Carl Pariso is an actor/singer/musician based in New York City who began performing at a young age, playing and writing songs for rock bands. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 2015 with degrees in Music Composition and Theatre Performance. During college, he wrote music, performed, and developed a passion for theater, starring in roles like Bobby Strong in Urinetown, Matt in The Fantasticks, Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird and King Arthur in Camelot. He also sang with the UD Chorale, and performed and arranged music for a cappella groups, barbershop quartets and big bands. Pariso stars as Clifford Bradshaw in the touring company of Cabaret, showing at The Playhouse on Rodney Square March 13-18.
This is such an iconic piece of musical theater and role. What drew you to it?
My first experience with the musical was in high school, when my teacher played a clip of the song Willkommen, from the movie. I didn’t really understand the context then. I learned more about the work in Musical History during my senior year at UD, and I began to appreciate the composition much more.
As for the role [of Cliff], I didn’t know much about it [beyond my past two experiences]. Once I submitted for it, I researched — watching Sam Mendes’ 1998 revival on the BBC and was enamored by it — and realized I had to do this role.
Do you feel not knowing much background on the piece helped you?
Yes, in a way. I tend to overthink things, but here, I didn’t have time to do that. Our director [BT McNicholl] gave me great advice on the role, and I think that was most helpful for me in developing the character.
Talk about your experience as part of the cast of Cabaret.
This experience has been nothing but positive! It’s cliché but it’s true — this role and show have changed my life. Working with BT [McNicholl] has been a dream. He’s a genius! He’s inspired me and made me excited about theater in a whole new way.
As for the role itself? I feel Cliff is a character trying to find himself. I think any young person can relate to that idea. I try to relate the role to my college experience…you go not knowing what it will be like or what you’ll do.
Do you have other favorite roles or productions, either professionally or while at UD?
I loved playing Bobby Strong in Urinetown — especially his demeanor and character. The entire show and music fit me well; it was one time I felt I could be funny and truly “let loose.”
I enjoyed playing King Arthur in Camelot about a year ago at the Compass Rose Theater in Annapolis. Arthur’s monologues and songs are beautiful, and that work made me grow as an actor. It gave me a confidence I didn’t have going into it.
I appreciated the role Matt in TheFantasticks. That show is just beautifully written. Also, I played the role when I was 19 — the exact age of the character. It was wonderful to have his perspective and take on that role on as someone his age.
How do you feel about returning to Delaware for your performance in Cabaret?
I’m so excited. Like every college student knows, the person entering at age 18 and exiting at age 22 are vastly different, but I feel the friends and experiences I had motivated me to arrive where I am now. I knew I wanted to do something creative, and I found it by the end of my time at UD.
Many of my music and theater mentors are still here. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to know they might be in the audience…but they helped me discover my passion, so it will be great to be able to share it with them.
Are there any places you’d love to revisit while you’re here?
I don’t know where to begin! Definitely I’d love to visit TheREP and the [Amy E. du Pont] Music Building. In reality, I may not have time to get there, but think everyone could benefit from seeing shows at TheREP.
I’ve told our cast from Day 1: You won’t have a better time than if you go to downtown Newark. All the bars and restaurants — such a fun nightlife! One of my favorite places was Catherine Rooney’s on Thursdays nights and Kildare’s Irish Pub (although it’s no longer there).
Chilean director Sebastian Delio has an abiding empathy for women in situations of turmoil and marginalization. His prior film, Gloria, was a touching meditation on a 58-year-old divorced woman’s desire to find a place in the world as a vibrant, romantic sexual being though the culture repeatedly warns her to remain invisible.
In his new film, A Fantastic Woman, Delio again visits a marginalized woman. In this case, it is Marina (Daniela Vega), who finds herself thrust out of the way when her older lover Orlando unexpectedly dies. Marina is trans (as is the actress Vega who plays her so movingly), and she is immediately omitted, questioned, judged, even investigated. She wants only to grieve her partner, and society wants her to disappear.
Without being preachy, Delio manages to bring a political and social issue into great focus and human perspective, by telling the stories of people instead of taking an abstract position. He finds the humanity in Marina, and by extension, in all of us.
Playing at Theatre N in March: Catch up on Oscar nominees. Darkest Hour and Call Me By Your Name (March 2-4); Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (March 9-11); The Shape of Water and Phantom Thread (March 16-18).
