Saturday, December 1, 2012

24 Days More

Like many people, I'm very excited about the upcoming movie of Les Misérables. Much has been made of the actors singing live on set, rather than to their own prerecorded voices.

I've seen several clips, and so far I like what I see. But I have a question: Was there a conductor on set? The actors seem perfectly free to pause, stretch, whisper, do whatever "feels right" to them, followed closely by the on set keyboardist (who would be replaced by a full orchestra in post). But was there a musical director/conductor present during filming too? You know, someone to keep in mind how the music and tempi relate to the overall piece? Someone to say "No, this bit really needs to be strictly in tempo, and please sing more"? Or were the actors the "conductors", shaping each moment as they personally felt it, without keeping the big picture in mind? That seems to me too large a job for just the keyboardist, who had to concentrate on following the actors.

I sure hope it all comes off well.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Burr, Fran, and Burr

It's fitting for me to at least begin this post in Chicago. I'm here for the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, but the Windy City is also the birthplace of Kukla, Fran, and Ollie. Above is a photo I just took of Colonel Crackie, sadly the only one of the Kuklapolitan Players on display in the Chicago History Museum. All Burr Tillstrom's puppets and archives were donated to the museum on his death, and it's hard to fathom their decision to only display a relatively unknown character, rather than Kukla and Ollie themselves.

I've read that Tillstrom didn't like seeing puppets on display, because they seemed "dead", but there's also word that he later said he didn't mind his characters being seen in a museum after he died. So if the Chicago History Museum thinks they're somehow obeying Tillstrom's "wishes", then why display even Colonel Crackie? And if they're ignoring his "wishes", then why not display the two unquestionably best remembered characters? Still, it's good that people can at least see Colonel Crackie (even though his view of us must be a bit blurry due to the fact that his glasses are missing).

 I have recently watched the more than 18 hours of KFO available on the new DVD releases, and I have a bunch of thoughts on the show I wanted to set down, which may not organize themselves neatly into an essay or anything like that. But here goes:

Burr Tillstrom's puppetry was wonderfully expressive. He was the real pioneer in the field of video puppetry. His performances are always strictly "stagebound"; Jim Henson would be the one to later treat the TV screen as its own puppet stage, and do away with a physical stage. But the Kuklapolitan Players always appear firmly within their own proscenium arch.

Tillstrom was able to monitor his performance in two ways. He puppeteered standing up, working his puppets directly in front of his face, while watching the action through a one-way scrim. But he anticipated Henson in the use of a video monitor, positioned off to his right, where he could also see exactly what the camera was recording. This dual system enabled him to perform extraordinary feats, such as having Kukla and Cecil Bill, in the episode "Lemonade", make an entire pitcher of lemonade starting from whole lemons!

Probably the biggest obstacle a modern audience faces in fully appreciating Tillstrom's puppetry is the matter of Ollie's lip sync. Ollie was the only moving mouth puppet amongst the major Kuklapolitan Players, the rest being traditional "three-finger" hand puppets. Ollie's lip sync can best be described as "haphazard". Sometimes his mouth doesn't open at all when he speaks. Sometimes it opens only on a single random word in a sentence. Sometimes it opens nicely on all the accented words in a sentence. And sometimes it snaps shut on the words.

I wondered if the seemingly-obvious concept of accurate puppet lip sync was another invention of Henson's. But Edgar Bergen operates Charlie McCarthy's mouth quite believably and consistently in 1930s films. I wondered if Tillstrom's lip sync "got better" as the years went on, and the influence of the Muppets became predominant. But a 1979 Match Game appearance, 30 years after their debut, shows things to be basically unchanged in this regard.

Could it have anything to do with the fact that Ollie was worked exclusively on Tillstrom's left, non-dominant hand? Tillstrom was ambidextrous with the other Kuklapolitans, but Kukla is always operated on his right hand, Ollie on his left, no exceptions.

