Sunday, February 7, 2016

GREASE ... Live?

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The comical musical Grease seems to have been around in the theatre as long as I have. I remember, in my far-off twenties, attending an audition call for the London production with my pal, Paul Bentley. It was late in the day, it was a rotten wee hall, every hopeless non-singer in town seemed to have been in, and the panel were looking weary and fed up. I think they were rather pleased when we came on together. When we finished, they were all smiles, and the boss told us ‘we had quite made his day’. No, they didn’t need an operatic basso, and a comic heldentenor, but we’d read the poorly-written audition notice uncomprehendingly. It asked for a falsetto singer. Well, we’d recently performed ‘Pensacola’ (Dames at Sea) in a Benefit at Harrogate Opera House, so we gave them that, all burlesque stops full out. I was Mona, dancing and singing in an ear-splitting soprano.
We didn’t get the job. He was very sorry, but he just couldn’t see how to use us. He should have. The London show was pretty lifeless.

Grease -- via stage and screen -- is now a standard. Deservedly so. I saw it last year, performed with loads of life, and some grand performances, at the Christchurch Court Theatre. And this month there has been a lot of chat amongst musical facebookers about something called Grease – Live. Live? On Televison? Oh, well. Anyway, people seemed either to love it or hate it. Then it was announced, with more gusto than effective taste, for NZ telly. I ventured, ‘should I watch it’? ‘Don’t’ warned facebook … which knows I prefer my shows live and untampered-with. So we watched our favourite Australian Masterchef. But come Sunday eve, the nadir of New Zealand television, Wendy revealed that she had taped it. So we sat down to watch a recorded version of a TV version of Grease – Live. Sort of.

Did we like it? It was all right. Like the curate’s egg. In parts. I can’t see for the life of me why we had to lose some of the best songs ('It’s Raining on Prom Night’, ‘Alone at a Drive in Movie’), why the story and dialogue had to be changed (they actually said ‘cool’ in what was supposed to be 1959), why girls were pasted in to ‘Greased Lightning’ and boys into the cheer-leader squad, why Rump was cut … not one of the changes was anywhere near for the better, and the unfamiliar (to me) musical material was excruciatingly dull. I still don’t know what the lady was up to, howling out what seems to have been an introductory song. But … Grease is made of stern stuff. Like The Boyfriend, it’s not so much a burlesque, but what Sandy Wilson called ‘a joyful recreation’ of a much loved (in retrospect) era, it is unpretentious, melodious, funny and sometimes even a little serious. It is hard to knock down, no matter how you fiddle with it.



So did I enjoy it, in spite of it’s not being the kosher Grease? It was all right. In parts. And very right in one or two.  What first? Cast? Production? Let’s do cast. I do not know who anyone in the cast is/was. I’m sure they are ‘celebrities’ of the 21st century kind. But that’s all right. This show doesn’t need or want stars. It needs to be played a bunch of joyous young singing-dancing teenagers. Humph. This was the oldest set of teenagers I’ve seen in a while. If Rydell High has students un-graduated at that age, teaching standards there must be abysmal. The Danny looked over-thirty. Which was a shame. Because he’s a fine singer-dancer-actor with a great twinkle … The triumph was the Sandy. She did look like a teenager, and act like one, and her singing of ‘Totally Devoted’ (of course, the film hits are now an accepted part of the score) was absolutely grandiosely spot on. The other kids each pounded out their numbers – Rizzo did a fine ‘Worst Thing I Can Do’, Doody was capable in ‘Those Magic Changes’, Marty sang all right in an opened-up production number made up of ‘Freddie, My Love’ but you couldn’t take her seriously as a high-school student, Frenchie’s part was ruined and she had little chance, and WHERE was Frankie Avalon? The wonderful teen-angel bit was given to an amateurish (purposely?) trio and a set of bumbling women in hairdryers. I nearly gave up at that point. But … it’s Grease. We had a splendid Johnny Casino to make up for no Frankie Avalon … and … there were only a couple of other cast members who gave me the shudders. Even Wendy, who doesn’t complain about actors, couldn’t abide the frightful ‘look-at-me’ performance of Blanche, and Patty Simcox will doubtless get first class honours … from the School for coarse over-acting.

The production? It’s hard to make an abstraction of it from the changes made to script and score. I didn’t mind the opening up of some bits of numbers into fantasy … it was all right. And lively. If aged. The choreography? A bit excessive, and I’d have liked it better if ‘Greased Lightning’ had been just boys. Teenage boys. But I guess it's what a TV audience wants in 2016. Strange. Costumes … well, I don’t know what one wears at High School. Some were copies of previous ones … apart from Marty’s green thing, they were all right.