Much has been written about this landmark superhero movie, and as the record-setting grosses continue to pile up, the coverage (and thoughtful analysis) will likely keep on coming. Beyond its cultural significance, Black Panther is tautly scripted, beautifully designed and photographed, and stunningly executed. If you have any interest in the genre, even if you’ve felt that recent entries have been disappointing, go…just go.
Also opening in March: It’s adventure and thriller season! Ava Duvernay’s eagerly-awaited A Wrinkle in Time (March 2); Alicia Vikander in a remake of Tomb Raider (March 16), a new stop-action animated headtrip from Wes Anderson, Isle of Dogs (March 23); and Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg’s tribute to classic arcade games (March 30).
“For the Record” is a periodic feature in which musicians discuss what they’ve been listening to lately.
The electric charge of Grace Vonderkuhn is spreading wildly, and with her first full-length album Reveries out Feb. 23, she’s already been featured by NPR, WXPN’s The Key, and a half dozen other media.
The album, put out by EggHunt Records, is a gritty, mad dash of noisy garage rock plunging into melodic catharsis, backed up by bassist Brian Bartling and Dave Mcgrory on drums.
Reveries is available on vinyl, cassette and digitally on iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp, Spotify and more.
In March, Vonderkuhn and her band will tour the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond, most notably playing at South By Southwest in Austin as official showcase performers (March 9-16). Locally, catch her at Wilmington’s 1984 on Thursday, March 29.
O&A caught up with Vonderkuhn before her spring tour, and she shared her music career’s five most formative, influential albums.
T. Rex — Electric Warrior
One album that really influenced me in my late teens is Electric Warrior. I remember the first time hearing the song “Cosmic Dancer.” I was waiting tables on a slow day and it came on. I thought it was Bowie at first, but I soon found out that it was Marc Bolan serenading me. I felt like I was transported into another reality. After that I delved into the whole album and fell in love with the sound. It’s true glam rock with dashes of psychedelic riffs and it’s all tied together with Bolan’s vibrato and spacey lyrics. It just grooves.
Pixies — Doolittle
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to people that have heard my music that the Pixies are one of my favorite bands. Although I enjoy most of their discography, I wanted to highlight their album Doolittle because it was my gateway drug into late ‘80s/early ‘90s alternative rock. This album is stacked with hits and there are so many mood changes, it’s no wonder it’s hailed as some of their greatest work. I really could sing their praises all day, but I’ll probably just listen to Doolittle again instead.
Autolux — Future Perfect
Here’s another life-changing album for me. Autolux redefined what a three-member rock band could be. It comes down to their dynamics and the ability to use quiet and space to build up heavy parts into lethal rock. Plus, there are some deeply satisfying guitar and bass tones and entrancing vocal harmonies. I highly recommend listening to Autolux.
Elliott Smith — Either/Or
I’ve never heard an Elliott Smith song I didn’t like, but this particular album is close to my heart. This is deeply introspective and, well, sad music. Smith was a master wordsmith and one could write a dissertation on the meaning of his lyrics. He was also heavily influenced by the Beatles and I love the juxtaposition of his pop chords and heartbroken content. If you must explore your darkness, Either/Or is an ideal soundtrack.
Sex Pistols — Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
Sex Pistols opened up a new world for me when I was a teenager. Along with The Clash, they sparked my interest in ‘70s U.K. punk and led me to bands like Buzzcocks and Generation X and later post punk bands like Public Image, LTD., Joy Division, and Magazine. Loud, fast, angsty music is truly cathartic and energizing.
Comedy thriller delivers with inconsequential game night humor
As unmemorable as a game of checkers, as insubstantial as party charades, but as fun as a round of drunken Scattergories. Game Night, a new comedy thriller from the people behind Horrible Bosses and Vacation, will barely stay in your brain long enough for you to get to the car, but nevertheless, it’s good, stupid fun.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a thoroughly cute yet fiercely competitive married couple. To exercise their love of competition (well, in truth, winning), the two have a standing weekly date with two other thoroughly cute couples for game night. Into this benign situation comes Max’s older brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who has succeeded in the game of life to a degree that fosters sibling resentment in Max.
Brooks co-opts game night with a wild role-playing kidnapping adventure that quickly if predictably spins out of control. Add a priceless Faberge egg, a mobster called the Bulgarian, and a creepy cop as a next-door neighbor, and we have ourselves a raucous comedy.
Bateman and McAdams have just the right light touch for this kind of borderline comedy. They manage the ruder, darker elements with a grace that prevents the movie from becoming unredeemable (as The Hangover often did). Chandler approaches his caricature of a role with gusto and conviction. But the highlight of the cast is Jesse Plemons as the incredibly sinister-sad neighbor Gary. Recently divorced and desperate, excluded from the board-game fun, Gary longs to be a part of something, anything. Plemons brings the right blend of mania and melancholy to the part.
