SNOW QUEEN AT LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE – FEBRUARY 7 – 23, 2020

SHORT TAKE:

Delightful musical retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Early to mid teens  and up. Though nothing inappropriate for the younger set, at two hours and with the somewhat erudite themes, story structure, and production, the littler kids might get restless.

LONG TAKE:

The Snow Queen has been produced under many guises: story, play, movie, opera, anime, science fiction novel, video game, radio play, ballet, and several musicals from a multiplicity of countries. This pop/rock musical version, directed by the wonderful and warm Bacot Wright, and aided by her heroic battery supplying husband Greg, and exhausted assistant director Dan Sadler, without whom the sky might literally fall from the ceiling, is being performed at Lake Charles Little Theatre from February 7 through February 23, 2020, (tickets HERE). This Snow Queen is from a book/stageplay script adaptation by Haddoon Kime with music by Kime, Kirsten Brandt & Rick Lombardo.

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen’s classic The Snow Queen, the tale is spun about a young heroine, Gerda, who endures a long perilous journey to free her neighbor and playmate, Kai, from the enticements of The Snow Queen and the evil spell of the Devil himself.

Many have theorized that The Snow Queen is the story upon which Frozen was based….very loosely………very VERY loosely – though the one in Frozen who needs rescuing is combined with the villain character from Snow Queen, and the one in need of “rescuing” in Frozen is a woman instead of a boy, and the main characters in Frozen are estranged sisters instead of playmates…and the adventures are almost unrecognizable from the source story…and the sister isn’t exactly enchanted but is mostly just having an identity crisis…but if you squint REALLY hard…..

Now, there is a definite echo in the character of the Snow Queen from the White Witch in the Chronicles of Narnia, as both live and thrive in cold and snow, call up enchantments, freeze people and their souls, and seduce their victims with sweets – the Snow Queen with kisses which give a kind of ecstasy, the White Witch with Turkish Delights.

The Little Theatre troupe embraced the challenge of music which is often dissonant and contrapunctal. From the rich harmonies of the ensembles to the counter point duets and the strong solos, all the singers bring great beauty to a variety of styles employed to enhance the mood of the scenes: from Lily Brady’s hip hop Robber Girl’s “I Want That”, to Heather Foreman’s Broadway perk in the Princess’ “Never Give Up”, Louis Barrilleaux as Reindeer and Hunter Becton’s Gerda operatic style duet “Aurora”, Cole Becton’s Kai singing the “Equations” lament, ensembles like “Flying”, Taylor Novak-Tyler’s Snow Queen’s Phantom-like aria “You Are Mine” – all are performed with the requisite vocal precision and confidence essential to these demanding songs.

The sets are cleverly minimalist – evoking the diverse ranges of: castle, river, cottage, flying in the sky – mostly just with light and sound and singing against a bold multilevel backdrop.

Almost all the cast members do multi duty. Katie Becton, in real life the mother of Hunter and  Cole plays both the grandmother of Gerda and Kai as well as the Robber Mom. Louis is at turns a Prince, a Troll and a Crow as well as the aforementioned Reindeer. Heather is Princess, North Witch and Garden Witch. Lily is the Robber Girl and a talking/singing Rose.  Timothy Smith is creepy as a Troll King and endearing as the aging but courageous British Old Crow. Cagle Kaough “flys” between Lady Crow and Flower. Everly Spears is adorable as a chatty Narcissus and pigeon with some well timed coos. Crista Corbello is charming as flower and pigeon. Supratik Regmi and  Antonio Dre do triple duty as Trolls, Robbers and Crows.

This musical covers a gamut – insightful philosophy, musical fantasy, adventure and all with a sense of humor, especially notable in the scene stealing garden flowers and  Pigeons.

Some say the story is an allegory for a girl’s maturation as she moves from the clingy shelter of her mother (the garden), to the temptations of pubescence (the robber’s den), the winter of old age (the North Witch’ hut) and even death (the ice castle). Others that it is reminiscent of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as our protagonist must over come many and varied obstacles, climbing ever upward, to save a soul – in the case of The Snow Queen, not her own but that of her friend. It could also be seen as simply the imaginings of two children who, having heard of a darkly magical fairy tale just at bed time, dream themselves into it as the main characters in all its vivid detail. I think it is all that and more, a testament to the story both sparse and multi-leveled that each audience member can take away something different and personal, depending on their individual perspective and stage of life.

So go see this delightful, funny, enchanting musical tale of fairy tale heroics, adventurous self-sacrifice, and introspective wisdom – a library all in one play –  at Lake Charles Little Theatre – tickets HERE.

 

FOR A DISASTROUSLY GOOD TIME AT ACTS THEATRE!!! GO SEE – DISASTER: THE MUSICAL!!!

SHORT TAKE

Disaster: the Musical opens (tonight) January 24, 2020 at ACTS Theatre, [GET YOUR TICKETS HERE]  through Groundhog Day (February 2, 2020) with evening performances at 7:30 and matinees at 3. It is a hilarious take off of disaster genre movies, especially The Poseidon Adventure.

WHO SHOULD GO

With slight reservations – anyone. Aside from a few off-color, stress related words, which are difficult to hear amidst loud music, ensemble conversation and special effects noise, the play is appropriate for any age which does not mind loud sounds and music.

LONG TAKE

I love disaster movies. The excitement, the drama, the special effects, the sappy songs. I even love the formula. Meet an unlikely ensemble group, usually: an older married couple, a sick child, a sleazy selfish person who will get their comeuppance, a religious figure, a dog, an entertainer, and at least one estranged couple who will re-bond through trauma. (SEE MY ARTICLE “CATACLYSM AS MARITAL THERAPY” HERE). They will then endure escape room dynamics to survive fire (Towering Inferno), water (Poseidon Adventure), predatory animals (Jurassic Park), rickety climbing structure (various), etc and combinations of the aforementioned, all while evading whatever caused the calamity to begin with: earthquake, fire, tsunami, escaped dinosaurs, hurricane, whatever.

As preposterous as some of these scenarios may sound they have been a guilty pleasure of movie goers for generations. I, for one, once watched The Poseidon Adventure (the first one with Gene Hackman – yes, I’m that old) in the movie theater IN the front row at MIDNIGHT (when the tsunami hit the ship). They are a hoot.

