Mary Poppins on Broadway – a MUST see

The Practically Perfect Play

Mary Poppins the musicalMary Poppins, the musical, is on tour — currently at the New Amsterdam theater at 42nd Street on Broadway — where I went with the family last week.  It is a show I strongly recommend, providing you see the lead played by the exquisite Laura Michelle Kelly.  Ms Kelly had just returned to the show after a 4-month absence to shoot a film, so we were exceedingly fortunate to see her play the part of Mary Poppins.

If, at the beginning of the show, I was nervous because the acoustics did not seem to be optimized, I was utterly blown away by the performance of Ms Kelly.  She combines a beautiful voice, wonderful grace and a beguiling beauty. Laura Michelle Kelly I was entranced by the sparkle in her eye: contagious pleasure.  No wonder she has won acclaim and awards for her role.

The set was splendid and Gavin Lee, also a well decorated performer, plays a great Bert, singing one of my all-time favorite show tunes: “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”  If some of the other supporting roles were less powerful, little would sway from me from wanting to see this version of Mary Poppins again.

Some trivia

A little “trivia” about Mary Poppins:  Do you know who was the author of the original book (written in 1934)?  It was Pamela Lyndon Travers, OBE (originally Helen Lyndon Goff, per wikipedia).  Ms Travers was an Australian-born British novellist, who refused to make a film at first after Disney’s initial approaches.  It was not until 1964 that Disney managed to gain the rights and produce the wonderful film version with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyck.

The only thing missing from the musical is the song “I Love to Laugh”… Then again, that’s a good reason to go watch the film again.

Sending y’all some sugar

On a final note, Mary Poppins features the most memorable song: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”   When this play was written, it was not known that sugar – which means “love” in southern slang – would become one of the world’s plagues.   Maybe they could convert the text to “a spoonful of love”?

In any event, please go and see the play if you have a chance.  It will surely bring a light step to your walk and a smile to your face.

Spamalot Monty Python Review NYC

Monty Python Spamalot on BroadwayQuick Review of Monty Python’s Spamalot on Broadway, NYC

Spam, spam, spam, bacon & spamalot – internet emails meet On Broadway ?

While in New York, my wife and I had a 4th July evening to ourselves (celebrating our independence) and decided to hit Broadway. Our choice: Spamalot at the Shubert Theatre, NYC. It was a gamble. On the one hand, I am a die hard Monty Python fan (and my kids are fast joining the band) ; on the other hand, such British humour was likely to be difficult for Yendi, my French wife (although her English is fully fluent).

Directed by Mike Nichols and based on a book by original MP star Eric Idle, Spamalot features an entirely new score (by John Du Prez and Eric Idle). Running since March 2005, it has won three Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical of the 2004–2005 season.

The irony of the play was that it was a hit with my wife and less so for me. The story is fun and certainly is loyal to spirit of the mythical 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. The tagline says that Spamalot is “(lovingly) ripped off from the motion picture.” However, Spamalot is also a substantially watered down version of Monty Python humour, replete with wildly « easy » moments. Among the more « interesting » moments, however, was the song entitled, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” that features the line « You just won’t succeed on Broadway, If you don’t have any Jews! » How true — especially in New York.

Wikipedia comments on the views of the original MP team with a wide array of opinions. Cleese, who gave his voice to God in Spamalot, apparently was favourable. However, Terry Jones who co-directed film with Gilliam, said in an interview with Entertainment News, “Spamalot is utterly pointless. It’s full of air… Regurgitating Python is not high on my list of priorities.” Evidently, there was also a feeling of bitterness regarding the unshared commercial success (to Eric Idle’s benefit).

Plabill spoof – a highlight

Meanwhile, the Spamalot Playbill features a surprising hoax section, where all the normal information is transliterated into a Finnish version of the musical (“Finns Ain’t What They Used To Be”). Particularly impressed by the EVP, Vlad the Impaler Wankel. This part of the Playbill was apparently written by Michael Palin (who gave the musical a less-than-positive review himself). The Finnish section also advises “Patrons are asked not to smoke or speak Swedish in the theatre. Please use cell phones whenever possible.”