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who have both cut their teeth as comedy writers, show the right blend of grounded and ridiculous to keep the action moving, and the dialogue is well-seeded with great toss-off jokes.
The banter is fast, the coincidences implausible, and the humor frequently unnecessarily coarse or morbid. But none of that really matters. In the era of The Hangover and Seth Rogen-Judd Apatow comedies, the goal is admirably simple: create a diverting, entertaining, somewhat risqué few hours in the cinema. The sights are set fairly low, but Game Night manages to achieve and even surpass them.
Several talented musicians at some time or another have gone along for the ride with Drive-By Truckers. Among them: singer-songwriter Jason Isbell; his former wife, bassist Shonna Tucker; pedal steel player John Neff, and keyboardist Spooner Oldham, who used to record with the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (more on that later).
But at the core of the group, taking turns driving the truck, have always been the band’s co-founders, Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood, who have been playing together for ages, even before the band started in 1996.
We caught up with Hood by phone last month, in advance of Drive-By Truckers’ March 28 show at The Queen. He sounded jovial and energized. It was seven dates into the band’s 2018 tour and just a few nights after their concert in Portland, Ore., which has become Hood’s home after moving there with his family in July 2015—far from his longtime residence in Athens, Ga.
“I love Portland,” Hood says, adding that the transition from Athens was relatively easy. “They’ve got more in common than they do different, honestly. Obviously Portland’s a much bigger city, and I’m enjoying that a lot. But they have a very similar vibe. Athens has more in common with Portland and Brooklyn and Austin than it does most small southern towns.”
Drive-By Truckers is on a roll at the moment. The band is touring for the second time on the success of its most recent album, 2016’s American Band, which not only was one of their most critically-acclaimed albums—appearing on many best-of-the-year lists – but also one of their most overtly political. Sample lyric: “Ronnie Reagan must be spinning his grave; Putin’s on the rise, Ukraine’s under siege; Fascism’s knocking and Trump says ‘Let them in.’”
“This record has legs,” Hood says. “We’re out touring right now, and the route we’re on is really similar to what we did [right after American Band]. We’re playing a lot of the same rooms, and, in some cases, bigger rooms. And in every single town, attendance has been up.”
On that note, here is Hood, talking about the power of song-writing, recording, and his long-standing relationship with his musical partner, Cooley.
O&A: You really do have southern music in your blood. Your dad, David Hood, was the bass player for The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and later was a co-founder of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. What was it like growing up in that environment, with all these famous bands coming in and out (of the studio) and your dad being a southern rock legend in his own right?
Hood: Yeah, I was well aware of what was going on. I really kept up with it as much as I possibly could because I was really interested in it. I always wanted to do this, too. But, at the same time, I wasn’t really there. I was at home; I was a kid; and I wasn’t really allowed to be [at the studio].
Getting info from my dad about what was going on was sometimes next to impossible. I’d have to find out from other means [chuckling]. Because Dad was very much into keeping home separate. He was old school. In his day, you didn’t take work home with you. I hardly saw him pick up an instrument at home or anything like that.
He really didn’t want me to go into music, either, so he wasn’t particularly supportive of me doing it for a long time. Probably up until Southern Rock Opera. [The band’s third album, released in 2001.]
O&A: Soon after Southern Rock Opera, you recorded Dirty South in FAME Studios, which is where your dad and The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section got their start. Was that an attempt by you to tap into or reconnect with that southern rock history?
Hood: Yeah, you know, I grew up practically down the street! I mean I always had wanted to record there. So once we had the means to do it, we just did.
I still now want to record at 3614 now that they’ve reopened that [3614 Jackson Highway, the location of Muscle Shoal Sound Studio, which his father helped start and run]. I really want to go record there. Just as I have a list of places I hope we can record, you know, before time runs out. We got to record at Electric Lady a couple years ago, and that was cool. And we made our last record at Sound Emporium, and that was really great. So I’ve got this list of legendary studios that I’d like to capture while they’re still around.
O&A: Do you find that recording at different studios affects the vibe or the final output to the point that it influences the overall theme of the record?
Hood: Oh, yeah. I’m sure it does. Everything affects it. At the same time, we made one of my favorite records in my living room. So it has to do with so many things as far as what we bring to the table. But the room can certainly affect things, positively or negatively, depending on the experience.