There’s something to be said for the opportunity to reestablish priorities – walking out of a theater knowing that while your dog may have eaten your only copy of your income tax return and the hot water heater is on the fritz, at least you don’t have to ride out the zombie apocalypse in the basement of a burning bar (Shaun of the Dead) or survive an erupting volcano in a collapsed mine shaft (Dante’s Peak). I mean – count your blessings!!

The grand-daddies of disaster, the majordomos of misadventure, and the comptrollers of catastrophe, were: Airport (1970 – with a zillion sequels coming out in the latter part of that decade), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno and Earthquake (1974), The Hindenburg (1975), and Meteor (1979).

And following in those esteemed footsteps is DISASTER: THE MUSICAL. Mostly capitalizing on The Poseidon Adventure, this hilarious parody leans heavily on 1970’s songs, costumes and the “disco culture” (such as it was) pervasively popular at the time. Written by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick for Only Make Believe’s fund raiser in 2011, the show was a hit and crept up from Off-Off Broadway to Broadway within a few years.

(And FYI Only Make Believe is a non-profit organization that creates and performs interactive theatre for children in hospitals, care facilities, and special education programs, operating under the core resolve that encouraging a child’s imagination is a vital part of the healing and learning process.)

Our local performers at ACTS Theatre throw themselves into the Disaster characters with deliciously shameless enthusiasm. As directed by veteran Kris Webster, no stops are unpulled and no scenery left unchewed.

ABBA style, the music is cobbled together from popular songs of the era. Top 40 tunes like: “Knock on Wood”, “Hot Stuff”, “A Fifth of Beethoven” and “Three Times a Lady”, are used in cleverly comic ways NEVER originally intended. I don’t want to spoil anything for you so won’t tell you all the songs, BUT when you go see Disaster, play a game – see what familiar 1970’s hit song might be coming up next, depending on the circumstances at hand.

The cast is terrific and, despite the weird circumstances in which the songs appear, belt out these archaic tunes with an irresistible gusto that makes singing along difficult to resist. Much like the source material for this comic catastrophe, the cast list is studded with an abundance of familiar talented faces.

Zac Hammons (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels SEE REVIEW HERE) is first on, setting the stage figuratively with a prelude, then appearing often to literally set and reset the stage, athletically bullying into shape the plethora of scenarios needed for the play.

Jordan Gribble (The Giver and the scene stealing father from Bye Bye Birdie SEE REVIEW HERE), is lovelorn Chad.

Mark Hebert (Arsenic and Old Lace SEE REVIEW HERE and Mamma Mia SEE REVIEW HERE) is Scott, Chad’s clueless friend.

Kane Todd (Mamma Mia, Bye Bye Birdie) is Professor Ted Scheider, the disaster expert.

Taylor Novak-Tyler (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Clue SEE REVIEW HERE) is Marianne, Chad’s old girlfriend.

Robert Goodson (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Clue) is Tony Delvechio, the slimy casino owner everyone loves to hate.

Kelly Rowland (Arsenic and Old Lace, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change SEE REVIEW HERE) is Jackie, the entertainer and single mother with twins.

Ana-Claire Perkins hilariously bounces back and forth as both of Jackie’s twins, Ben and Lisa.

Markie Hebert (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Spamalot SEE REVIEW HERE) is Sister Mary Downy, a well meaning nun who has her own reasons for not wanting to go into the casino.

Kathy Heath (Steel Magnolias SEE REVIEW HERE, Arsenic and Old Lace) is Shirley Summers and Matt Dye (Arsenic and Old Lace, Taming of the Shrew SEE REVIEW HERE) is Maury Summers, the older retired happily married couple on their first real vacation.

At which point I have to note an in joke as SHELLEY Winters played a very reminiscent character in The Poseidon Adventure to SHIRLEY Summers here. Geddit? Shelley Winters/Shirley Summers….Hey I didn’t make it up, I’m just bringing it to your attention.

Sonia Yetming is Levora Verona, a washed up disco singer trying to get back on top.

Trevor Chaumont is Jake.

Jessica Broussard is Tracy.

Rhett Goodner is listed as a stock “Wealthy Man”.

Krista Austin plays Rhett Goodner’s character’s wife.

Jaylin Williams is the Chef.

Bobby Guillory, Nikki Guillory and Noelie Puckett lend their support as various cast members and in the ensemble.

And special commendation to all the stage crew, without whose hard work this crazy carnival of calamity would not have been possible.

So for a comedic catastrophe of clever carnage, for a gargantuan gag fest of gore, and a deliciously droll delivery of devastation (OK, I’m done)…go see — DISASTER: THE MUSICAL at ACTS Theatre, [GET YOUR TICKETS HERE]. Then go pet the dog, call a plumber ….. and smile.

FOR MORE DISASTER PHOTOS GO:

HERE

HERE

and

HERE

JUDY – A HORRIBLE WARNING BEHIND THE CURTAIN

AUDIO OPTION FOR REVIEW TITLED JUDY – A HORRIBLE WARNING BEHIND THE CURTAIN

SHORT TAKE:
Harsh look at the woman behind the magic of Judy Garland, aka Frances Ethel Gumm, in her waning professional months, near the end of her life.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Adult fare ONLY. Vulgar and blasphemous language, sexuality, implied pedophilia, scenes of alcohol and drug abuse.

LONG TAKE:

One of the things I’ve learned in writing movie reviews is that, once seriously analyzed, you never look at these celluloid miracles quite the same way. Not necessarily a bad thing, just different.

Like when Dorothy gets a peek behind the Wizard’s curtains. She discovers truths about him that perhaps she didn’t want to know but at the same time makes him more accessible.

This can be especially true about biographies, and Judy, a screenplay by Tom Edge, in turn based on the play The End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, is a prime example of learning more about the creation of a fantasy than is good for that imaginary world’s longevity.

I knew Judy Garland primarily for her unforgettable performance as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Judy gives a look into the industry that stole her childhood, made her feel betrayed by the adults who should have been protecting her, addicted her to pick me ups and barbiturates, and ultimately contributed to her death at a prematurely aged 47.