In the end, one has to simply accept that lip sync was a "low priority" for the multitasking Tillstrom. Kukla's fixed mouth doesn't move at all, so isn't it a bonus that Ollie's mouth moves at least sometimes? Tillstrom was unmatched in terms of characterization, and Ollie is a wonderful, rich character. Perhaps we can pretend that Ollie is practicing ventriloquism?

Another area where Tillstrom was truly unmatched is in musical gifts. The man could sing, and the show really soars when he and Fran share a song. Ollie has a commanding baritone, always with perfect pitch and great expression. Kukla suggests that Tillstrom might have had an impressive career as an operatic countertenor. Throughout the original show, he had incredible control over Kukla's falsetto, singing complex harmony parts, never sounding shrill or forced, and often with a tone and sensitivity I wouldn't hesitate to call "beautiful". Fran Allison had a terrific, smoky voice, and was an excellent singer. Burr was every bit her musical equal.

And let's have a moment of appreciation for Fran too! She has a wonderful, frank, direct quality, never overly sweet or treacly, and was quite the wisecracker herself. The affection between her and the Kuklapolitans (and of course, by extension to Tillstrom) is quite palpable, but she's never afraid to bicker and argue with the characters. She's a great improv partner. She was in her early forties when she started the show, and I truly admire how she allowed herself to age gracefully and naturally on camera, from a quite attractive young woman to the grandmotherly figure I remember from the CBS Children's Film Festival.

KFO inspired Paul Gallico to write the short story The Man Who Hated People, which he then adapted into an unpublished story called The Seven Souls of Clement O'Reilly. That story was then adapted by Helen Deutsch into the screenplay for the movie Lili, and adapted by Gallico himself into his novella Love of Seven Dolls. And finally, Lili was adapted into the Broadway musical Carnival. In all iterations, the main character is always a bitter, antisocial puppeteer, painfully shy, hiding his face, shunning the public, only able to express himself through his puppets. In reality, Burr Tillstrom was the polar opposite of this puppeteering cliche he inspired. He obviously relished appearing on camera himself, doing so with one of the puppets at the end of every episode. There are abundant publicity photos of him, with and without Kukla and Ollie, and he even found an excuse to dance on camera with Fran Allison in a later episode. There is a 1955 TV version of Alice in Wonderland that I would love to see, in which Tillstrom not only puppeteers the Cheshire Cat, but appears himself as the melancholy Mock Turtle.

Jim Henson is often given credit for his willingness to balance commercialism and art. Here too, Tillstrom was a pioneer. Kukla, Fran, and Ollie gladly embrace whatever sponsor they have at the time, be it RCA Victor, Sealtest ice cream, or even Pard dog food. The shows were entirely ad libbed, and they slyly work pitches for the products into the show, always ending with a final plug.

The show had three distinct phases. It began as Junior Jamboree on October 13, 1947, and appeared five days a week, Monday through Friday, apparently for an hour each day. By January 12, 1949, it was renamed Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and was a half hour, five days a week show. The first kinescope available on the DVDs is from February 28, 1949.

On November 29, 1951, the show was cut back to 15 minutes daily. There was an outcry of protest, but there must have been economical reasons for this change. I get the impression that, like the comic strip Krazy Kat, KFO was the darling of the critics and cognoscenti, but never a huge smash hit with the general public. And frankly, I feel that creating two and a half hours of live, improvised television weekly strained the resourcefulness of even Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison. The 15-minute shows are obviously much more compact, and maybe a trifle rushed, but they certainly never drag.

Then on August 24, 1952, the show again received what could be termed a "cutback", but in reality was an expansion that allowed it to blossom to its fullest. It moved to just one single weekly half hour show, on Sunday afternoon. But what it lost in scheduling "real estate", it made up for in spades with the addition of a sizable studio audience, and a wonderful 12-piece orchestra. These two elements really allowed the comedy and music in the show to soar. Gone were the lonely solo piano of Jack Fascinato and the quiet chuckling of the studio crew. In these Sunday shows, lasting until June of 1954, the show truly hit its peak.