Spamalot is currently also running in London, Las Vegas and Melbourne (where it is apparently flopping), with a Spanish version in the works. Clearly, it is doing well — bringing a “democratic version” of Monty Python to the masses. And, there is some kind of international competition — verified by the Guinness Book of World Records — on the world’s largest coconut orchestra. The new record was set when 5,567 people, led by the cast from the London production, along with the two Terrries (Jones and Gilliam), armed with coconuts performed “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” in Trafalgar Square. Will the folks down go nuts enough to break the latest record?

In an era of changing and updating the initial film, I missed the opportunity to link the spam skit to the internet spam.

Overall, I give Spamalot a notawholelot rating and a 2.5/5.0 star review. Anyone else have an opinion to share?

For a few reviews: try New York Times, Popwatch Blog (some good comments), and a fun blog called Dressing.

Big Apple: Taking a Bite of Barack Obama

Taking a bite of the AppleHerewith, the good news for those of y0u who bought Leopard for your Apple Computer(s) in order to get the parental controls system. It turns out that the issue is that it doesn’t work well with Mozilla Firefox. But, it does work with Safari… So, in the spirit of sharing, it’s time to transfer to Safari if you want the parental controls to work. Also, some big news from Apple: after an extended conversation (all pro), the vendor who helped me with the Leopard problem at the Apple store on 5th Avenue, NYC, said that Steve Jobs and Apple were going to come out in favor of Barack Obama. The Apple takes on the Big Apple and supports the Ripe Apple. Well, well! Is that what they mean taking a bite of the Apple?

I haven’t managed to post my podcast… sometime soon. Otherwise, going to have to get my Facebook Vampire out to work.

Happy first of Apple.

Great Teachers in my Life

Great TeachersI remember the great teachers in my life as if it were yesterday that I was sitting in their classroom and reveling in the learning. I have been blessed to have had six standout teachers whom I will honour today in the post below. The real take away for any reader of this post is what are the defining characteristics of a great teacher? And, secondly, it is the questions: what have you done to say thanks to those teachers? For the most part, teaching is a often a thankless and low-paying job and there is little way to understand the long-term benefits and/or realisations (ROI) brought about by a great teacher. My call to action for you? Call him or her; write a letter; make a special visit…now before it is too late. And if you need a special motivation, read Mitch Albom’sTuesday’s with Morrie.” You might find the urge.

So, who were my inspiring teachers?

I will start with John Peake (or JSBP). Nominally, John was my housemaster, history beak (teacher) and sports coach at Eton College. But, he was also the man responsible for cultivating my passion to learn, who showed me how to teach and live with zeal, humour and sensitivity. I shall always remember the day he led our class outside onto a muddy field to re-enact the falling of the British Square [first time in its history] to the Zulus in the Boer War. And, in the annual athletics competition, our house always excelled. This was in large part because John knew how to motivate every single boy to participate. He also had a habit of attracting some of the better talent, if I say so myself. In so doing, I credit John with laying the foundation for always wanting to be the best I could be. JSBP REMEMBERED

Secondly, I think back to how lucky I was to have known Patrick Jordan (aka PJFJ), the headmaster at my [now defunct] prep school, The Old Malthouse (OMH), down in sunny Dorset. After all these years, I have to thank Patrick for my passion for rugby and athletics (including throwing the javelin). He also was passionate about his Triumph cars which he delighted in sharing with us. Patrick went on to become a highly successful headmaster at Packwood Haugh.

Thirdly, I cite the theatrical Michael Kidson (MGMK), my history teacher for many divisions (classes) at Eton. His theatrics–sometimes hystrionics–always kept us at attention, if not on edge. Michael laid into us with vigour, I shall always remember his criticism of my “woolly” English. Flying wood blocks notwithstanding, he was as generous and kind a man as you will ever find.

