Monday, August 30, 2010

TEEN WITCH: A Young Girl's Guide to Better High School Living Through Wicca, Ballet Skirts and Scrunchies

TEEN WITCH opens with a dream sequence. Dowdy teen Robyn Lively dances on the ledge of a rooftop with hunky Dan Gauthier, the high school quarterback she has a crush on. You can tell it's a dream because 1.) He's paying attention to her, and 2.) She isn't dressed like a librarian. When she's awake, Lively is frumpy and only has one friend (played by Mandy Ingber), whom she obviously chose because Ingber is even dowdier and frumpier. Even Lively’s ghoulish little brother, Joshua Miller, doesn't respect her -- and he looks like Rosie O'Donnell!

Things are very strange at the high school Lively attends. There's a trio of white boys rapping in the hallway – all the time! And in the locker room, there's a squad of girls in purple leotards who break into a spontaneous, overly choreographed musical number called "I Like Boys." (Which defies description entirely, but turns out to be the best of all the unexplainable musical numbers that just show up in Teen Witch for no apparent reason.)

A few days before her 16th birthday, Lively stumbles upon the lair of diminutive fortune teller Zelda Rubinstein who tells Lively that her magical powers will emerge the day she turns 16. Sure enough, at the school dance, gazing at Gauthier and his stuck-up, cheerleader girlfriend Lisa Fuller, Lively wishes that he would come over and talk to her - and he does. Later on, as Lively is being driven home by Fuller's nerd-cousin Dan Carter, Carter starts to get handsy, and she wishes he'd leave her alone. Suddenly Carter vanishes into thin air - never to be seen again - and nobody even misses him!

Now, cognizant of her mighty powers, Lively's thoughts naturally turn to sex. Is it possible to cast a spell on Gauthier to make him love her, she asks Rubinstein . "Love you?" she replies. "With me being your coach he's gonna become your love slave!" (Just what every sixteen year old girl needs.)

Abondoning the love-slave idea, Lively opts instead to make herself the most popular girl in school. (Why settle for one guy when you can have the whole school?). Hocus Pocus and whammo! – her hairstyle, clothing, and makeup are suddenly 1989 fashionable and everyone just adores her.

Filled with lust over Lively's new look, (ah...the fatal lure of the scrunchie), Gauthier takes her to an abandoned, ramshackle house in a secluded meadow to have sex. But, as he scatters his discarded clothes like rose petals on the stairs, (in a reversal of the typical movie seduction roles), we defy anyone not to ROFL at his soft-focus International Male-style poses as the unironic sax solo plays in the background..

On the way home, Gauthier asks Lively to the dance (Yes... another school dance.) But Lively feels guilty about tricking him into loving her so she tells him to get lost, opting instead to attend with Rubinstein, violating the first cardinal rule of dating – never go to the prom with your psychic.
Teen Witch only played in about two theaters for about a day or so back in 1989, but due to relentless repeated showings throughout the next couple of decades on cable, it has bewitched an entire generation of young girls with its positive message that no matter how unpopular you are, you can always call upon the black arts to force  people to love you. And isn't that what life's really all about?


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Court Rejects Same-Sex Marriage Ban in California!


SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge in San Francisco struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, handing a temporary victory to gay rights advocates in a legal battle that seems all but certain to be settled by the Supreme Court.

Wednesday’s decision is just the latest chapter of what is expected to be a long legal battle over the ban — Proposition 8, which was passed in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote -- and proponents were already promising to appeal, confidently predicting that higher courts would be less accommodating to the other side than Vaughn R. Walker, the judge who issued the ruling.

Still, the very existence of federal-level ruling recognizing same-sex marriage in California, the nation’s most populous state, set off cheers from crowds assembled in front of the courthouse in San Francisco Wednesday afternoon. Evening rallies and celebrations were planned in dozens of cities across California and several across the nation.

In San Francisco, the plaintiffs’ case was argued by David Boies and Theodore Olson, ideological opposites who once famously sparred in the 2000 Supreme Court battle beween George W. Bush and Al Gore over the Florida recount and the presidency. The lawyers brought the case — Perry v. Schwarzenegger — in May 2009 on behalf of two gay couples who said that Proposition 8 impinged on their Constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

For gay rights advocates, same-sex marriage has increasingly become a central issue in their battle for equality, seen as both an emotional indicator of legitimacy and as a practical way to lessen discrimination.

“Being gay is about forming an adult family relationship with a person of a same sex, so denying us equality within the family system is to deny respect for the essence of who we are as gay people,” said Jennifer Pizer, the marriage project director for Lambda Legal in Los Angeles, who filed two briefs in favor of the plaintiffs. “And we believe that equality in marriage would help reduce discrimination in other settings because the government invites disrespect of us when it denies us equality.”

The trial, which began in January, was closely watched in the gay community, drawing large crowds to courtrooms, and inspiring re-creations by actors which were posted online. The plaintiffs offered two weeks of evidence from experts on marriage, sociology and political science, and emotional testimony from the two couples who had brought the case.

Proponents for Proposition 8, which was heavily backed by the Mormon church and other religious and conservative groups, had offered a much more straightforward defense of the measure, saying that same-sex marriage damages traditional marriage as an institution. They also argued that marriage was essentially created to foster procreation, which same-sex unions could not, and was thus fundamental to the existence and survival of the human race.

On Tuesday, those supporting Proposition 8 telegraphed their view that they had likely lost this round as the defense’s leading lawyer, Charles J. Cooper, filed a notice with the court requesting that Judge Walker keep the ban on same-sex marriage in place while they appealed his decision.

