonite and wants to weaponize it. Batman intercepts the kryptonite and prepares to face Superman while Lex Luthor forces an epic showdown between the two.  Eventually, the two must unite, with the help of a mysterious stranger who turns out to be Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), to fight an even bigger threat to Gotham and Metropolis.  To be sure, this film is dark and gritty but I feel that the current incarnations of these iconic superheroes are appropriate for the tumultuous times we live in.  I particularly enjoyed the film's exploration of power and the responsibility that comes with it.  I also appreciated the fact that both Batman and Superman are flawed and (without giving too much away) that they meet on equal ground for a battle that is absolutely awesome!  The special effects are thrilling, to say the least, but, unlike most critics (see below), I found the story to be compelling, as well.  The performances are great, including, rather unusually, Ben Affleck's brooding portrayal of the caped crusader.  I'm not a big fan of Affleck, and I questioned his casting, but I have to admit that he is a great Batman.  I loved Jeremy Irons as his butler Alfred and, although I sometimes grow weary of Jesse Eisenberg, his twitchy Lex Luthor worked for me.  Gal Gadot is absolutely kick ass as Wonder Woman; in fact, the entire audience at my screening cheered when she appeared in battle!  I loved all of the cameos of Dana Bash, Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace, Soledad O'Brien, and Charlie Rose as themselves reporting on the various incidents.  I also loved seeing Ray Fisher as Cyborg, Jason Momoa (sigh) as Aquaman, and Ezra Miller as Flash, in brief cameos setting up future Justice League movies (I can't wait for Wonder Woman in the summer of 2017).  This film is everything I hoped it would be and I would recommend it to fans of the genre!

Note:  I often wonder if the critics saw the same movie I did...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Spirit Week 2016

For the past month my student body officers and class officers have been working incredibly hard for spirit week.  They are friends with other student government groups from schools around the valley and have been helping to judge their spirit bowls.  They were really inspired by what other schools have done and wanted to go all out this year.  I told them that we could do anything they wanted as long as they were committed and willing to work hard!  They came up with some very elaborate plans and spent a considerable amount of time getting administrative approval for those plans.  They wrote a proposal and presented it to the administration with justification for everything they wanted to do.  They were so passionate about their ideas that the majority of them were approved (to my surprise).  Each class came up with a theme (Seniors in Space, Aloha Juniors, Sophomore Strong, and Freshmen on Fire) and picked a hall to decorate around that theme.  They spent three weeks during our student government class and after school creating decorations and we spent eight hours installing them last Friday.  Each class did an amazing job but the seniors blew everyone away!  I was so surprised that almost all of the decorations stayed up all week!  We also designed and sold shirts around the theme (thanks to my friend for making them!).  Our dress-up days were: Pajama Day, Tacky Tourist Day, Disney Day, and Sports Day.  We made pancakes for the student body before school on Monday which was a lot of fun once we got everything going (we blew all of the circuits in the Commons!).  Our spirit assembly was yesterday and it was a great success!
Freshmen on Fire
Sophomore Strong
Aloha Juniors
Seniors in Space

These students have made me proud so many times this year (go here, here, and here) but I can't even begin to describe how proud I am of them for all of their hard work and dedication to Hunter High this week.  Our principal has been at HHS for 26 years and he told them that he has never seen anything like this week!  They have definitely set the bar really high for future groups!
Note:  We had the officers from Taylorsville, Copper Hills, Granger, and Kearns come help us judge the competitions!  I want to give a huge shout-out to Kearns for staying to help us clean up after the assembly!  I have long considered the student government advisor at Kearns to be a mentor and his students went back to school with many positive comments about our assembly.  He took the time to email me and congratulate us on our successful spirit week.  That meant so much to me!