But, when all is said and done, I lasted till the end, when ‘live’ suddenly happened, and I really did very much enjoy spending the evening with the dazzling Sandy and the elderly but delightful Danny … if not some of the others and the tacked-in rubbish.

I’m still a little puzzled, though. Why was such a fuss made of it being ‘Live’. Was the title just to assure folk they weren’t getting Travolta/O N John? Oh! It was BROADCAST live? Why?
Actually, why was the fuss made at all? A fair enough evening, with fine bits and not-fine bits, and about 70 percent of the show. Yeah, it was all right.


PS Of course, the cast is on line. So credit where credit’s due.  SuperSandy was Julianne Hough, dishy Danny was Aaron Tveit, Joe Jonas was Johnny … and I’m none the wiser.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Arrrrghhhhhh!

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Since I came to New Zealand a couple of months ago, I’ve not been exactly active. Well, the weather has mostly been ‘either too hot or too cold’ and, anyway, I’ve been delightedly working on my VICTORIAN VOCALISTS. 804 articles up to today, 8 December 2015. A huge amount of text.

Today, however, has shaken me from my 19th-century torpor. Up at 6am. Check out the e-mail, the face-book (there’s always a political post, USA, Britain or, today, France ... needing to be blocked), the European sports results, the opera reports, the wretched weather …

And then, action! First date, Brett, our beloved acupuncturist. Wendy and I swear by him (he recovered me so well from my stroke) but I was not happy with him last time. He told me to cut down on the wine! Well, I did, for 5 days. But I snuck back. Today he stuck a lot of needles in my face. For the hay fever. Which he tells me is caused by my alcohol intake. Whhaaaaaat! But I’ve had it since age thirteen! Something don’t tally!

Shopping. Visit to the bank to pay a risible bill from the risible Earthquake folk. Bloody rip-off, them. You pay in for 80 years (and they giggle, ‘money for nothing’) and suddenly, wham! They’ve got to pay out. Big time. So they do it on the cheap. 90 percent of our ‘repairs’ have un-repaired already. And four years on they send you a bill. Cheats! I’m seriously sorry for people to whom $400 represents a large amount. I’ve got a growing conviction that insurance of all kinds is a huge rip-off. They can afford to sponsor sports events, but refuse to pay for my storm damage.

Next, new keyboard for my computer (Yoobee of Christchurch have taken four years to go back on their promise to replace it).

Then, hasten to the council offices to grab a fire permit. A week ago, just when our Nigel had high-piled the tree-debris from our yards, they declared a total fire ban.  When that happens, it often lasts for months. But we know how to make it rain. Make hay. We’re way, way early. But, with the drought, the few scraggly paddocks of what can be up to 45 big bales of hay, in a good year, were starting to shrivel and die. So our lovely Neil came round and mowed ... and sure enough a few hours later: it rained. Not a lot. Just enough to be a bloody pest without doing any good. But…! The Council called off the fire ban! (I found out, later, it had poured everywhere but on us). So up town for my permit, home to wait for Nigel. Wait. Wait. This has all got to be burned by nightfall! So, while Wendy went to get the water cart (for emergencies), I started …

PHABOOM! The dry-as-Gordon’s-gin branches went up like a mushroom cloud. A magnificent hell-hot fire. But madre de dios! It’s catching the dry grass of the paddock. And I can’t get close enough to stamp on it with my Nanu-Nana espadrilles! I howled for Wendy (1/2km away!) and went into wobbly action.  Slashing, stomping … dripping and fainting from the furnace of flames … for the first time, thankful that the paddock was as thin as my headhair …  By the time Wendy arrived with the water supply, I was singed, scarlet with flames, 30deg sun and effort ... but it was under control. Next time: water cart in place before we start. But whew! It's done ...



Nigel got into action at 3pm. His pile was bigger than mine. I’m leaving him to it …



Back to the house and ... another discovery! We’ve King-Herodded fifty peacock eggs this year  (it’s called prophylactic culling) .. but one hen was too wily…



Well, at least it’s only two!

It’s tomorrow. Oh Hades! I can’t move. My hips are hell, I feel ill, hot and cold flushes , can’t get out of bed … I’ve had this before, in the tropics … a coup de soleil, and, worse, sunstrokelet with fire scorches. My legs and arms are scarlet, my bald pate hurts, the skin on my arms has cracked and bled …

Wendy’s off to the trials with tiny Rocky. I’m staying in bed…

I’m supposed to be this ‘elderly, retired, handicapped gentleman’. In a few weeks I’ll be officially 70. I’m a writer … not a farmer’s boy … arrrrgggggggh!

10 December. The fires are still burning and smouldering … Wendy and Nigel had to get up at midnight to check them ... the hay-baling has been put back to tomorrow (we’ll be lucky to get ten) … Rocky ran really well, wee darling … Montmorensy and Thomas go Saturday ... but I won’t be there. I’m going to have a quiet day with a Victorian Vocalist. Please …  




 Ach! it's hay-baling tomorrow!