I want to end this post with a look at the intersection of KFO and another of this blog's obsessions: Stephen Sondheim. In 1952, a then-unknown Sondheim wrote a song called "The Two of You" for KFO, and sent it to producer Beulah Zachary. In Look I Made a Hat, Sondheim writes of wanting

...desperately to place a song on a TV show I adored as much as this one. It was rejected by the show's producer, but twenty-five years later Burr became the compere of the Chicago company of Side By Side By Sondheim...There was no Fran, but there were Kukla and Ollie, and Burr sang this song to them. Not only was it touching in itself, but he revealed the puppets on his arms as he animated them, something puppeteers rarely do and which he had never done on the television show.

Sondheim isn't quite correct about Burr never revealing the "working end" of the puppets; he did this at the end of the earliest KFO shows as well, and from time to time in other appearances too. Tillstrom took over in Side By Side from Cyril Ritchard, who had a heart attack mid-performance less than a month after the Chicago company opened.

Then less than a month after the Chicago production closed, Tillstrom and the Kuklapolitans traveled to New York and replaced Hermione Gingold for the final three weeks of the Broadway production of Side By Side in 1978. Happily, an audio recording exists, in which Nancy Dussault "plays Fran" and sings the song, with Kukla and Ollie joining in towards the end.

It must have been hugely gratifying to the stagestruck Burr that he finally made it to Broadway. His Berlin Wall hand ballet offers further proof that he was an artist of the highest caliber, and I heartily recommend the KFO DVDs.

(Kukla and Ollie with Bonnie Schon, Jack Blackton, and Carol Swarbrick in the Broadway production of "Side by Side by Sondheim")

Friday, October 19, 2012


I have recently watched both volumes of the DVD releases of Kukla, Fran and Ollie, containing over 18 hours of the show on four DVDs. I have a lot I want to say about the show, so hopefully I'll get to crank out a lengthy blog post or two soon, but in the meantime I thought it might be helpful to someone out there if I posted a list I've compiled of the nearly 50 episodes available on the four DVDs, in chronological order. (I checked it against the kinescope list on the fantastic official KFO website.) I list the episode name, date of airing, and then the volume and disc numbers (so 2-1 means volume 2, disc 1, for instance).

Here it is:

Back from Richmond -2/28/49 - 2-1
"Here We Are" (excerpt) - 8/6/49 - 1-2
Lemonade - 8/17/49 - 1-1
Screen Test - 9/8/49 - 1-1
Madame O - 9/26/49 - 1-1
Library Day - 10/4/49 - 2-1
Ice Cream - 10/6/49 - 1-1
Bonus: Gene Rayburn (excerpt) - 10/21/49 - 1-1
Halloween - 10/31/49 - 1-1
Milton Caniff - 11/1/49 - 2-1
Kukla Kiddish - 11/30/49 - 1-1
Salute to TV - 12/5/49 - 1-1
Christmas Tree Stand - 12/20/49 - 1-1
Hansel and Gretel - 12/28/49 - 1-1
New York, New York - 1/16/50 - 2-1
"New Yorker" Article (excerpt) - 3/17/50 - 2-1
Fourth of July - 6/6/50 - 2-1
Mercedes' Growing Pains (excerpt) - 6/13/50 - 2-1
Puppetry Festival - 6/28/50 - 1-2
Nightclubbing - 9/20/50 - 2-1
Destination Moon - 10/11/50 - 2-1
Sweet William (excerpt) - 10/27/50 - 1-2
As You Like It - 11/3/50 - 1-2
Winter Carnival - 12/20/50 - 1-2
Raking Leaves - 9/19/51 - 2-1
Carmen - 10/1/51 - 2-1
First 15 Minute Show - 11/26/51 - 1-2
Guppies Gavotte - 12/5/51 - 1-2
Christmas Shopping - 12/11/51 - 2-2
Christmas Singing - 12/12/51 - 1-2
Christmas Eve - 12/24/51 - 2-2
Ollie has Amnesia - 12/26/51 - 2-2 (mislabeled onscreen as 12/26/52)
Jack not at Piano - 4/11/52 - 2-2 (mislabeled onscreen as 4/11/51)
June Lockhart - 4/22/52 - 1-2
Modern Dance - 4/23/52 - 2-2
Leaving New York - 5/2/52 - 1-2
Mrs. Dragon - 5/12/52 - 2-2
Paul Pookenschlagl - 6/25/52 - 2-2 (mislabeled onscreen as 6/24/52)
Last Show Before Vacation - 6/27/52 - 2-2
First Sunday Show - 8/24/52 - 2-2
5th Birthday - 10/12/52 - 1-2
Thanksgiving - 11/23/52 - 2-2
Miss VUHF - 1/3/54 - 1-2
Valentine's Day - 2/14/54 - 2-2
The Mikado - 2/21/54 - 1-2
Fletcher's Lament - 2/28/54 - 2-2
Bunny to Bunny - 4/10/55 - 2-2