Renee Zellweger, (Miss Potter, Bridget Jones, Chicago) up for best actress for her astonishing performance in Judy, is mesmerizing. Zellweger has captured the look and essence of Judy Garland. Not just the easy to imitate woman at the height of her career, but someone who was at the top of her game and now at the bottom of her own self-dug well, who, history dictates, will die in but months from a lifetime of physical abuse and addiction. Yet she is also a woman who has moments of great dignity and kindness in comforting a disconsolate fan, and sparkles brilliantly showcasing her incredible talent. Zellweger shines forth as brightly in Garland’s singing as she demonstrates the desperate darkness of Garland’s personal lows in the last months of her life.

Judy Garland blasted into America’s consciousness with her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and never really left.

Zellweger looks, sounds and acts more like Judy Garland than Judy Garland. She demonstrates an incredible repertoire, performing Garland’s iconic songs: The Trolley Song, Over the Rainbow, You Made me Love You, Talk of the Town, By Myself, Get Happy, San Francisco, Zing Went the Strings, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and Come Rain or Come Shine. These are worth seeing all by themselves.

But as good as Renee Z’s performance is, the same cannot be said for the other performers or the rest of the movie as directed by Rupert Goold, (mostly known for BBC mini-series filmings of Shakespeare). I could not shake the feeling, even while knowing better, that this was a made-for-TV weekly weeper. The close-ups, the episodic nature of the scenes, and the mediocre, caricature acting of the other performers made for a lukewarm film at best.

Renee Z appeared like a diamond sewn onto the waistcoat of a poorly fitting polyester suit from Walmart. The supporting structure is not terrible, and certainly serves its purpose but is nothing special.

The background soundtrack by Gabriel Yared is bland fare, applying fluffy disconnected tunes to scenes, seemingly chosen from a standard library of emotion emoting jingles.

The cinematography, as I have indicated, harkens back to boob tube “Scandal-of-the-Week” bio fodder which used to be sprinkled into the weekly TV Guide.

Judy’s greatest virtue, aside from Renee Z’s astonishing performance, is the horrible warning to parents who might have stars in their eyes. Releasing children into any industry without close parental supervision and protection is a disaster waiting to happen.

Miss Garland’s father cheated on Garland’s mother with men. Judy’s mother, according to the screenplay, as well as the prima facia evidence of Garland’s precipitous decline, sold her to the Hollywood System. Neither parent raised or responsibly watched over her. The child Garland (Darci Shaw) was tyrannically forced into eating and behavioral schedules torturous, inappropriate, and abusive to her slight frame. She was given pills to help her sleep and pills to wake her up so as to accommodate the brutal filming schedules. There were allegations of sexual advances from older men including Louis B. Mayer (portrayed by Richard Cordery from About Time and Les Misérables). In turn, Judy grew up pill addicted, fragile, cynical, and desperate for the attention of men. She crashed four marriages and died three months after marrying her fifth husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock – La La Land, Unbroken, Noah).

Garland struggled desperately to be a better mother for her three children, Liza from her marriage to Vincent Minelli, and Lorna, and Joey, with Sid Luft (played by Rufus Sewell – Hamlet, The Illusionist) but they have suffered from the sins of their parents as well.

Ms. Garland died at the age of 47 looking like she was the wrong side of 70.

Liza Minnelli, Miss Garland’s oldest child, expressly disapproved of the script and I can understand why. Not only does it dig up dirt on poor Miss Garland like dirty underwear on a laundry line, but it serves no end but to satisfy curious titillation. Further, it tarnishes the idealized image of the little girl who went to Oz with which we all grew up.

In Bohemian Rhapsody Freddie Mercury admitted to his failings and, despite his sufferings, carried on, tried to make amends with those he had hurt and soldiered on writing music with his band until days before his death. Ms. Garland, as shown in Judy, continued binge drinking, even showing up drunk to sold-out performances, resulting in her being booed off stage more than once. She fought for her own preferences over what was obviously in the best interests of her children. She was often unappreciative of the help others tried to provide her, and was eventually fired by people who loved and respected her talent when even they couldn’t tolerate her unprofessional behavior any longer. As a result she died penniless.

There is something to said for being a horrible warning. If keeping innocents out of the Hollywood System is the theme, it certainly serves that purpose and is worth viewing for that. But, having grown up with one image of Dorothy, there is a part of me who, having now peeked behind the Wizard’s curtain, kind of wished I hadn’t.

R.I.P. Judy.

A CHRISTMAS STORY – LOVELY NOSTALGIC REMINISCENCE AT ACTS THEATRE

SHORT TAKE:

Lovely Christmas tale, set in 1950’s Americana, of a narrator’s look back on his childhood quest for the ideal present during the weeks leading up to Christmas morning.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone and everyone – children of all ages.

LONG TAKE:

A Christmas Story, which opened December 6, 2019  at ACTS Theatre and plays through December 15, 2019 (GET TICKETS HERE), is the stage play version, which premiered in 2000, based upon the charming classic holiday movie from 1983, which was, in turn, based upon the semi-autobiographical anecdotal book by Jean Shepherd, titled In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.

The play tale is the same as the movie, narrated by the adult version of Ralphie, a little boy growing up in Indiana in the 1950’s during the weeks leading up to Christmas the year he desperately wanted and fantasized about having “an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time”. Unfortunately his mother, his teacher and even the department store Santa gave the same litany response: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

While Ralphie’s ploys to obtain this forbidden item create the Christmas tree trunk of the story, the real gems, like ornaments on the branches, are the moments of true Americana which made up Ralphie’s childhood: the bundling up ritual before venturing into the bitter weather to get to school; Ralphie’s fantasies of protecting his family and friends with his BB gun; his father’s constant struggle with their old furnace accompanied by a string of invectives translated for the play into child-appropriate made up words; Ralphie’s friend Flick getting his tongue stuck on a lamppost subsequent to a triple dog dare; his fellow classmate Esther Jane’s obvious crush on him about which he is, at the time, completely oblivious; the eccentricities of his little brother Randy; and most importantly the close knit time he spent with his family. It didn’t matter that the dinners often suffered from routine or his father erroneously thought he was a mechanic. The magic was in the fact the parents and boys were together every night and the quantity of time they spent together AS a family which brings meaning to the real Christmas Story. The moments in a child’s life spent, as my own husband refers to them, MAKING memories.