Saturday, November 28, 2015

After the cataclysm ...

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Gerolstein is a beautiful place. And Wendy and I have made it even more beautiful than it was when I first bought it, what was it? Thirteen, fourteen years ago. But it has been against great odds.


 First came the earthquakes. We were lucky not to suffer as much as folk in central Christchurch and south of the city did, but it was bad enough. When the first one happened, I was in Berlin. Wendy was alone in the midst of 35 rural acres and a horde of horses, who were thankfully more stunned than frightened. And uninjured. 


When I arrived, not long after, the aftershocks were still going on, there were cracks in the houses, antiques smashed (though, lord knows how, not my Picasso ceramics), trees broken apart on the sliding riverbank, and some of the ground had taken on a different shape. But we fixed it. At a cost. The Earthquake commission has never reimbursed me in spite of promises.



The second quake, the devastating one, happened in February, while I was chair-bound following a stroke a week previously. Devastating as it was for Christchurch, it did less physical harm to us out at Gerolstein. Wendy cleaned this one up alone, while I lay in my LaZboy. Oh, surely that was enough sorrow for one little town …



No. For us, there was worse to come. And once again I was in Berlin, and Wendy had to face events alone. A great storm broke out, in the middle of the night … and in the shattered, sleepless morning she was presented with devastation. Where there had been an acre and a half of glorious gum forest, fifty metres from her house, where a thousand little birds used to gather nightly for a dusk chorus, now there was a huge heap of roots and crowns … the beautiful forest had been all but eliminated. Hundreds of trees … gone.



Well, not gone. But lying down. Six horse yards backing on to the forest were nothing but a pile of wooden rubble. Dozens and dozens of huge trees, some with boles big enough to put two arms around had smashed down through the fences and gates and lay there … and that was just the beginning. Everywhere trees had been blown over. Wendy, Jan and Rose went to work with a will and chainsaws and cut up the huge trees which had crashed on to my rose gardens – how they missed the house, both houses, all the buildings, I will never know …



Come summer, and my return to New Zealand, we tried to get someone to come and clear the worst of the debris from the mess of forest. But everyone had their own clearing to do, and the best we could do was get in a few jobless lads who worked superbly, made a winter’s firewood for us (and a bit for themselves) but alas, hardly a mark on the devastated area. 


Insurance? Oh no! This was an ‘act of God’. So was God going to pay for the vast amount of work needed to put things usably right? Even He couldn’t make 20-30 metre trees grow back overnight. Well, if He could have, He didn’t.



Over the next three years we just didn’t look at the ex-forest – reduced to a dozen ridiculously spindly trees -- and the buried, shattered yards. We reduced our stock, closed the area off, and tried not to remember what it had been like before. Wendy remade the gardens, I went through several cheque-books … and went back to Berlin.

And while I was away, Wendy chatted to our pal Nigel Rose of Roseworks, who has trimmed the shelter-belts annually for us since forever. He was semi-retiring and, yes, he would clear the yards for us.



So, last week Nigel and 5 year-old Bradley arrived in his house bus, with trucks and digger and king-sized chainsaw, and ever since the air has been loud with sound of chainsaws ripping through trees, and machines chugging and crashing (and Bradley playing ‘let’s petrify the horses’) ten hours and more a day …




Nigel has gone home for a breather this week-end, and we snuck up to review the situation. The yards are amazingly cleared, and a huge amount of firewood (some for us, some for him) piled in every corner. Oh, we’re far from having our yards back as they were. They will have to be re-fenced, graded, resown ... but at least we have a good acre of land to re-add to our home paddock. And we can start. As soon as I get a new cheque book.



If Mother Nature will just leave us alone for a few years.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Gerolstein: the season of 2015-6


I’ve been two weeks back at Gerolstein. And yes, if it’s Gerolstein … it simply must be spring. Kurt doesn’t do winter, or even autumn, in New Zealand. I must say that some ‘springs’ down here have, in recent years, strangely resembled those chilly seasons, but this year Canterbury is obviously trying to keep up with Yamba … the mornings are frisky, but the days are sunny and pleasantly warm, those vile winds have mostly (though not always) stayed locked up in their box … and Wendy has the place looking gloriously spick and span and on the verge of bursting into colour ..

The magnolia has been and mostly gone …



The cherry blossom arrived this week …



The first flowers are peeping out …



The rose gardens which survived last year’s floods are covered in red pre-leaves … they aren’t due to flower until Cup Week …



My alarm clock – or alarm-peaclock – and his sixteen brothers, cousins and uncles have caught the prevailing season and the air is rent with mating cries and post-orgasmic wails ….




