Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Yankees Are Exactly What You Should Expect

It's all about the guys who throw the ball.
All of the Yankees stars are hurt. You might have heard about it. On Opening Day, only two position players from last year's starting nine were on the field: the second baseman and the center fielder (who played left on Opening Day 2012).

But CC Sabathia was still pitching, if differently. Hiroki Kuroda isn't slowing down, and neither is Andy Pettitte (despite last night's whooping at the hands of the hapless Astros). Phil Hughes has looked better the farther he moves from his Spring Training back injury. Ivan Nova on the DL after an unimpressive string of starts, but David Phelps and Adam Warren are on the roster to solve exactly that problem.

Pitching wins. Slap together whatever lineup you want, and if you get good pitching, you can win the game.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pippin: Fixing a Musical

I was enthralled by the Broadway revival of Pippin I saw a few weeks ago. The chorus of Players formed an acrobatic miniaturized Cirque du Soleil.

But why pay $150 bucks to see Cirque du Soleil, Jr. on Broadway when you could just go to see the real thing? The answer, of course, is that you shouldn't.

It's not really the performance the impressed me about Pippin, but the imaginativeness of the reinterpretation. Pippin is one of my favorite musicals; it's the one musical in which Stephen Swartz's lyrics live up to the promise of his music, and it features my favorite kind of character- the narrator who can talk to the audience while interacting with other characters onstage. Pippin is the sort of meta-musical that keeps me interested in theatre. It winks at the form's shortcomings and makes full use of the strengths.

The one flaw the show could not wink away is the cast. As a soundtrack, Pippin is a sequence of solos and duets, punctuated by three choral numbers. But the show needs a big cast; even double casting the leads into chorus parts when they're not "on stage" leaves you with a cast of nine or ten, and I've never seen a production with the ensemble that small.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Happy Friday

It's been a hell of a week.
I mean, really, this week.

So Happy Friday. It's been a long time coming.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: A Chance to Win by Jonathan Schuppe

When is a book about baseball not a baseball book?

When the book is Jonathan Schuppe's brilliantly realized A Chance to Win. What began as a feature article about a Little League team by a crime reporter turned into a tale of the long struggle to rebuild Newark, NJ. It's a story about the permanent underclass build by draconian drug laws, failed schools, and shattered families. It's a story about the shadow economy created by the shortfalls of the welfare state. Most of all, it's a story about how everyone involved in the generational tragedy that is Newark wants something better, but bereft of viable options, struggle to find a new path.

Rodney Mason is an ex-con, a part-time drug dealer, a onetime standout baseball player rendered paraplegic by a drive-by shooting, and coach of the South Ward Little League's Elizabeth Avenue Eagles.

Schuppe masterfully draws together the Eagles' story, as a Little League team and after. As he establishes a personal connection with Mason, the kids and their families, I couldn't help feeling just as drawn into the experience as he surely was. The families' successes are encouraging, their errors are deflating, and their struggle to stay focused on the future in the midst of a world where life is cheap is inspiring.

This is not the kind of feel-good book that will be made into a movie. The kids are poor. Only a couple have ever played baseball before; they come to their games without equipment and uniforms, and they come lugging all the baggage of poverty. But it's a book about the underdog's hope. It's a great read for spring.

A Chance to Win doesn't come out for sale until May 7th, but you need to put your order in today. It's the best piece of non-fiction you'll read this season.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review: Book Riot's Start Here

When the folks at Book Riot sent me a copy of their new e-book Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors, I was super excited. Long form blogging (packaged as an ebook) is right up my alley, and I love the this author vs. that author, this novel vs. that novel parlor game.

This is not a book to be picked up and read. It's really an invitation to an old argument. How much of an author's work do we need to read before we can declare love and hate, before we can rank authors. Start Here tries to establish a gateway, the way I was told to read Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as  a Young Man before considering Ulysses.

I read the first couple chapters in order, then started jumping around. One day I'd read a chapter on someone I already know; the next day I'd read about an author I'm not familiar with. The essays are short and accessible.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Open Mic Day with Hazel & Wren

Put in the password (see the sidebar of their site if you need the password).

It really is that easy.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Fantasticks and Rotten Musicals

A couple weekends ago I dragged my friends to a local production of The Fantasticks.

I'd never seen it, which is most of why I wanted to go. I wouldn't claim to have seen every musical that's worked its way into community theatre level repertoire, but I've seen most of them. The Fantasticks is probably the most famous one that comes immediately to mind (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is now the frontrunner).

At this point, I want to say "It was fantastic," but that would be punny, and I wouldn't do that.

It was joyous. The first act was deft: a musical about the tropes of musicals in the way that How I Met Your Mother is a tv show about sitcoms. Maybe that wasn't the way it was written back in 1960, but that's the way it plays to me in 2013. The impossible happens; really it's expected and accepted, and we're going to sing about it. The actors mostly covered their fault with enthusiasm and clear diction, but the show really drew me in.

Monday, April 1, 2013

National Poetry Month Kickoff

Last year, I had a lot of fun completing the April poem-a-day challenge and posting the results here. This year, I'll be doing things a little differently.

Goal #15 on my 30 Before 30 is to submit poems to 6 different publications (one down, five to go), and since last year I've learned that many publications consider posting a draft of a poem to a blog to be "previously published" and therefore unacceptable for future publication.

So, as I write, I'll try to share each day the prompt or theme I had in mind (either the theme I started with, or the theme I ended with, since they're often different).

Day One: On the way to work

Here's wishing you a happy April!