O&A: You and Mike Cooley co-founded Drive-By Truckers in 1996. But before that you were in a band together called Adam’s House Cat, which Musician magazine had listed as one of its Top Ten Unsigned Bands back in the late ‘80s. What was it that brought you and Mike together, creatively?
Hood: Boredom and being broke. We met as roommates. I moved in with a guy I knew from college, and Mike was his other roommate. And that’s how we met. He had a guitar, and I had a guitar. We were broke, so we didn’t have money to go out. We’d buy a case of really cheap beer and sit in the living room and pick and jam.
I’d always written songs, so I was eager to mostly play my songs anyway, and he didn’t really want to play a bunch of covers. He kind of thought it was cool that I had a bunch of songs. Even before any of us were worth a shit at it, I liked what he did with my songs. I liked his approach to what I was writing. He attacked them in a way that I thought was very appropriate for what I wrote. It was kind of counter-intuitive because he would almost always do the opposite of what I heard in my head, but I liked that.
Shit, we’ve been playing together for 33 years! This is our fourth band. We had two bands between Adam’s House Cat and Drive-By Truckers that were, like, dismal failures. But we just kept coming back to it. It worked.
Ironically, we didn’t necessarily get along back then. It wasn’t like we were unstoppable close friends. We were close, because we played together forever. But it was kind of a—I don’t want to say stormy close—but we were like brothers who didn’t necessarily get along. I’ll put it that way.
It was that kind of relationship for a really long time. We were roommates for three different points of time, but we weren’t necessarily good roommates, either [laughs]. We were roommates that sometimes wanted to kill each other.
It’s all really funny now because I would say we’re super close now. We get along great now. But that was kind of the last piece of the puzzle. We figured out how to play together long before we learned how to get along [laughs].
O&A: You guys recorded the single “Perilous Night” in November. A lot of people have been talking about how political it is, how strongly worded it is. Then you donated proceeds of the 7-inch single to the Southern Poverty Law Center. How does it feel to do that—to come out and really say how you feel and, at the same time help an organization that you believe in like that?
Hood: Right. I mean to me that’s kind of the whole point to what we do. Writing was something I did because it made me feel better. It was a way for me to express what I was thinking about: either what was bothering me, or pissing me off, or hurting my feelings, or making me sad or depressed or whatever. Occasionally what makes me happy. But usually it’s a way of dealing with the more negative things.
So to be able to back it up with some modicum of action was good. Our donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center isn’t going to be a game-changer [laughs] Unfortunately. I wish it was. But at least I think we’re doing what we can.
We try to support various good causes. There’s no shortage of people who need support. We’ve been raising money for Nuci’s Space, a suicide-prevention non-profit from Athens, for 20-plus years now. That’s always been our pet cause. But it’s good we’re able to add a few more things, too.
This is the second thing I’ve done for the Southern Poverty Law Center. I did a song for them about a year ago—a solo thing—that was for a little EP they put out with Bonnie Prince Billy, myself, William Tyler and a couple of other artists. Really good artists. I was really proud to be part of that.
And it was the perfect use for a song like “Perilous Night,” because I’m not trying to profit from our country’s current failure of judgment [laughs]. I’m trying to support my family, but I’m happy to do whatever I can that helps fund the resistance.
I really didn’t see that song as being part of the next record. It’s more of an epilogue to the last record.
Patterson Hood and Drive-By Truckers play The Queen on Wednesday, March 28. For more info and tickets, go to TheQueenWilmington.com.
The arts in Wilmington offer music—inside and outside
This month, The Playhouse on Rodney Square transforms into the infamous Kit Kat Klub, as Cabaret takes the stage March 13-18.
Based on Roundabout Theatre Company’s Tony Award–winning production, Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s version of Cabaret marks the first visit to Wilmington for this Broadway revival. Mendes and Marshall are the original director and co-director/choreographer, respectively,
Get ready to be welcomed to the notorious nightclub where the emcee, Sally Bowles, and a sexy, raucous ensemble nightly titillate, tantalize and entice crowds to “…leave your troubles outside.” But as the atmosphere in pre-World War II Germany grows tenuous, will Berlin’s decadent nightlife be enough to get through?
This renowned musical—book by Joe Masteroff and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb—originally opened on Broadway in 1966 and London’s West End in 1968. Cabaret has since enjoyed many revivals (London in 1986, 1993, 2006 and 2012; Broadway in 1987, 1998 and 2014) and, of course, the memorable 1972 film starring Liza Minnelli. It features some of the most recognizable songs in theater history, including the hallmark “Cabaret,” “Willkommen” and “Maybe This Time.”