A Christmas Story is a comedy, in as much as people are naturally funny. It’s not a series of one liners or gags but finds humor in the people we have in our lives, or even the people we are, all of whom find places in this story.  From Mother, “the Old Man” and brother Ralphie, to the bully Farkus and Miss Shields, his fifth grade teacher, all the characters will be quite familiar even to those who have never before seen the movie or this play. These are people who exist in all our lives in one form or another.

Noah Herbert is perfect as Ralphie, the young lead, sweet and ingenuous, he is the embodiment of that innocent time. Elizabeth Harper, as Mother, is the practical center of the family, kindly guiding her family through their antics like a loving human “face palm” of affectionate exasperation. Bobbie Guillory is “The Old Man”, a hard working devoted husband and father, whose amateur mechanics, whimsical commitment to contest entering, and attachment to a uniquely peculiar prize lamp inform many of the family events. Harper and Guillory create warm appealing characters with believable affectionate chemistry. Zac Hammon is the adult version of Ralphie looking back on his family and that particular Christmas with a fond nostalgia and warm wisdom, providing narration for the necessary exposition. Mila Alcantara is sweet and natural as Esther Jane, Ralphie’s crush. Hannah Miller chews the scenery as Scut Farkus, a comical version of the class bully. David Gustafson is adorable as Ralphie’s younger brother. Elliott Mitchell is the hapless Flick, constantly the butt of bad luck. Dorothy Thomason is fun as the stern but well meaning Miss Shields. And rounding out the cast is Dylan Freeman as Schwartz, and Jolie Leubner as Helen, Ralphie’s other classmates.

All the young actors do a magnificent job in their portrayals, timing and enthusiastic characterizations of these 1950’s children.

The set is appropriately always against the backdrop of the family kitchen. The kitchen was the heart and center of Ralphie’s home and life, with occasional forays to a nicely constructed upstairs bedroom to where Ralphie retires to think out loud, write essays of devotion about his Red Ryder gun and contemplate the mysteries of his life. Action outside the kitchen is set in front of the kitchen backdrop. This works on a conceptual as well as practical level, as the consequences of the outside world will eventually return and resolve to a satisfying conclusion there at the kitchen table anyway within the bosom of his family.

Director Clay Hebert, along with assistant Stan Morris and stage manager Lauren Manuel do a terrific job bringing this story together. Much of this stage incarnation echoes true to the film version but I must especially commend the director and his crew in what I personally perceive as a major improvement on the dynamics of the parents. In the 1983 movie Mother, as portrayed by Melinda Dillon, is a mousy creature and Darren MacGavin’s “Old Man” is kind of a clueless bulldozer. But Clay Hebert’s vision transforms those unappealing characters into the charming complementary couple of smart pragmatic Mother and energetic idealist “Old Man,” who we parents would not mind being remembered as. Plaudits go to all the cast and crew for successfully coming together as a troupe to offer this magical Christmas gift down memory lane to Lake Charles.

So go see this warm hearted show, which will conjure nostalgia for the past in the adults, ring true for children in the present, and light a unique lamp in the window for all families who look hopefully towards this Christmas and all the future Christmases to come.

ALADDIN – FANTASTIC LIVE ACTION VERSION AND, DARE I SAY, BETTER THAN THE ANIMATED CLASSIC

 

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF ALADDIN REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Fantastic live action remake of the 1992 animated Aladdin.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone and everyone.

LONG TAKE:

I walked into the movie theater fully expecting, nay planning, not to like this new version of Aladdin. I dreaded a cheap imitation of the original.

Happily, I could not have been more wrong. This live action Disney Aladdin musical is absolutely adorable and Smith is wonderful in it. It is both fresh and familiar, telling the same story, touching all the same plot points and featuring all of our favorite music, moments and lines, yet does not merely imitate. This Will Smith-led Aladdin does respectful homage and even honor to the memory, not only of its animated predecessor in general, but of Robin Williams in particular, and brings Smith’s own unique tone to the story.

It’s obvious that Smith loved and respected Robin Williams’ Genie. He is playful with the character that Williams invented yet gently puts his own spin on the character.

Robin Williams was frenetically comedic, exuding an ambiance of anxious-to-please humor, whereas Smith is more self-confident and wryly witty. Robin Williams excelled at impersonation, jumping effortlessly from character to character – that was his style. Smith stays Smith as Genie – that’s his style. Both are two variations on the same theme. Like Tchaikovsky’s tribute to Mozart in his Mozartiana, Smith hits all of his predecessor’s brilliant notes and rhythms but applies his own personal talents to this clever musical take on the Arabian Night tale.

The 2019 live action version, directed by Guy Ritchie (Robert “Iron Man” Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes features) even resolves plot holes and improves character arcs in ways that were not necessarily required of an animated feature, but meet one’s heightened expectations of a live-action movie.

The songs are all there with the same energy and comedy and touching moments portrayed by performers with whom, other than Smith, I have very little familiarity, but who are terrific in their roles.

Naomi Scott, an openly devout Christian and child of pastors, has an incredible voice and does an amazing job as Jasmine. Mena Massoud is charming and personifies the thief with a heart of gold (or diamond as the case may be). Marwen Kenzari (Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, Cruise’s Mummy and the very peculiar dystopian What Happened to Monday), avoids a caricature “mustache twirler” Jafar and instead is portrayed as the flip side of Aladdin, with chilling effect. Navid Negahban (12 Strong, Fringe and American Sniper) creates a far more realistic portrait of a troubled and stern but fair and caring father and ruler in the Sultan than in the animated version. Comedian Nasim Pedrad (SNL and Despicable Me 2) creates the new character of Dalia, at once handmaid and confidante to the princess and focus of an unlikely suitor to adorable affect. Frank Welker reprises his voice acting talents as both Abu and the Cave of Wonders.