Fourth, I cite Colonel Ozzie Ostock, my history teacher from the Old Malthouse. With his authentic Colonel’s handlebar moustache, Mr Ostock brought history to life with his anecdotes. He would tell us vivid tales of WWII and was responsible for having at least one war hero (that I can remember) come present to us in the Gym. Managing to corral the zany energy of a roomful of 8-9 year old boys, he started me on my journey of twelve years of studying history–and a lifetime since. He is responsible for my love the film “The Dambusters”, the story of an eccentric scientist’s invention that devastated three German dams in the Ruhr Valley (Ruhr and Eder rivers). Here is a “fan site” out of England: Dambusters.co.uk.

Anil Gaba - Great TeacherThe most valiant award, however, goes to my statistics teacher, Professor Anil Gaba, at INSEAD. If you knew me, you would know that this could not have been my favourite topic. But, through wit, real case examples and a great deal of patience, he systematically, and single-handedly, made statistics stick. Also, Anil created a favourable environment for social interaction. A soulful individual. Anil is now Dean of Faculty at INSEAD (Singapore campus).

Finally, I would like to remember Professor Terry Des Pres, holocaust scholar and my freshman English teacher at Colgate University. While his classes borderlined on Dead Poet’s Society material, wearing every day the same outfit, Terry excelled in the ‘happenings’ in his own home. Reminiscent of a Salon environment, we would stay endless hours debating and sharing stories, especially on one occasion with his great friend John Irving. Here is the NY Times article covering his premature death in 1987, and a nice writeup in the Colgate Scene on-line.

Voilà, my list of top six Great Teachers is complete. There were, however, other great “moments” Great Teacher - Mark Rosekindin teaching that I would also like to remember, including Professor Mark Rosekind, an FSR*, at Yale University, teaching us about sleep (and dreams). And, on this one occasion, on my suggestion, we decided to hold an entire class outside (on a beautiful spring day). Since the class had somewhere over 100 students, that was a trickier enterprise than might be imagined to do spontaneously. I set up my amplifier and microphone outside our dorm room window and all the students sprawled out on the grass in Silliman College square. And it was the surprise of my sleeping roommate that gave me this priceless memory: There Bert was, sleeping in mid-afternoon and, in the midst of his dreams, he heard through his window a mellifluous Californian accent speaking about sleep and dreams. Professor Rosekind was also great at keeping our full attention by hatching spontaneous studies of his students who dozed off in his class. See here for Mark’s site at the National Sleep Foundation. And here, no less, a blog about Dr Rosekind with one of his podasts. (*Famous Sleep Researcher).

I should also thank my English teacher and sports therapist “Uncle” (aka Unkie) at The Hotchkiss School for giving me another memory of a lifetime. As he walked in this one spring day, the whole class spontaneously broke out singing the Grateful Dead’s “Loose Lucy” in a capella from beginning to end. And his priceless answer at the end: “why me?”

So, why these teachers? The attributes that blare out like a coach’s megaphone on crisp winter morning are: being passionate, being real, being interactive. As Todd Whitaker says in his book “What Great Teachers Do Differently,” great teachers focus on expectations, while the mundane teachers focus on the rules. And, in every case, they were also great listeners and always available for discussion after hours. As you can see, I did the rounds when it came to schools. But, no matter where, there always was at least one teacher that stood out a cut above. Make sure you remember the one(s) that stood out for you!

For further reading on the topic, if you got inspired, here are a selection of other sites and articles about Great Teachers:

TIME magazine feature on How to Make Great Teachers (i.e. how to overcome the low pay de-motivation)
Great Schools website features the Great Teachers’ qualities
Oprah did a show on Great Teachers featuring Mr Clark’s essential “rules” for Children

A Difference between Men and Women

Are Men and Women So Different?

Women waiting at the toiletAn advocate of diversity and a student of women’s studies at university, I keep an eagle eye on topics concerning equality. That said, there are also many ways to express and give value to the differences between men and women.

A few years ago, it was determined (by scientists) that there were just 78 differences in our genetic codings (between men and women). Read this BBC article for a quick recap on that point along with a fairly long but enjoyable compilation of people’s thoughts on the subject. Suffice it to say, there is a latent need to recognize the differences, and the following paragraph is a case in point. Equality sometimes takes accepting, even celebrating the differences.