Richard III

I watched the BBC Shakespeare's Richard III. I have to say I felt it was a bit lackluster, overall. Ron Cook is a naturally likable actor, and he gave a credible performance in the title role. One certainly can't accuse him of being "hammy". But I didn't think his portrayal had the psychological complexity necessary to truly make sense of the character, and to make him a riveting-if-repulsive being. I must say, this is a long, talky play, the longest in the entire BBC series, so long it's the only play to be put on two DVDs. A little ham from the title role -- as Kevin Spacey has reportedly been serving up recently -- would go a long way to making this huge meal more palatable.

Cook's death scene was quite unusual. Would it truly be possible to die kneeling, and not fall over? It was a very odd choice. As Richard was speared repeatedly by various soldiers, he seemed to be "The Thing That Wouldn't Die". And when Richmond delivered the final blow, Richard fell to his knees and...just stayed there. Weird.

But kudos to director Jane Howell for a truly chilling epilogue, with a very powerful final image, and for a cohesive overall approach to Shakespeare's War of the Roses saga.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Henry 6.3

I watched the BBC Shakespeare's Henry VI pt. 3 tonight. An excellent production. I really admire how director Jane Howell makes the most out of the obviously limited resources at her disposal. Watching the set slowly decay from the bright Sesame Street-like colors of Part 1 has proven to be quite an evocative choice.

One area where Howell's resources were definitely not limited was in access to excellent actors. I have to say Mark Wing-Davey was the real standout for me, as Warwick. His death scene was truly horrific, and one of the most gripping bits of acting in the entire series. Julia Foster had quite a tour de force in the role of Margaret, and navigated her character's many shifts in tone admirably. And Peter Benson's title character has been throughout a sweet and sympathetic presence.

Now the focus shifts to Ron Cook's Richard, and I must say I'm looking forward to it. He has paved the way for himself quite effectively throughout the Henry VI trilogy. I remember seeing him as Simple in Merry Wives of Windsor, and thinking "It's hard to believe that he's going to be Richard III!". I believe it now.

The Big Switch

I talked about this in the NPT: The First 50 Years special (see previous blog entry), but it's an interesting story so I thought I would try to explain it here.

Growing up in Clarksville TN, we got our TV from the local stations of Nashville. The ABC affiliate was on channel 8, and was confusingly known as WSIX. (Apparently no one is quite sure to this day why it was called that.) The PBS affiliate was WDCN, which was on channel 2.

In 1973, it was determined that WSIX would have a stronger signal if it switched frequencies with WDCN. Some sort of agreement was made so that both stations benefitted technically, and thus came about The Big Switch. We got a great deal of warning that this was going to happen, with stars from both networks taping special PSAs for Nashville to explain the switch to local viewers.

Finally on December 11, 1973, the moment came. The event itself was hosted by Big Bird from Sesame Street, and Easy Reader from The Electric Company. (Of course you know that Big Bird is played by Caroll Spinney, but you might not know that Easy Reader was played by Morgan Freeman.) So there we were, tuned into channel 2. Big and Easy explained to us what was about to happen. Animated numerals 2 and 8 switched sides on the screen to help illustrate the concept. Big and Easy did a countdown, and on cue, we switched our dial from 2 to 8. And voila, there they were on channel 8!