This all-new production launched in December 2017 in Worcester, Mass., with tour direction by BT McNicholl, tour choreography by Jennifer Werner and original costume design by William Ivey Long. The company of 21 quadruple-threat performers (actors, singers, dancers and musicians) features Erik Schneider as the animated Emcee, Bailey McCall Thomas as British chanteuse Sally Bowles and University of Delaware alumnus Carl Pariso as American writer and Sally’s tortured love, Clifford Bradshaw.
During his time at the University of Delaware, Pariso studied Music Composition and Theatre Performance and performed with The REP, Chapel Street Players and UD Chorale. He now makes his home in New York City.
Cabaret opens for a press preview on Tuesday, March 13, and runs through Sunday, March 18. Tickets start at $40, and discounts are available for seniors and groups of 10 or more. Call The Playhouse Box Office at 888-0200 for discount information or visit ThePlayhouseDE.org to purchase tickets online.
Christina Cultural Arts Center Hosts Wilmington Debut of Jazz Songstress
Christina Cultural Arts Center continues its streak of presenting well-known regional and national musicians in the intimate setting of its Clifford Brown Performance Space. On Sunday, March 11, Christina welcomes jazz siren Alicia Olatuja in her area debut.
The St. Louis–born Olatuja—who rose to fame after her 2013 performance at President Obama’s second inauguration—released her first solo album, Timeless, in 2014. Her influences include gospel, soul, jazz and classical genres and she has performed with such renowned artists as Chaka Khan, BeBe Winans and Christian McBride.
Christina Executive Director H. Raye Jones Avery notes that during the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Touring Network members’ conference, Olatuja was recognized by Newport Jazz Festival musical director McBride as one of the newest “voices to experience.”
“The outstanding endorsements resonating from her performance at the inauguration and directly from Christian McBride led us to the obvious choice to invite Alicia to Christina Cultural Arts Center’s Jazz Touring Network performance season this year,” says Avery. “Alicia’s lush tone and welcoming stage presence will surely draw audiences into her magnetic personality and performance.”
Tickets for this up-close-and-personal performance are only $20 and are available at ccacde.org through March 10. Olatuja’s engagement with Christina is made possible through The Jazz Touring Network of Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation with support of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Regional Touring Program.
Alicia and her band have performed throughout the country at venues like the Jazz Standard, Vermont Jazz Center, Sioux Falls JazzFest, Rockport Jazz Festival, Markham Jazz Festival, Monty Alexander Jazz Fest and the Harlem Stage Gatehouse.
Market Street Music Welcomes Spring with Musical Diversity
Market Street Music opens its spring performance season with three full-length Festival Concerts and a dozen Thursday Noontime Concerts, all beginning this month.
Leading off the Noontime Concert calendar is a Thursday, March 1, spring celebration by Center City Chorale, aptly entitled “Jubilate!” The weekly series continues through May 10 with genre-spanning artists, including duos of clarinet/piano and violin/piano; a banjo soloist; and a sneak preview of OperaDelaware’s April/May Puccini festival. Admission for all Thursday Noontime Concerts is a suggested donation of $5.
The Festival Concert lineup is equally diverse, beginning with a Sunday, March 4, 3 p.m. return performance by popular chamber ensemble Pyxis Piano Quartet. Pyxis, known for a sold-out series at the Delaware Art Museum, will present a program of piano quartets by Surinach and Chausson.
On Friday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m., Market Street Music welcomes another repeat performance, by Ayreheart Renaissance Music. Founded by Grammy-nominated lutenist Ronn McFarlane, Ayreheart brings the lute—known as the most popular instrument of the Renaissance Era—into the 21st century with the all the energy and flair of a rock concert. This dynamic three-piece ensemble performs music from the Renaissance, interspersed with traditional Scottish and Irish tunes and Celtic- , Renaissance- and Americana-inspired originals.
Finally, the talented Mastersingers of Wilmington present an All-German concert of works by Bach, Buxtehude and Mendelssohn to round out the season on Saturday, May 19, at 7:30 p.m.
All Market Street Music performances are held at First & Central Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Rodney Square across from the Hotel du Pont. Tickets for Festival Concerts are $20 ($10 for students) at marketstreetmusicde.org or $25 at the door.