The defendants requested a ruling at the same time as Judge Walker issues the opinion, setting the stage for a quick appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals "and, if necessary, the Supreme Court."

On Wednesday, lawyers for Ms. Perry responded with a letter of their own, requesting that Judge Walker not automatically rule on such questions without a hearing, asking that they be allowed to respond to the "obviously premature" motion before any action is taken.

The decision could also play into the state’s gubernatorial race in California though the race has been centered largely on economic issues thus far, with unemployment running more than 12 percent and a $19 billion budget gap.

Democrat Jerry Brown has been vocal in his support of gay marriage in his current role as California attorney general. Republican Meg Whitman has taken the position that marriage should be between a man and a woman – in line with the language of Proposition 8 – though she says that she strongly supports the state’s civil union laws, which afford many of the same rights as marriage.

There were also signs that Judge Walker’s personal life – several published reports have said he is gay -- might become an issue for those opposed to his ruling. Hours before the decision was announced, a commentator on Fox – Gerard Bradley, a professor of law at University of Notre Dame – posted an editorial questioning the judge’s impartiality.

“I do not doubt that Judge Walker made up his mind about Prop 8 before the trail began,” Mr. Bradley wrote.

Some in the gay rights community were initially upset by the case fearing that a loss at a federal level could set back their more measured efforts to gain wider recognition for same-sex marriage, which is legal in five states and the District of Columbia.

But those concerns seemed to fade as the trial began, and on Wednesday, the mood was of elation and cautious optimism that Mr. Boies and Mr. Olson’s initial victory might change the debate.

Kate Kendell, executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said that she believed that there were members of Supreme Court who “have a very deep seated bias against LGBT people,” meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. But, she called Wednesday’s ruling “potentially game changing.”

“This legal victory profoundly changes the conversation,” she said, “for folks in the legal world and the policy world who were previously unmoved by this struggle.”

Jesse McKinley reported from San Francisco and John Schwartz from New York. Malia Wollan contributed reporting from San Francisco.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The return of ON A CLEAR DAY to the Great White Way


The Broadway graveyard is full of flops that had great scores and bad scripts. An outstanding example is the 1965 musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. The score -- music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner -- is melodic, witty and whimsical; the title song became a standard when Barbra Streisand recorded it for the 1970 movie.

But Lerner's original story -- about extrasensory perception, reincarnation and transmutation -- was as loony a script as ever there was on Broadway. As one critic wrote, "What Mr. Lerner should have worried about was not another life but a better idea."

Director Michael Mayer (American Idiot) and playwright Peter Parnell may have come up with that "better idea." Their version of On a Clear Day is being given a staged reading this weekend by New York Stage and Film, a production company based at Vassar College.

Here's the skinny:

In the original, the main character was a kooky young woman who, in a past life, was an English aristocrat. In the new version, the young woman is a young man who, in a past life, was a black female jazz singer.

Gender-bending is hardly a new concept in the theater -- see Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare -- but this new twist on Clear Day already has impressed the Vineyard Theatre. The off-Broadway company will present a full-scale production in January.

In the meanwhile, let's travel back in time with the show's original leading man, Tony winner John Cullum, and get the backstage story on the original production.

"It was a crazy, wild experience," he recalls

During the show's Boston tryout, Cullum replaced Louis Jordan, who was playing a Viennese psychiatrist. Jordan, Cullum says, was "being wiped out" by his leading lady, Barbara Harris. The actor had no idea he was being fired. The producers sent him off on a two-week vacation, ostensibly to learn some new scenes, and never brought him back.

When Cullum took over the role, he discovered that Jordan had a secret: He didn't know his lines.

"The first time I was onstage, I realized that Louis had written the lines all over the set," Cullum says. "If I opened the cigarette case or a drawer, there would be the lines, written out. Except the script kept changing. So the lines all over the set were different from the lines I was trying to learn."

The script was a mess because the author was, too. Lerner was living on his yacht in the Charles River. One of his guests was Max Jacobson, better known as "Dr. Feelgood." The good doctor was giving Lerner shots of something that was supposed to eliminate sleep and stimulate the imagination.

A musical about ESP was being written by a guy on LSD.

"Alan could stay up for hours and hours working on the show," says Cullum. "He told me he'd written 2,500 pages of dialogue. But it wasn't inspired writing. It was just writing for the sake of writing. "He was up and then -- BOOM! -- he'd pass out, right in front of you. When he was up, he'd disappear. We'd come to rehearsal in the morning and find out he'd gone to California or Europe. He'd just get on a plane and go see somebody. So even though he was writing the show, I never had much contact with him."

Cullum says Harris, whose performance was brilliant, was eccentric, as well. "She loved to improvise," Cullum says. "If I had a line -- 'Why are you smiling?' -- she'd frown. It was charming, but it was difficult. I had to do a Viennese accent, and while I could do improvisations, I couldn't do them with a Viennese accent. So I was locked into the script, and she was floating all over the place. "Barbara was a great talent. One of the best I've ever worked with. But she was always on the verge of something. She never actually went bananas, but there was something lurking there, something very dark."

On a Clear Day opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre with what was then the priciest ticket on Broadway -- $11.90. Despite tepid reviews, the production managed to eke out an eight-month run. "We'd gotten pretty good by then," says Cullum. "But Alan had lost heart. Everybody was saying this is no Camelot or My Fair Lady. He said, 'Just close it.'

"I hope the new version works," Cullum adds. "Some of Alan's ideas were wonderful, and the music is gorgeous."

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