The color palette used was appropriately bright and well-defined, like the beloved cartoon feature brought to “real” life. The music was just as we remembered, with amazing singing from both Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud. There is also a terrific Bollywood-style courtship dance number which has been added to the proceedings. One of my only criticisms of this Aladdin is that there was not two or three more of them.

While I would love to wax eloquent about the zillion ways in which they have successfully and entertainingly brought this classic animated feature to life, I do not want to ruin a minute of it for anyone with spoilers. However, from the very first setup in the very first scene it will become obvious the thought, care and affection with which they have invested to recreate this story.

So go enjoy this delightful re-creation of the animated movie we grew up with. And, since you’re going anyway …. bring your kids.

MAMMA MIA! EXUBERANCE PERSONIFIED IN THE ADORABLE HEARTWARMING MUSICAL PLAYING AT ACTS THEATRE IN LAKE CHARLES, LA

 

SHORT TAKE:

Upbeat and joyous musical comedy cobbled from the wildly popular songs of ABBA, about a young woman who invites three men who might be her father to her wedding and the lighthearted ensuing fallout therefrom.

WHO SHOULD GO:

There is a bit of light innuendo played for comic buffoonery and a slight bit of mild language but it is the premise of the story that makes this really for mid-teens, with appropriate informed parental discretion, and up.

ALSO – there’s LOTS more pictures on their way which I’ll be adding and even changing over the next day or two – so check in again SOON!!

Also also – we incorporated as many pics as we could into the text of the blog but we couldn’t put them ALL so we have put DOZENS more at the end of the blog and MORE will be added in the next few days – so CHECK OUT PAST THE END OF THE BLOG FOR MANY MANY MORE PHOTOS!!!

LONG TAKE:

If you find yourself feeling down this weekend, boy have I got a cure for you. There is not a prescription in existence that will cheer you up the way Mamma Mia! will. And I challenge anyone to not find themselves helplessly and happily tapping along to the catchy, memorable and upbeat ABBA tunes.

Like the title of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play” the name ABBA is not technically supposed to be mentioned, but as a member of the audience, in case you didn’t know, Mamma Mia! is based on the music of this “unnamed” band, a Swedish pop group which exploded onto the musical scene in the late 1970’s and whose music is now ubiquitous from movies to elevators all over the world. Inspired by the theatrical possibilities of The Winner Takes it All, that song stands as the center showpiece of the plot written by Catherine Johnson.

Opening this Friday, May 31 and playing through June 16 where TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE at Lake Charles’ ACTS Theatre, 7:30 pm June 1, 7, 8, 14 & 15 with Sunday Matinees at 3 pm on June 2, 9 and 16, Mamma Mia is almost an opera buffa. Directed by veteran thespian Walt Kiser, Mamma Mia! jumps like musical parkour, from song to song, avoiding dialogue almost completely. Why say something when you can SING IT! And a more joyous heartfelt set of songs you would be hard pressed to find anywhere.

Even the saddest of the songs will make you smile with their deliciously sappy romanticism. Mamma Mia! dances from Honey, Honey to I Have a Dream, Dancing Queen, SOS, Super Trooper and of course Mamma Mia, as the play lyrically tells its story.

Sophie, a young bride-to-be, has been raised by her single mom, Donna, on a Greek Island. Desperate to find out who her father is and wanting his presence at her wedding, 20 year old Sophie peruses her mother’s diary, and discovers that Donna had had one wild and crazy couple of weeks … about 20 years before. So, behind her mother’s back, Sophie sends a wedding invitation to the unknowing lucky pater familias    — all three of them – Sam, Bill and Harry.  The three unsuspecting men, clueless to their possible fatherhood, show up and the awkward situation escalates comically with every musical number.

The set is in authentic Athens blue highlights, the costumes brightly colorful, the singing strong, and the cast infectiously enthusiastic.

Paula McCain, who recently added her considerable acting talents to McNeese’s The Crucible, leads as Donna. Heather Foreman, fresh from ACTS’ Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, LCLT’s Bye Bye Birdie and McNeese University’s Songs for a New World, captivates the audience as Sophie, bringing beautiful youthful exuberance to The Name of the Game and Lay All Your Love on Me.

Casey Doucet, who also serves as musical director, plays Sam, Donna’s first “one who got away”, bringing the same commanding poignancy from ACTS’ Shrek to his half of Mamma Mia‘s star crossed lovers, Sam. Michael Ieyoub is Harry and Mark Hebert is Bill, who endearingly and humorously play the other two Dad candidates.

Krystal Smith as Tanya and Veronica Williams as Rosie take the stage as the singing/dancing best friends of Donna, belting out the likes of Super Trooper and Take a Chance on Me.

Sky, Sophie’s fiancé,  is played by Joshua Peterson. Louis Barrilleaux is Pepper the lecherous bartender, Kane Todd is Eddie, Donna’s assistant, Diki Jines is their Catholic priest, and Anita Fields-Gold is the local island’s watchful kindly dowager.

The amazingly talented dancing troupe of Gracie Myers, Joley Fontenot, Eli Prudhomme, Jay Prudhomme, and Hannah Daigle periodically steal scenes as they punctuate the emotions and songs with near acrobatic choreography.

Kelly Rowland and Lori Tarver are Sophie’s best buds and bridesmaids, Ali and Lisa, aiding with Honey, Honey and others. Rounding out the ensemble and lending their voices and dancing skills, are: Alaina Goins, Amber Zuniga, Kristine Alcantra,  Teresa Marceaux, Taylor Novak-Tyler, Ashley Dickerson,  Zach Benoit, and Dan Sadler.

Brahnsen Lopez is stage manager. Producers are Diane Flatt and Mark Hebert.  Lauren Fontenot is their choreographer and Kris Webster the costumer.

So come to ACTS Theatre, to sing and dance your blues away, with the troupe from Mamma Mia!

 

MORE ON A SUPPLEMENTARY POST FOR MAMMA MIA!

 

 

 

 

BYE BYE BIRDIE – FUN AND FEEL GOOD NOSTALGIC MUSICAL AT LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE

 

SHORT TAKE:

Lively, charming, upbeat, family friendly musical comedy based loosely on the departure of Elvis for the Army draft at the height of his popularity.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone and everyone can and should attend this fun 1960’s retro musical.