Women Men DifferenceA fairly recent editorial article entitled “The woman in the Men’s” by Garrison Keillor in the Herald Tribune caught my attention. The issue at hand is the inequality of the public bathroom experience for women and men to the extent that, for example at intermission at theatres, women have long queues to deal with, while men hustle through in time for a drink at the bar. Keillor suggests, and I thoroughly agree, that architects should allow for toilets to allow equal through traffic. it seems ludicrously dogmatic to create toilets the same size considering the time it takes to consummate the act for each sex, as well as the space requirements of a urinal versus a stall. However, contrary to Keillor, perhaps for living in Europe most of my life, I see no offence to women “breeching the door marked MEN.” Hurray for the New York state of mind. Anyway, good pause for reflection for anyone in the throes of planning a public space. [If you are looking for an odd blog, here is one about toilets and, more specifically, about a portable toilet for cars from Japan.]

And, while I am on the topic of equality, here is an interesting article from the BBC on the benefits of women in the workforce: Why companies need female managers. Again, many complementary aptitudes and attitudes.

Updated: And, finally, a video excerpt (5m32) entitled “Tale of Two Brains” by Mark Gungor that plays out with a very balanced sense of humour — generalisations notwithstanding — the difference between how men and women think. It is likely to draw a smile. Note the good prop.

Favorite quote: “men’s brains are very unique!… we’ve got boxes everywhere and the rule is, the boxes don’t touch…” and “Women’s brains are a big ball of wire and everything is connected.” And, on this latter point, it is hard not for me to make a reference to the opportunity for connectedness on the ‘Net.

Battle for the Soul of Paris…

Paris Battle for the SoulHow can a beautiful Paris keep its soul? This is basically the question posed in this great article in The Guardian: “Battle for the Soul of a City” by Andrew Hussey. Turned onto this article by Notes from Paris (thanks F), I was delighted by the open and in-depth analysis of Paris, complete with a timeline of great events in Paris. Despite living in Paris and thinking I know the city well, there are always many more places to visit. The beauty of Paris continues to entrance me even after off and on 25 years of having lived in Paris. The dusk lights over the Concorde, the pristine sparkling Paris Beautiful PantheonEiffel Tower, the grandeur of the Pantheon…all still impress me as on the first time I saw them.

Mr Hussey clearly is in the know as he enters in the deeper parts of Paris and is able to feel that Parisian conversation (with its well honed art of la Contestation) has moved inexorably to “worldly” topics including property prices such as one might hear in soulless Kensington in London.

And, I was amused to think that Bertrand Delanoë met up with Mayor Bloomberg (of NYC) to discuss the similar challenges between New York and Paris. Where there are lessons (and causes) to be shared are on the greening of the city: more recycling, more bicycling and, why not, more greenery…

Firebrand TV – The MTV of Ads?

Firebrand TV - MTV of Ads
Courtesy of Greg Verdino and Joe Jaffe, have learned about the creation of FIREBRAND TV, “a new, opt-in entertainment and marketing destination that gives consumers interactive access to their favorite brands, products and promotions.” The idea is to create a space (TV, web & mobile platforms) to view the best film commercials just as MTV is/was the place to view the best music videos. Kind of an interesting concept. Going to have be super rich in content to work… to go beyond just attracting marketing geeks like myself. The site promises that consumers can simultaneously “Watch, shop, win & share.” The launch is slated for October 22. Sign up here on their home page for updates. Or join the Firebrand Facebook Group.

Check out the YouTube 4 1/2 minute commercial if you want to see their positioning:

Writeup at New York Business Crain’s

For couple of blogs on Firebrand:
Influential Marketing Blog – Rohit gives it a big thumbs up
A quick post at Marketing Vox

Marc Jacobs – Welcome to the late late night show

For the latest fashion week in New York, the standout performance has been the pre- and post- tangle surrounding the Marc Jacobs Collection, shown on September 10th. Among other things, I was very impressed by the use of SMS by Jacobs’ Press team to alert [certain VIP] attendees to the retard.