Friday, March 18, 2016


Last night I saw an advance screening of Allegiant with a fun and rowdy crowd.  With Jeanine dead, Evelyn (Naomi Watts) has become the leader of Chicago and sets out to publicly try and execute all members of the Erudite faction who followed Jeanine.  Realizing that they have merely traded one totalitarian regime for another, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Christina (Zoe Kravitz), and Peter (Miles Teller) escape and scale the wall surrounding Chicago to find out what is on the other side.  What they find is a post-apocalyptic world scarred by the effects of a nuclear annihilation.  They are soon rescued by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare and its leader, David (Jeff Daniels), who tells Tris that the faction system has been an elaborate experiment and that they have been under surveillance for years.  David reveals that genetic engineering is what lead to the nuclear war and that the Bureau is seeking to return the genetic code to its former purity.  He further reveals that Tris is the only person who is genetically pure and he wants to replicate her DNA.  Meanwhile, in Chicago, Johanna (Octavia Spencer) forms a group called the Allegiant to oppose Evelyn and David encourages the development of this new faction system by sending the slimy, albeit entertaining, Peter to help Evelyn to destroy them.  Tris finally realizes that David has been manipulating her and returns to save the inhabitants of Chicago.  I am not a fan of dividing the original source material into two films because the first film inevitably feels like a long preview for the final one.  This tactic is especially tiresome in Allegiant because there is an incredible amount of exposition, most of which is extremely confusing (it has been a while since I've read the book), the characters are very static (and a bit boring) without any new development, and there are way too many scenes of Tris parading around in one white outfit after another and of Four brooding while breathing deeply through his nose.  It gets old very quickly.  Granted, the action sequences are exciting, especially when they scale the wall, and the special effects are pretty amazing, especially when they use the drones and the surveillance equipment.  However, these scenes are few and far between.  Even the final battle seems a bit anticlimactic and that fun and rowdy crowd was pretty subdued by the time the credits rolled.  As someone who has enjoyed this franchise, I am a bit disappointed and I hope Ascendant can provide a satisfactory resolution to the story.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Utah Opera's Aida

There is nothing quite like the experience of watching an opera.  In my opinion, a great opera combines everything I love about the performing arts: a dramatic and tragic love story, powerful and passionate vocal performances, a beautiful symphonic score, innovative staging, dazzling choreography, and elaborate costumes and sets.  Last night Utah Opera's production of Aida ticked every one of those boxes!  Aida, an Ethiopian princess captured as a slave by the Egyptians, is torn between her burning love for Radames, the general of the Egyptian army charged with defeating the Ethiopians, and loyalty to her father, the king, and her country.  The story is definitely full of enough pathos to satisfy even my romantic heart.  What could be more dramatic than choosing to die for love?  The performances are amazing!  Marc Heller (Radames), Jennifer Check (Aida), and Katharine Goeldner (Amneris) all sing their roles beautifully.  I particularly loved Check's rendition of the aria "O patria mia" where Aida laments the fact that she will never see her country again and Goeldner's rendition of "Ahime!...morir me sento," where Amneris curses the priests for condemning Radames, gave me goosebumps!  I had tears in my eyes when Check and Heller sang "Morir! Si pura e bella" as Radames and Aida die in each other's arms inside a tomb.  Verdi's score is absolutely spectacular and I particularly enjoyed the instantly recognizable fanfare played inside the Temple of Vulcan, which sent tingles up and down my spine! The staging is also quite spectacular, especially the pageantry involved in sending Radames off to war and I loved the choreography in that scene.  I also loved the staging of the Judgement scene, most of which takes place off stage.  Alice Bristow's costumes, in various shades of turquoise and gold, are exquisite.  The set, created by Tony Award-winner Michael Yeargan, is bold with Egyptian columns and monuments and I was particularly struck by the use of multiple levels.  To say that I enjoyed this production would be an understatement; in fact, I think it is one of Utah Opera's best!  I would highly recommend getting a ticket (go here) to one of the remaining performances through March 20.  Bravo, Utah Opera!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Weekend at the Cabin

Marilyn and I just returned from our annual weekend getaway to the KOA in Fillmore.  We have stayed in one of the cabins on opening weekend for the past four years and we look forward to it for weeks.  It is a sure sign that spring is on its way (although, ironically, it snowed during the drive home).
I absolutely love this KOA and a lot of my friends ask me why I like to stay in a place that is in the middle of nowhere (it is about 150 miles south of Salt Lake) but it is precisely because it is in the middle of nowhere that I like it!  There is nothing that I have to do and I can relax completely.
This was our cabin for the weekend.  Dave and Corinne (who own this KOA) upgraded us to a bigger cabin!  One of the reasons we love coming to this KOA is because Dave and Corinne are such wonderful people!  They waited up for us to check-in late Friday night and asked about our family!
We had such a great time doing absolutely nothing!  We spent some time sitting out on the porch reading but it was still pretty cold.  We ended up inside quite a bit and we watched movies, ate treats, and laughed!  I haven't laughed that hard in a really long time!
In the evening we sat around the fire talking and laughing for hours!  It is my very favorite part of camping!  I loved this little getaway and I was really sad to come home to my busy and, sometimes, stressful life.  I can't wait to come back in a few weeks!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Dinner at Caffe Molise