OPENING LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE THROUGH APRIL 28, 2019 – BUY TICKETS HERE.

LONG TAKE:

1958. And at the height of the career of one of America’s most famous singing icons, during the age of the mandatory military service – he was drafted. Elvis’ fans about lost their collective minds. His manager of questionable ethics, “Colonel” Tom Parker, turned down multiple offers by multiple branches to have Mr. Presley assigned to cush duty in the entertainment special services. Not only did he not want his prize cash cow to sully his reputation as a “celebrity wimp out,” but more importantly, if Elvis had served as an entertainer, the military branches would have had FREE access to those recorded performances in perpetuity. So off to the army, as a regular Joe, Elvis went, where he served honorably and with some distinction, rising to the rank of Sergeant and qualifying as an expert marksman upon his discharge.

In 1960, a parody musical based loosely upon the personalities, if not the exact details, of Presley’s historic departure for boot camp and active duty opened on Broadway.

The story is of a financially desperate mama’s boy, Albert,  about to lose his first big singing client, Conrad Birdie, to the draft. He and his emotionally desperate girlfriend, Rose, who he has strung along for eight years, hatch a plot to turn chicken feathers into chicken salad by turning Conrad’s departure into a publicity stunt.

They choose one of the thousands of rabidly fanatic members of Birdie’s fan clubs, Kim MacAfee of small town Sweet Apple, Ohio, at random for him to bestow a last pre-induction kiss on national television. The insanely anticipated event turns Kim, her jealous boyfriend Hugo, her straight-laced overwhelmed parents, Doris and Harry, all the other fan members, and her town of Sweet Apple, not to mention the nation, on their respective ears.

And so the stage is – literally – set for the hilarious nostalgic musical comedy, Bye Bye Birdie, playing at Lake Charles Little Theatre  (from April 13 through April 28, 2019 – shows start at 7:30 with Sunday matinees starting at 2 pm).

Directed by stage veteran Randy Partin, the set is simple with scene changes accomplished with moved furniture, sign changes and backlit photos. This is to keep the focus on and leave ample room for the joyous and energetic song and dance filled plot,  choreographed by Karly Marcantel.

Albert is played with Phil Silvers-like restrained comedic panic by Cameron Scallan, singing and dancing such universally known tunes as “Put on a Happy Face” with Dick Van Dyke (who played this role both on stage and in the movie) style. Rose is Taylor Novak as the put upon brains and backbone of the company as she belts out boisterous numbers like the catchy “Spanish Rose”. Heather Foreman finds just the right comedic balance in the contradictions of the wide-eyed, naïve and budding Kim, with clear and innocent conviction, as she beautifully serenades the audience with songs like “How Lovely to be a Woman” while donning Tom-boy duds, singing “One Boy” to Hugo while swooning over Conrad, and “What Did I Ever See in Him?” These leads belt out sometimes challenging tune and patter lyrics with infectious enthusiasm.

The main supporting characters are Ashley Dickerson as interfering pushy mother Mae; Jordan Gribble, Amber Netherland and Cole Becton as Kim’s family; Antonio Dre as Conrad, and Wiliam Stanfield as Hugo.

There is a large cast and an ensemble of players who make up the groupies, bar patrons, parents, community members, news reporters and sundry other denizens of this funny and musical retro story.

The styles are poodle skirts and pompadour hair. The songs are clever and catchy. All the performers sing and dance their hearts out for this tongue-in-cheek romp.

So for some clean, musical retro fun – go see Bye Bye Birdie before this wonderful play says “Bye Bye” to Lake Charles.

LUTCHER THEATER – A FONT OF THEATRICAL TREASURES AND A REVIEW OF SOMETHING ROTTEN

SHORT TAKE:

Go to the Lutcher Theater in Orange, Texas to take advantage of all its theatrical delights.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Everyone, depending on the age appropriateness of the play being offered.

LONG TAKE:

Something Rotten has come and gone from the Lutcher Theater, but more about that later.

My husband and I have been to this lovely performing arts venue, the Lutcher Theater, many times. They are nestled in Orange, Texas at 707 W. Main Ave. and their season never disappoints.  You can get tickets here for the shows remaining season and for information for seasons to come.  We highly recommend you frequent this treasure. From the well chosen plays to the building itself, where there are no bad seats, we suggest you discover for yourself the Lutcher Theater and all the theatrical magic it has to offer.

Recently we traveled to see Something Rotten. I mean, it isn’t rotten. Well, the play we saw IS Something Rotten, but it is not, in fact, ANY kind of rotten. It really is, actually, wonderful. Nominated for dozens of awards, the play garnered Christian Borle the 2015 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Cleverly conceived and amusingly told, Something Rotten’s title comes from a line in Shakespeare’s most well known play, Hamlet, when Marcellus, a soldier who has seen the ghost of their deceased king, warns that “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” But the play Something Rotten is most definitely NOT – rotten.

Something Rotten musically tells the story of the two Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel, who are rather good playwrights. However, they have the great misfortune of being contemporaries of, and therefore, competitors with — Shakespeare.

The tone is self-parody but the execution is erudite. While the whole thing is a hoot and laugh out loud funny in the witty lyrics and energetic pacing, it is steeped – DEEPLY – as you might expect, in Shakespearean language.

HOWEVER, EVEN if you’ve never heard a word of Hamlet, or Much Ado; if you think of Othello as only a board game and MacBeth may as well be in Swahili for all the sense it makes to you, you will still find Something Rotten very entertaining, but then you’ll miss the rich pudding of inside jokes. Almost every line, situation, and concept is referential to a Bardian play, and skewed by droll songs into a reflective parody. It’s comical and self-aware, often skating right up to that fourth wall but never quite breaking it.

And if that were not enough, there are homages to dozens and dozens of other Broadway shows. In the song, “A Musical,” for example, there are at least 20 allusions to other Broadway outings from Suessical to Sweeney Todd, from Annie to Evita. But you have to be quick to catch all the lines of lyric or iconic musical phrases.