The multi-instrumentalist comes to The Grand on Feb. 23
Los Angeles-based film score composer, multi-instrumentalist and lyricist Andrew Bird picked up a violin for the first time at age 4. As he grew up, he pursued a variety of styles, including early jazz, country blues and gypsy music, melding them into his own brand of pop. Since beginning his recording career in 1997, he has released more than a dozen albums, including his most recent full-length Are You Serious (2016) and the instrumental Echolocations: River (2017), which is second in a series of short films and recordings documenting site-specific compositions. River was recorded while Bird stood ankle-deep in the Los Angeles River under The Hyperion Bridge. The first installment, Echolocations: Canyon, was released in 2015 after Bird played violin in a canyon in Utah.
Equally creative and candid, Bird hosts a Facebook Live series “Live from the Great Room” which streams from his living room, putting the creative process on display for fans as he performs and converses with friends and collaborators. Previous guests have included Zach Galifianakis, The Lumineers, Fiona Apple, The National, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket.
Out & About caught up with Bird by phone as he prepared for his winter tour, which will hit Wilmington on Friday, Feb. 23, at The Grand at 8 p.m.
O&A:Can you talk about how you choose recording locations for your Echolocations albums like Canyon and Rivers?
Bird: The idea is to go into the spaces and try to be a blank slate and listen to the feedback I’m getting off the surfaces – whatever brings in all the reverberations of the instruments. I take the songs home and create a record around them, reacting to what I hear and remember. It gives me an excuse to improvise and to exercise other ideas. Then, at shows, I basically do what I did when building the record: I react to the film recording and improvise while watching the film.
O&A: Will there be more Echolocations installments?
Bird: These are part of a series of four albums I’m making. The next one is going to be in bunkers built into a coastal hillside during the ‘30s. And the one after that is in an aqueduct in Lisbon, Portugal; the reverberation of that one is insane. They’re all distinct environments.
O&A:Echolocations recordings differ in style from your other albums, which feature vocals and a full band – like 2016’s Are You Serious, which falls between these two instrumental albums. Instead, you approach Echolocations with a minimalist slant with just one instrument – the violin – and one musician – you. What made you take this approach, and did it present any new artistic challenges for you?
Bird: Between records I put out every three or four years, I do these projects that keep me able to exercise other things. A lot of stuff ends up on the cutting room floor when you’re making a pop album, so this just kind of gives me life and the ability to stretch out and play long-form pieces and explore textures and sounds. And to just be a player again. I think otherwise I would be withering creatively.
O&A: What inspired your collaborative Facebook Live series “Live from the Great Room”? What artists are you planning on working with in the future?
Bird: It relates to Echolocations in a sense that it began with the emphasis on being raw. I wanted to bring it back to music and collaboration and invite people into my house and play in my living room and fill that room with sound and have it be raw and live and messy. A lot of people tried to convince me to pre-record it and I thought, ‘I can’t do that, it has to be scrappy and live and reactive.’ It turned out to be more successful and gratifying than I imagined.
I’ve got a list of folks that want to do it, we just gotta find the time. I’m hoping to get back into it in the summer or fall. I’ve been trying to get Randy Newman for a while.
O&A: What’s next for you?
Bird: I’ll be finishing a new record that’s going to come out early next year. It’s on my mind ‘cause I just finished tracking it. It’s gonna sound different than the last one. I’ve been basing the sound off early ‘60s jazz and gospel records that were all recorded in one room. The subject matter is a bit more political, I guess you could say, rather than personal, though it’s never entirely one or the other. I guess the overarching theme is talking about how we need our enemies or how we seem to thrive off of conflict.
I’m also doing a run of symphonic shows in the fall, where I’ll be playing with the National Symphony Orchestra – that’s a totally new venture.
The Post and The Shape of Water show diverse styles of Spielberg, del Toro
These are not great days for those in the media game. The reporting business has been racked by major setbacks: the take-over by profit-driven conglomerates; the trivialization of news from the 24/7 cable beast; the more recent disgraces of high-profile journalist-harassers; and most of all, the demeaning howl of “fake news” popularized by the sitting President.
All that is distressing, even nauseating for those of us who value the importance of the media and view exceptional journalists as modern-day heroes. Well, director Steven Spielberg with his new film, The Post, has just the cure: a taut, cerebral thriller about how The Washington Post broke the Pentagon Papers story and held the federal government accountable for its disinformation campaign about the true state of the Vietnam War.
In 1971, The Post was not the revered national newspaper and journalistic exemplar that it is today. Rather, it was a family business in a smallish eastern city that just happened to be the national capital. D.C. socialite Katharine Graham had assumed the role of publisher upon the premature death of her husband, a position of authority and responsibility that was much more uncommon for a woman in those days.