If I had to pick a favorite cuisine, it would most definitely be Italian so Caffe Molise is obviously one of my very favorite restaurants downtown!  It features a menu full of traditional dishes from Northern Italy and has an extensive wine list from that region, as well.   Caffe Molise has a simple and casual decor featuring the work of local artists or you can opt for the patio during warmer months.  I like to eat here before seeing productions at Capitol Theatre but it is equally appropriate for a casual dinner after work.
I like just about everything on the menu but I highly recommend the lasagne ($15.95).   It features layers of pasta, Italian sausage, seasoned beef, ricotta, Asiago, and marinara.  It is delicious!
Definitely save some room for dessert (if you can!).  I became a fan of Tiramisu on a trip to Italy several years ago and Caffe Molise has an excellent version but I usually opt for the Dark Chocolate Cake ($6.95).  It is quite possibly the most decadent chocolate cake I have ever had!  It is dense and chocolaty, with just a hint of cinnamon!

Caffe Molise is located in the heart of downtown SLC at 55 West 100 South (near the Salt Lake Convention Center).  It is open Monday - Thursday: 10:30 am - 9:00 pm, Friday - Saturday: 10:30 am - 10:00 pm, and Sunday: 10:30 am - 9:00 pm.  Most entrees are reasonably priced under $30.00.

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

Last night I had the opportunity to see the Broadway touring company production of A Gentleman's Guide To Love & Murder at Kingsbury Hall and I loved it.  I have wanted to see it for so long and it was definitely worth the wait!  It is absolutely hilarious and I was laughing out loud all night.  After his mother dies, Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey) learns that she was part of the illustrious D'Ysquith family and was disinherited for marrying his father.  He is really Montague D'Ysquith Navarro and is in line to inherit the earldom (there are only eight family members ahead of him).  When his vain and heartless girlfriend Sibella (Lesley McKinnell) decides to marry the rich and handsome Lionel Hallward, Monty decides to kill all eight family members ahead of him in the succession in order to become the earl and win her back.  Standing in his way are the Reverend Lord Ezekial D'Ysquith (who has an unfortunate fall from a cathedral tower), Asquith D'Ysquith, Jr. (who has a bizarre ice skating accident), Henry D'Ysquith (who is stung by his precious bees), Lady Hyacinth D'Ysquith (who is presumed dead in deepest darkest Africa), Major Lord Bartholomew D'Ysquith (who is decapitated while lifting weights), Lady Salome D'Ysquith Pumphrey (who is killed by prop gun with real bullets during her debut in Hedda Gabbler), Lord Asquith D'Ysquith, Sr. (who is driven to a heart attack), and, finally, Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith, the Earl of Highhurst (who is poisoned).  The entire D'Ysquith family is played by John Rapson and I can't decide who I liked more:  the outragrously flamboyant Henry who thinks everything is "Better with a Man" or the over-the-top Lady Hyacinth who just wants to do some good!  So funny!  Along the way, Monty falls in love with Phoebe D'Ysquith (Adrienne Eller) and marries her to make Sibella jealous.  Eventually, Monty becomes the Earl of Highhurst but is soon after arrested for the murder of Lord Adalbert, the only D'Ysquith death for which he is not actually responsible!  The charges are dismissed when Phoebe and Sibella each give proof that the other one committed the murder ("That Horrible Woman").  However, Monty might not live happily ever after because Chauncey, the next in line to the earldom, is lurking.  I can't say enough about this production!  Massey, McKinnell (who is the understudy), and Eller have incredible voices and Rapson could not be funnier.  The set is also a lot of fun!  There is an elaborate stage, reminiscent of an old music hall, with projections on a giant screen behind it.  The projections are particularly clever in all of the death scenes, especially when Ezekial falls to his death.  I certainly enjoyed this delightful comedy and I highly recommend that you see it during its SLC run (through March 6).  Go here to purchase tickets.

Note:  Broadway in Utah has changed its name to Broadway at the Eccles in celebration of the 2016-2017 season in the new state-of-the-art Eccles Theatre, which will be complete in the fall.  The shows were announced last night and I couldn't be more excited!  I have already renewed my season tickets and I am particularly looking forward to Kinky Boots.  Go here for more information about the shows and how to purchase tickets.
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