And anachronisms abound. It’s a translation, if you will, of what the Renaissance might have been like in London, seen through modern eyes. Shakespeare is treated like a rock star, holding MTV-style stage performances of his sonnets and signing autographs on women’s bosoms. In “It’s Hard to be The Bard”  he moans of his own self-doubts in having to one-up himself with every play – a sentiment which I’m sure can be shared by every high performing actor and director in Hollywood. While the Bottom brothers moan their financial doldrums and the older brother loathes the far more successful Will Shakespeare in “I Hate Shakespeare,” his younger brother Nigel is a fan.  Frustrated and desperate, Nick seeks out the fortune teller, Nostradamus, who sings his predictions of the future, in “A Musical.”

Meanwhile, Nick’s wife, Portia, decides to dress up like a man and go out to earn some much needed rent money in “Right Hand Man,”and Puritans seek to close Nick down or have him beheaded. If the names and some of the situations ring a Shakespearean bell, that is because they are supposed to.

To get a delectable taste of the show watch here as the Broadway cast performs two songs on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

The costumes are period, the performers we saw were child-on-a-sugar-high, contagious level energetic. I do not know what troupe you might see but the musical lends itself to an upbeat, feel-good time for all.

But it is not FOR all audience members. The language can get rough and, while nothing is seen or done, the topics of conversation occasionally veer into the bawdy.

While no longer, at the moment, in Beaumont, you can catch this little gem on its tour around the country. And if you can’t catch up to it geographically, do not dismay. I predict that some day soon this will be transformed into a movie. It’s too delicious not — to be. (See what I did there?)

 

THE (“CUMBER”) GRINCH – WELL DONE UPDATE TO BELOVED CLASSIC STORY

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF THE GRINCH REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

The new The Grinch is entertaining for adults and children alike and respectful to its source material, but still manages a fresh take on this most beloved of children’s Christmas tales.

WHO SHOULD GO:

ANYBODY! EVERYBODY!

LONG TAKE:

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss was published in 1957, two years before I was born, and the first and most famous filmed animated version, narrated by Boris Karloff, was released in 1966 when I was 7. So the story of The Grinch has been on my radar my entire life, not to mention the fact that I have read probably every other Dr. Seuss story to my kids about a hundred times.

There have been several adaptations, including a musical and a Jim Carrey movie in 2000, the latter of which I did not much care for, as Carrey’s Grinch was a little too reminiscent of   Pennywise the clown from Stephen King’s It for my taste.

BUT – those of us who grew up with the original 1966 version need fear nothing about this latest version of The Grinch. The epynomous character is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Smaug from Lord of The Rings, Khan from the Star Trek reboot). Danny Elfman, Tim Burton’s go-to composer, deftly incorporates not only traditional Christmas music but songs from the 1966 animated film, including the Whoville Christmas song. The set ups for the story are the same, only a bit more flushed out and funnier.

The voice acting was smart and cute, even featuring a cameo from the grande dame of theater Angela Lansbury as the Mistress of Ceremonies at the Whoville tree lighting. Cindy Lou Who was performed by the charming Cameron Seely (The Greatest Showman).   Prolific composer Pharell Williams did the narration. Rashida Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones performs Donna, Cindy Lou’s mom. And Keenan Thompson voices the eternally optimistic and joyful (even for a Who) Mr. Brickelbaum.

One thing I actually like better in this version than I did in the original 1966 one, was the inclusion of several Christmas songs which reference the Nativity. Unlike other modern “Christmas” movies, this one highlights lyrics which refer to the birth of Christ, such as in “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen”: “…remember Christ Our Savior was born on Christmas Day….” Granted, it was sung by an overly enthusiastic Whoville, flashmob, Pentatonic-style choir who (pun intended) unintentionally chased the flinching Grinch through Whoville in a rather comedic scene, but the song was beautifully done.

There are a number of other similarly respectful moments in the film, which makes this 2018 version even more endearing than it otherwise would have been.

And do not be concerned about the occasional “Happy Holidays” that you will hear, because there are plenty of “Merry Christmas!” salutations to be heard, especially after the Grinch’s conversion. This might not have been a casual decision, but a deliberate script writing device. Either way it works nicely.

Benedict Cumberbatch does one of the best American accents by a Brit that I know. The only one who does it as well, I think, is Kenneth Branagh (Dead Again). Of course, I could just be biased because I am admittedly a fan of Mr. Cumberbatch. Like Mr. Branagh, Cumberbatch is not a movie star, he is an actor. (Don’t believe me – watch his Hamlet.)

The original film short was only 26 minutes. This 2018 runtime of 90 minutes uses the extra time well, investing the story with more about the Grinch’s backstory, as well as providing more credibility to his conversion, without eliminating any of the original elements from either the book or the 1966 movie.

. This movie is absolutely and completely suitable for everyone.There is no innuendo or profanity of any sort. It’s funny for adults, charming for children, enhances the original theme, and maintains the intent of the original story.

So – bravo to directors Yarrow Cheney (Despicable Me) and Scott Mosier (who, up to now has NOT been a maker of child-friendly films), scriptwriters Michael LeSieur (You, Me and Dupree), Tommy Swerdlow (Cool Runnings, Snow Dogs) and, of course Dr. Seuss/Theodor Geisel. Congrats also to music composer, Danny Elfman, and especially Mr. Cumberbatch for lending their talents to create this newest and very successful rendering of this most charming of Christmas stories for children of every age.

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SMALLFOOT – CLEVER AND SWEET WITH A SURPRISINGLY THOUGHTFUL UNDERLYING MESSAGE

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF SMALLFOOT REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Clean, genuinely funny, very kid-friendly movie about the sequence of events which results when a village of yetis is revealed to a “smallfoot”/human.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anybody can go but be advised, at 96 minutes, it is about 20 minutes too long for the average pre-kindergartner.

AND IF YOU LIKE THESE REVIEWS PLEASE SUBSCRIBE! THEN YOU’LL GET     EVERY NEW REVIEW SENT STRAIGHT TO YOUR E-MAIL!!

GO TO THE BOTTOM OF THE LEFT HAND SIDE AND TYPE YOUR E-MAIL IN – IT (SHOULD BE) THAT EASY. ANY PROBLEMS PLEASE SEND ME A COMMENT AND I’LL DO MY BEST TO RESOLVE YOUR ISSUE.