The first foal is born …



And our only worry is – WE NEED RAIN! To make the grass and hay grow! So we can feed the horses. Ah, well. A farmer’s life… there’s always something … 

We’ve been here something like fifteen years now. And things have changed. The earthquakes and the winds have wrought a change in the landscape, and the outlook from my house – and even more from Wendy’s – is much less tree clad. But oddly that’s made things lighter and brighter ... if windier. Lighter, of course, means you see stuff behind the furniture and in the corners that you didn’t see before …



But oh!

The main furniture hasn’t been moved since it was put in place, on Day One. Bookcases, desks, chests … not even the two of us together can manage those. But yesterday …

We had to go to the vacuum cleaner shop for some bags (what a swiz those are!). The place has been earthquaked away from its old spot in the High Street so we thought, ‘why not see if Noel Leeming’s does them!’ (We like Noel Leeming’s and its nearer). And they did. So I bought two boxes: $38!!!!! And while I was doing so, Wendy wandered round the TV department. Cut to dénouement. $1,799. LG UHD 49 … I dunno. Dearest hoover bags I ever bought!

But. I said I would confirm when I had measured the space. I did. It was OK. The installer came and … arggggh! .. they'd given me the screen size! The bloody thing has splayed legs and they didn’t go on our telly-chest. Think quick! 

I have multiple desks and computers … desk .. desk .. we dragged one from its ancestral place .. mon Dieu! Quelle filth … and the installing fees rising by the hour ..

We let the delightful, helpful young man go after he’d sold us $400 upgrades, and sat down. It wasn’t right. Wendy got to work on discovering the mysteries of the machine, and I had an idea. Next morning, the pine desk was back in the office, and my father’s home-made desk was in the living room …





The old TV chest was in my bedroom (great!), and the C18th oak chest which had been .. in under the telly. I’m delighted … the room looks great! Well, I think so. I can’t stop saying so. And Mr P Cock came in to check that he approves. He likes Australian Masterchef.



Me? I’m down on my bony knees cleaning all the dank, dirty and dusty spots that have been brought to light by all that furniture shifting!


Friday, September 4, 2015

A cock-tale, or 'make it another gold-fashioned, please'

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Do Bloody Marys count as cocktails? Or just ‘mixed drinks’. I love a good Bloody Mary. Well, they really don’t come in the singular, do they? Ian used to make wonderful jugs of the stuff, and we would sit on our balcony in the fading sun of the evening Côte d’azur, looking out at the village of St Paul de Vence … ah! Memories!

But looking-back wasn’t the reason for the question. If they don’t count, I think I can say that up to about age 64, I hadn’t really tasted what is referred to as ‘a cocktail’. But then, I discovered them. In Berlin. I choose my places! And I have become, late in life, a devotee.



My ‘master’ in the art of cocktail was a Bayern Munich fan, Ollie Mansary, who also just happened to be head cocktail honcho at the glorious Katz Orange restaurant, two wobbles and a run from my Berlin flat. I and my friends tried the whole panoply of his menu. But there was one drink that stood out … the ‘Gold Fashioned’. Many a one have we sipped over Ollie’s bar …



I put cocktails out of mind when I headed for Australia. It’s more a long-and-cold-drinks country. But the other night young friend Harry and I tried a previously unknown (to me) restaurant. It bears the incomprehensible name of ‘Fusion on the Hill’. Well, it’s on the hill all right. But what’s this dumb expression ‘Fusion’? Who invented that?



Anyway, Delightfully pretty spot with a nice open view over Yamba, run by the equally delightful Sunny and Rams and … good grief! They serve cocktails. No just Margaritas, but all sorts.



We had a splendid meal, and tried the odd cocktail …



And that got me nostalgic. So I told Sunny about the Gold Fashioned. And after Harry had helped me down the slippery hill in the pouring rain, I dug up the recipe that Olli had given me and I sent it to Sunny. I didn’t really think …



But 48 hours later, when I turned up, again, on the hill … there was a pretty good approximation of Olli’s masterpiece waiting for me! It wasn’t quite the same. Olli has a big Laphroaig ice-block as the centre-piece to his glass, which takes some making. But that was all that was missing! It was delicious … ‘Make it another gold-fashioned, please’. Well, I had my grand dinner, paid the bill and then … oh, just one more … wonderful, gutsy, wicked stuff …



Of course, what I didn’t think of was, that, without the big ice-block, those drinks were strong, strong, strong … I looked at the hillside, walking stick left at home, dark now …  and Sunny came to the rescue and safely chauffeured me home!

Of course, I was back 48 hours later (older and a touch wiser) for my best meal yet, and … hey, hurry home, Harry, its Friday night and 5.30 … time to go up the hill again!