I believe Robert "Marcus Welby" Young hosted a similar switch from 8 to 2 for WSIX viewers, and there was the added wrinkle that WSIX at that moment also changed its call letters from the pointless-and-confusing WSIX to the obscure-but-at-least-not-confusing WNGE. (For those keeping score, they are now WKRN. And WDCN is now NPT. Whew.) But who cared about Marcus Welby. I watched Big and Easy make the Big Switch.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

NPT: The First 50 Years

Excited about watching NPT: The First 50 Years tonight!

And excited to be a part of the show as well! Here's my unedited footage from the special, which NPT shared on Facebook last month:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jerry Nelson

I was very sad when I heard that Muppeteer legend Jerry Nelson died last week. I met him on my very first visit to the real Sesame Street, and it was as momentous as anything else that happened that mind-blowing day. I wish I could remember exactly what I said to him, but I know it was something about having listened to his voice for practically my entire life.

I could tell that it genuinely meant something to him that I knew him and his work so well. He both wanted to hear it, and at the same time seemed to not quite be able to believe the impact he had had on a perfect stranger. It's an odd sort of fame, being a Muppeteer. But from my earliest days of Muppet fandom, he was one of the Big Four: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, and Caroll Spinney. I always particularly loved Jerry's character Herry Monster, and feel honored to have performed him on two separate occasions.

Jerry was probably the most vocally versatile Muppeteer ever, and the most musical. There was some indefinable magic in his voice that made all of his characters fun to listen to, no matter how completely different they may have sounded from each other.

In terms of Jerry's "position" in the ranks of Muppetdom, the best analogy I've been able to come up with is to the first cast of Saturday Night Live. (And yes, it's completely weird that he and the other Muppeteers were actually in the first cast of SNL. But I digress.) I propose the following:

Jerry Nelson is to Frank Oz as Dan Aykroyd is to John Belushi

Belushi was the "star" talent. He had a huge, crowd-pleasing presence, and some truly memorable characters. He was great. The "audience favorite". But look at Aykroyd. He was always there to support, to fill whatever space was left by Belushi, and to do so memorably and often with brilliance. And this is not to say that Aykroyd wasn't completely capable of headlining a project himself, which he did splendidly. But he was never the crowd-pleaser that Belushi was...and yet, if you want to talk about sheer talent and versatility, who had more of that? Belushi or Aykroyd?

A brilliant utility man. That was Jerry Nelson. I'm so grateful to him for providing an enormous amount of inspiration at a very early age, and I'm so grateful I got to tell him that.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Ringo at the Ryman" DVD preview

In this post I talked about the wonderful concert of "Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band" at the Ryman this summer. In Ringo's August video message, there is what must be some footage from the upcoming DVD of that concert. I count at least 5 cameras used in that excerpt from the Ryman concert. Looking forward to the real release!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nutty in Nashville

On Sunday I saw the final performance of the "Nutty Professor" musical here in Nashville. Earlier, I saw the final preview, and the crowd was elated when Jerry Lewis himself came out at curtain call. (See my previous blog post.) Alas, there was no Jerry this time; he had left Nashville a couple of weeks earlier.

And I was very sad to learn that the show's composer, the late Marvin Hamlisch, never got to see the show onstage. He was in town for a welcome party on July 9th, but never made it back. (The first preview was July 24th; Hamlisch died on August 6th.) I really like his "Nutty Professor" score, apparently his last complete one for the musical theatre. No matter what happens with the show from this point on, I hope they will be able to record a cast album. The score is lovely and dynamic and fun, and needs to be preserved for posterity. The ballad "While I Still Have the Time" certainly makes for a poignant coda to Hamlisch's incredible career.