Then, Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, leaked a classified study that revealed decades of government deception about Vietnam to several newspapers, and The New York Times became the first to publish portions of what became known as the Pentagon Papers. When the Times was enjoined by the Nixon Administration, publisher Graham and her crusty, ambitious editor, Ben Bradlee, were faced with a perilous opportunity: defy the Nixon Administration to break a landmark news story but face repercussions that could include jail.
Spielberg’s telling of this historic event, aided by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s rat-a-tat screenplay, contains all the ingredients one wants in a journalism thriller: compelling and eccentric characters, the ink-stained romance of a humming newsroom, a powerful political adversary, and the ever-present pressure of a deadline. And although the dramatic rhythms of this story feel familiar, they do so in a reassuring way, at least for those who see journalists as virtuous, albeit flawed heroes. One especially effective touch: Richard Nixon himself appears as a character, seen only from a distance through windows at the White House with voiceovers provided by his own surreptitious tape recordings.
Spielberg turns to two other Hollywood titans to embody this project. Tom Hanks plays Bradlee with the requisite combination of brusqueness and charm. Meryl Streep is both flighty and flinty as Graham as she comes into her own both as a publisher and a leader. The two of them, who have never worked together on a film before, make their scenes crackle with intensity and gravitas. They are surrounded by a raft of accomplished supporting actors, including Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemons, Carrie Coon and Sarah Paulson.
One can’t watch this film without being mindful of its cinematic forebear, All The President’s Men. After all, that story about Watergate also involves The Washington Post and editor Bradlee. Spielberg doesn’t shy away from the parallel. In fact, the denouement of this Pentagon Papers adventure wryly hints at the Watergate story coming just around the corner.
As both a timely history lesson about the dangers of insular, autocratic government and as a lesson in bravura filmmaking, The Post proves itself to be more than newsworthy.
The Shape of Water
If Spielberg is a verbal film stylist, then Guillermo del Toro is a comparable master of visual cinema, with an emphasis on the fantastic and bestial. His The Shape of Water delights the eyes and exhilarates the imagination.
Set in a secret government research lab in Cold War-era Baltimore, The Shape of Water tells of an unlikely yet completely entrancing romance between a lonely, mute janitor and the non-human lab specimen whom she befriends…The Creature from the Black Lagoon meets Marty.
I don’t want to reveal more of the story, so that viewers can be caught up in del Toro’s magical realism for themselves. But the film is beautifully shot and deftly directed, a dazzling palette of greens, blues, and teals that gradually introduces the occasional punch of red.
Sally Hawkins captivates as janitor Elisa, and del Toro regular Doug Jones is both otherworldly and truly empathetic as the creature. Michael Shannon is enjoyably odious as the cruel lab security chief. Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg play Elisa’s friends and collaborators as fully formed characters within the framework of the movie.
One needs a robust suspension of disbelief to buy into the premise of this offbeat love story, but for those willing to make the leap, The Shape of Water will be a provocative treat.
Also opening in February: The 15:17 to Paris, retelling of the train hero story, Feb. 9; eagerly-awaited Marvel film focused on a black superhero, Black Panther, Feb. 16; Alex Garland’s supernatural thriller, Annihilation, and a mystery comedy about board gamers, Game Night, both on Feb. 23.
Our intrepid reporter tries a 90-minute session of the dance-fitness craze and manages to survive—barely
Let me start by saying that the last thing in the world I wanted to do was Zumba. You’ve heard of Zumba, right? The dance-fitness craze that started in the 1990s and took the world by storm? That’s now being practiced on a weekly basis by some 15 million people?
But I never expected to be among their number for the simple reason that I don’t do dance. Sure, I possess a Bachelor of Arts degree in Square Dancing, earned by attending classes at the municipal building in my hometown of Littlestown, Pa. in 1975. But I was young and in love back then, and like many a besotted swain I was willing to make a complete fool of myself.
Things are different now. I like to think I have acquired a modicum of self-respect. On the other hand, I’ll do anything for a paycheck.
So that’s why, on the day before the day before Christmas, I made my reluctant way to the Delaware City Library for a Zumba “event” hosted by The Z Spot, LLC. Did I have qualms? Yes. Mostly because I had done my research and discovered that Zumba incorporates a potpourri of frenetic dance styles— salsa, mambo, merengue, chachacha, and so on—designed to reduce you to a sweating, heaving wreck. And dancing myself to heart failure is not my idea of a good time.