LONG TAKE:

Fides et Ratio was an encyclical by Saint Pope John Paul II in 1998. Translated, the title means “Faith and Reason”. In it, then Pope, now Saint John Paul II explains that faith without reason leads to superstition and reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism. Smallfoot, surprisingly, tackles the former of these heady, complex philosophical musings.

While I do not normally like to lead with a lot of spoilers, when analysing for a movie whose demographic is young children, as a parent, I would want full disclosure before bringing MY smallfoot, so I offer the same to you readers.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

This children’s tale begins with a colony of yetis who live high up on a mountain, cut off visually from the rest of the world by a constant ring of clouds. Our protagonist is a good natured, happy-go-lucky yeti named Migo (Channing Tatum) whose personality almost exactly parallels that of Chris Pratt’s eternally optimistic Emmett from The Lego Movie. You almost expect him to burst out with “Everything is Awesome” as he strolls through the yeti village. This is not meant as a criticism. It’s actually quite cute as he observes the seemingly pointless Rube Goldberg occupations to which everyone is assigned, but which are explained later.

The songs are, BTW, quite catchy and one in particular, sung by the female protagonist and Migo’s love interest, Meechee (Zendaya from The Greatest Showman), “Wonderful Life”, features some thoughtful lyrics:

Take a look around
And see the world we think we know
Then look closer
There’s more to life than meets the eye
A beauty to behold
It’s all much bigger than we know.

She sings this as she shows things to Migo he never noticed, like a small butterfly crystalized in a frozen stalactite, and the details in a snowflake. Beautiful imagery for a lovely idea: that the more we see, the more we realize the grandeur in Creation.

Their belief system, literally written in stone, is a seemingly random collection of unquestioned statements, including the command that if you feel the urge to question one of the stones you should “push it down” and not think about it. The stones describe strange and mythical beasts which must be fed or cooled or tended to in odd ways. One stone commands an absolute dismissal of the possibility that there could be anything below the cloudline. The stones are worn like scale armour by the tribal leader, Stonekeeper, (Lonnie Rashid Lynn aka the rapper Common). Migo, the son of Gorgle, the Gong Ringer (Danny DeVito) is one of the biggest stone-trusting advocates in the village, until one day Migo, by chance, observes a plane crash and the ejection of a smallfoot from this flying metal object. Problem is: the existence of smallfoot is absolutely denied by one of the earliest stones. No one will believe Migo as the evidence is quickly blown off the mountain.

Meanwhile, Percy, James Corden (voice of Peter Rabbit and guest companion in a couple of Matt Smith Dr. Who’s) is the host of an animal show which is on the decline. The ejected pilot happens upon Percy with his story of sighting a yeti, and before Percy, desperate for ratings, can take advantage of this knowledge, Migo appears, looking for the pilot and proof of his smallfoot story. Their first contact is cute and clever and takes full advantage of their inability to immediately communicate.

Tatum and Corden do a wonderful job of voicing the life into their respective characters and the writers do an excellent job with the miscommunications which arise from their inability to understand each other.

The movie is occasionally laugh out loud funny. It is completely clean – no bad language and, a rarity, totally innuendo free.

As the plot progresses it is revealed that the Stonekeeper is wearing a set of lies, deliberately created to protect the village because of previous lethal encounters with humans, generations ago. The stones’ commands all begin to form a pattern: If smallfoot does not exist then there’s no reason to go look for them. The ring of clouds is manufactured for camouflage by the steam generating machine deep within the mountain which the ice ball production and turning gears on the surface facilitates. The other stones which describe a sky snail and mammoths under the clouds which are cooled by the ice balls all were made up and commanded to be accepted without question to protect the villagers from leaving and revealing their village.

There are plot points in Smallfoot which harken back to other movies, certainly: the hidden city of Wakanda in Black Panther, and a concept accepted without question which keeps two potentially friendly but very dissimilar groups apart, but which is a complete lie, as in Monsters, Inc. for example, that children are dangerously toxic. (I won’t even discuss The Village because Smallfoot is a much better movie). But Smallfoot is not a derivative of any of them.

If I make the movie sound like it is heavily philosophical, it is not. The movie plays out like any normal child friendly film with lots of slap stick, goofy looking characters, Bugs Bunny-level pratfalls, bright colors, and non-lethal force. (Exs: an angry mama bear appears to be attacking, but when translated is just loudly chiding Migo for disturbing her family from their hibernation when it took her WEEKS to get her cubs to sleep. A crashing helicopter’s propellors are caught in trees spinning the body of the copter and the pilot emerges unscathed but incredibly dizzy.)

But it is the thoughtful story and clever characters that put Smallfoot above the general mishmash of kid movies which usually populate the screen. Inevitably the yetis’ faith without reason in the commands on the stones, about which Saint Pope John Paul II cautioned, breeds a mindless superstition requiring blind belief, and when challenged by truth, falls apart. It is only when reason and faith come together – when truth is combined with some earned trust between Migo and Percy, that a peaceful diplomatic solution is possible.

I liked Smallfoot. It has all the charm of a harmless silly kid movie, adds sly but innocent humor for the adults, and has an intelligent underlying theme. The characters are well fleshed out for the cast of an elementary school level movie. Plus the songs are catchy and cute without being heavy handed and are sparingly used. And best of ALL – it did NOT go for the STUPID, almost UBIQUITOUS “female empowerment” message with which we are regularly bludgeoned and which has ruined entire franchises (I’d sneeze the words Star Wars if I was standing right in front of you to make the point, but I’m not so you’ll just have to imagine that.)

My only real complaint is that it was a bit too long, by about 20 minutes, for the primary school demographic to which the producers were aiming. My two year old grandson loved it and was mesmerized until the last bit and wanted to walk around while watching the denouement. At 96 minutes it really should have gone through one more trimming.

Aside from that very small criticism, Smallfoot is a delightful film with a bit more meat on its bones than you might expect or is carried on your average kid movie. It will entertain even the littlest kids, but still provide mom and dad with something worthwhile to mull over with even the oldest.Arguably the best kid movie I’ve since in 2018 yet(i)…..sorry couldn’t resist.