I'm glad I got the chance to see the show a second time, although any changes from the preview I saw were undetectably minor. It is certainly a very enjoyable show, though by no means perfect. Having done a lot of adaptations myself, I'm very interested in the concept of "adaptation" in general, and I'm intrigued with how Lewis' 1963 movie was turned into a stage musical. So this isn't intended to be a "review" of the entire production, so much as just an exploration of the show's structure.

I watched Lewis' Nutty Professor film just before seeing the preview, and probably four times more between then and the final performance. I think the film works on its own terms, more as a character study of Kelp/Love than anything else. There's one issue though that both the film and musical fail to acknowledge, and that's the propriety of a relationship between Professor Kelp and student Stella Purdy. I believe most colleges have strict policies against this, right? But it never seems to cross anyone's mind. Faculty members are banned from going to the Purple Pit, but I guess they're completely free to commingle with students anywhere else!

To be fair, even after seeing the musical twice, I can't remember if Stella actually becomes a student of Kelp's. Unlike the movie, she doesn't start out that way. But after Kelp teaches her a little about chemistry and she warms to the subject (and its teacher), does she then enroll in his class? I believe so, but don't remember for sure. But even if she doesn't, and isn't technically a student of his, that's a mere "workaround" on an issue that was probably pondered by every audience member at one point or another. I think it should be tackled head on; it could even be used to advantage as a plot point.

And speaking of plot, here's what I see as the show's main problem: While the film is full of interesting and amusing incidents, it's pretty skimpy on actual plot. And I'm afraid this holds equally true for the musical. There comes a point in Act II when I ask myself: "What exactly is happening? What am I waiting to see resolve?" Interesting things happen, to be sure, but the central conflict never really comes out into the clear. I suppose that conflict is "Will Stella see Kelp for who he is, and forget her infatuation with Buddy Love?" But since Kelp and Love are ultimately the same person, and Stella already seems half-sweet on Kelp anyway, there's a level on which it simply doesn't matter which she chooses.

Even in what is supposed to be a light and frothy evening, the story needs much higher stakes. Sure, Kelp is longing to be accepted for who he is, but we need something stronger to care about than that. The character of Miss Lemon has been greatly expanded from the movie, and that's fine, but she and Warfield remain decidedly peripheral characters to the main storyline. It's Stella and Kelp/Love that need to engage us, and give us something stronger to care about. The musical stirs a few new complications into the movie's storyline, but it doesn't really manage to raise the overall stakes.

I don't want to even begin to play script doctor here, but I can't help but feel that the answer lies in the character of Stella. Her fate needs to be hanging in the balance, in an important way, and so the Kelp/Love conflict must be resolved for the benefit of her personal welfare. Maybe Love is pulling her towards the dark, seamy, and dangerous side of life, while Kelp is trying to pull her towards higher education and "the light"? I don't know.

But I really hope this gets addressed in the musical's next step on the path to Broadway. The show has a lot of promise, and for many reasons it deserves to reach a larger audience. I hope that happens.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Nutty, Nuttier, Nuttiest

Saw the "Nutty Professor" musical in previews last week! Enjoyed it very much. Perhaps at some point I'll expound upon the experience a little, but in the meantime let me say "Bravi" to all involved, I think the show has great potential, and thanks to The Nuttiest One himself — Jerry Lewis — for appearing at curtain call!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Alice Ripley on Hee Haw!

I was surprised to hear that Broadway star Alice Ripley did time in 1992 as a Hee Haw Honey in the final year of "Hee Haw". Twern't hard to find the evidence, though. That's not her in the frame below, but she's the first one to appear in this video (with fellow "Les Misérables" Broadway star Gary Morris).

She's not in it again after the first 12 seconds, so you can quit watching after that. You're welcome.

Friday, July 13, 2012

All Aboard with Mr. Be!

One of my earliest TV watching memories is a show called "All Aboard with Mr. Be". It aired on WDCN, the Nashville public television station we watched in my hometown of Clarksville. A little recent research revealed that the show was shot at WKNO in Memphis. I also read that the puppets were built by legendary Nashville puppeteer Tom Tichenor, and performed by a Memphis high school student named John McDonald. I have always remembered the name of one of the puppets, "Poncey de Lion", who was of course a lion.