Jacobs’ show was scheduled for 20h30 (8:30pm). An SMS sent out to attendees said the show would be an hour late and to come around 22h (already quite an exaggerated sense of an hour). A second SMS was issued at 21h45, saying the show wouldn’t begin before 23h (11pm).

Nothing like over promising. Now for the delivery.

Per the press reports, Anna Wintours (Vogue) and Suzy Menkes (IHT) both thought the retard stepped over the bounds of acceptable. Here’s the report from WWD. Menkes reportedly said, “I would like to murder him with my bare hands and never see another Marc Jacobs show as long as I live. Where’s the dinner?” Fashion Shows that start on time are such a rarity, you wonder why the agenda proposes a specific minute for the beginning. Why not write: sometime after x pm or not before y pm. New concepts in time management are needed, such as obligatory SMS messaging and pre-show massaging…

There is a historic need for suspense, generating impatience and a stir crazy audience, with ants-in-the-[hot]pants is a modus operandus. This is typically not helped by chairs at fashion shows which are made temporarily for temporary seating. Some fashion designers seem to behave along the lines, “the longer the wait, the bigger rap; and the more hype my show will create.”

Anyway, Jacobs sparred with the powers that be post show (in the press), defying the likes of Menkes and Wintours, and telling them not to come ‘next time.’ Maybe, though, the time after that will be okay?

With all that said–and while I didn’t attend the show–with my Lit background, I can only say that I was extremely interested in the deconstructionist theme to Jacobs’ show, played back to front. Sounded absolutely fascinating. A finale at the beginning (including Jacob’s enthusiastic bow), 3/4 finished dresses, undersized shoes and again shoes with the heels attached to the front. For music, the show was accompanied by non-linear cuts of Ravel’s Boléro. There was a blow by blow writeup in USA Today Blog. Unfortunately, the show may have been missing in content (per le Figaro); but then what’s new for those who don’t like Derridan deconstructionism. Otherwise, seems like Jacobs’ show did its very own auto-destructionism.

See Figaro article: “Le retard de Marc Jacobs déchaîne les critiques

Other blogging the Jacobs’ show:
Fabsugar: NY Fashion Week
NYTimes Runway Blog
Style Dish, Cry me a river…
Hollywood, That other Blog


New York Assembly refuses Manhattan congestion charge

The refusal of the NY Assembly to implement a congestion charge ($4 for cars and $21 for trucks aka lorries) is a shame. The only amendment I would have recommended would have been to increase the charge on SUVs (I have long been an anti-SUVist). I have been applauding from afar the efforts in NY to improve the quality of life. Even though people in London may not all enjoy paying the congestion charge, it does seem to have reduced inner city traffic and encouraged more bicicyles and public transportation. Part of Bloomberg’s 127 point environmental program, the congestion charge was clearly one of the pinnacle measures. As NYC continues to attract new inhabitants (expected to add another one million people over the next 20 years), Bloomberg is right to act now. While some may well be claiming the motivation of his program is a higher political ambition, as far as I am concerned, the program has every right to exist. Having a clean, ‘crime-free’ [more like crime-reduced] New York was Giuliani’s legacy. Aiming to have a clean air, congestion-free New York is Bloomberg’s intended legacy. Some 40% of the 127 measures will require legislative approval. Per an NPR interview, the proposal includes “buying cleaner school buses, cracking down on idling cars, and incentives to make older buildings more energy efficient. New construction would also have to be 20 percent more efficient than currently required…” While I haven’t read the entire manifesto, I cast my vote in favor in principle. I hope that the other measures get a favorable treatment.

L’eau et l’environnement

J’ai été frappé par une nouvelle initiative à New York — qui suit la Californie — où la Ville de New York a lancé une campagne pour encourager ses citoyens à boire l’eau du robinet au lieu de l’eau en bouteille afin de réduire le gaspillage plastique. Même les restaurants se sont rejoints à la mission. Voir le rapport du BBC. Ca craint pour les fabricants d’eau. Ca reflète peut-être l’echec du recyclage? En tous cas, tant que l’eau du robinet est assurée et le goût ne choque pas trop, pourquoi pas. Est-ce que l’Europe serait pret à faire le même effort?