As I approached the library, I found myself cursing Alberto “Beto” “Power Pedal” Perez, the nefarious Colombian responsible for inventing Zumba. Some may call him a visionary. I say never trust a man with more than one nickname.
About that Name
I could tell you all kinds of fascinating things about Zumba, but suffice it to say the word “Zumba” means nothing and was chosen arbitrarily, and that it has spread from Colombia to 180 countries. It seems you can Zumba almost anywhere except Iran, where the powers that be have declared it un-Islamic, which is perhaps the only advantage to living in Iran.
I spoke with Renee Gelber, who has been running The Z Spot for almost six years. For the 37-year-old Gelber, Zumba has been a game changer. Thanks to the high-octane activity and healthy eating, she has lost almost 100 pounds. But she nearly passed on the initial opportunity to try Zumba because she didn’t want to pay the five bucks her fitness center charged for classes. Fortunately, she was offered a free class, and the rest is history. She became an instructor and started a thriving small business, and now, she told me, The Z Spot hosts three or four events a month across Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. She plans to expand to corporate events, weddings, and the like, and eventually hopes to go global.
I also chatted with instructor Travis Algerin, who happens to be Gelber’s boyfriend. Zumba changed the 24-year-old Algerin’s life as well. A serious bodybuilder, he brushed off the recommendations of his mother—a Zumba instructor herself—to give Zumba a try until he suffered a hernia and had to find a new fitness outlet. He took to it immediately, and he says it transformed him from a shy, withdrawn young man who couldn’t look you in the eye to a person who exudes confidence. And thanks to Zumba, both Gelber and Algerin are beginning to see the world. Not long ago, Algerin traveled to Belgium, the United Kingdom and Spain to teach classes.
The event I attended was held in an antiquated gymnasium/auditorium in the building—a former elementary school—that now houses the library. It was the ideal setting for a 1950s sock hop, right down to the basketball hoops and the old stage. The latter—most likely the setting for many a grade-school theatrical—made the perfect platform for Algerin to perform his carefully choreographed routines. (He told me he tries to come up with two new ones per month.)
Rotating disco lights swept the walls, floor and ceiling as the crowd—which had braved a rather savage rain—arrived. They were a radically diverse and very happy lot who seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of tossing themselves about.
I spoke briefly to Joan Burke, a relative newbie and cancer survivor who discovered Zumba through her association with the Livestrong Foundation for people affected by cancer. She was an instant convert, she told me, and praised Zumba for being both high energy and loads of fun. “It doesn’t feel like you’re exercising,” she told me. “It feels like you’re dancing.”
Accolades for the Instructor
And like seemingly everybody else in attendance, Burke had nothing but accolades for Algerin, who seems to have achieved superstar status on the regional Zumba circuit, thanks to his galvanizing on-stage theatrics and an ability to dance like a member of a first-rate boy band.
I went up to him before the performance and said abjectly, “Please don’t kill me.” “No promises,” he replied. “No promises.”
Algerin then took the auditorium’s stage, the music started, and within 15 minutes I was a gasping, sweat-soaked ruin. I fancy myself in good shape for a 59-year-old man; I lift weights and am no stranger to the old elliptical machine. But this was hardcore; you’re constantly dancing, moving your arms, racing to the left and right and backwards and forwards, and leaping up and down. Horrified, I realized that I was expected to do this for 90 minutes. But I seemed to be alone in my misery; everyone else loved it.
While they sought the nearest water fountain, I looked about for a defibrillator, and soon found myself in the bathroom, panting and mopping sweat off my face.
Back in the auditorium, Algerin was constantly pulling people from the crowd to dance with him on stage, and most of them had the skills to pay the bills. My pride injured by his inexplicable failure to choose me—after all, I have the aforementioned Bachelor of Arts in square dancing—I finally decided to bum-rush the stage. That proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Moments into my performance, people actually started pointing at me and laughing. My newfound dream of becoming the next big thing on the Zumba circuit was quickly crushed.
Would I recommend Zumba to you, dear reader? Most certainly. The event’s participants varied in age from 6 to at least 70, and many didn’t look particularly fit. They were there to become fit, and they were having a great time doing it. And you don’t have to go full-tilt boogie the way I tried to do. Many of the dancers adopted their own less frenetic pace, thereby succeeding in burning calories while enjoying themselves.
More than anything, Zumba is good fun. To quote my fiancée, who attended with me: “It’s like doing a line dance at a wedding for an hour-and-a-half.”
The people of Iran don’t know what they’re missing.
For information on upcoming events sponsored by The Z Spot, go to zspotevents.com.