And today I got confirmation via email that the "Mr. Be" puppeteer was the same John McDonald who is now artistic director of the Roxy Regional Theatre in Clarksville! John and Tom Thayer have done an incredible thing in creating a professional theatre in Clarksville. I saw their "Into the Woods" a couple of years ago, and was very impressed.

As I told John, my childhood self would be very proud that my grownup self knows Poncey de Lion personally!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ringo at the Ryman 7/7/12

Wow, what a great concert! Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band played the Ryman last night on Ringo's 72nd birthday, and we were there! Burton, Laura, and I have now seen two Beatles live, and I'm afraid it's going to have to stop there.

Earlier in the day, I braved the 100+ degree heat solo to attend Ringo's traditional "Peace and Love" moment in front of the Hard Rock Cafe at noon. I was able to snag two of the white P&L wristbands that Ringo and others tossed to the crowd, but I wasn't so lucky with the large peace-symbol-frosted cookies.

The concert started at 8. While my knowledge of 70s-80s rock is severely limited, I knew practically every song played last night. The line up of the All-Starr Band was Todd Rundgren, Steve "Toto" Lukather, Gregg "Santana" Rolie, Richard "Mr. Mister" Page, Gregg Bissonette on drums, and Mark Rivera on everything else. When Ringo wasn't singing up front, he drummed on every number except Black Magic Woman. (He played a cajón on Page's "You Are Mine".)

Ringo played a piano intro on "Don't Pass Me By", which he described as the first song he ever wrote. He seemed a little sheepish about it, and after the song he mentioned the lyric "You were in a car crash/And you lost your hair", saying something to the effect of "When I wrote that, I thought 'Look out, Lennon and McCartney!'". Nice to hear the song, but I'm probably not the only one who wishes he had done "Octopus's Garden" instead. Or both.

With the exception of "With a Little Help From My Friends", Ringo sang all his hits in lower keys, sometimes by as much as a fifth. But if you were going to a Ringo concert for his sterling vocals, you were going to be disappointed anyway! He sounded great. He's Ringo. He's a Freakin' Beatle. Who can quibble? And he looked incredible; not an ounce of body fat on that 72-year-old frame!

When Ringo returned to the stage after "Black Magic Woman", Rivera led the house in singing "Happy Birthday" (the traditional song, not the Beatles one). Ringo joked: "Thank you, Mark! Enjoy this show; it's your last." Ringo then sang "Anthem" from his latest album, which he followed with the Lennon-penned "I'm the Greatest". Funny to hear him sing "Now I'm only 72/And all I wanna do/Is boogaloo"!

It was after this number that we got a special guest, as Joe Walsh took the stage to perform "Rocky Mountain Way". Walsh returned at the very end to sing backup on "With a Little Help From My Friends", along with Brendan Benson, Kix Brooks, Gary Burr, Felix Cavaliere, Vince Gill, Richard Marx, Brad Paisley, and Lucy Walsh.

Here's the complete setlist:

Matchbox (Ringo)
It Don't Come Easy (Ringo)
Wings (Ringo)
I Saw the Light (Rundgren)
Evil Ways (Rolie)
Rosanna (Lukather)
Kyrie (Page)
Don't Pass Me By (Ringo)
Bang the Drum All Day (Rundgren)
Boys (Ringo)
Yellow Submarine (Ringo)
Black Magic Woman (Rolie)
Anthem (Ringo)
I'm the Greatest (Ringo)
Rocky Mountain Way (Walsh)
You Are Mine (Page)
Africa (Lukather)
Everybody's Everything (Rolie)
I Wanna Be Your Man (Ringo)
Love is the Answer (Rundgren)
Broken Wings (Page)
Hold the Line (Lukather)
Photograph (Ringo)
Act Naturally (Ringo)
With a Little Help From My Friends (Ringo)
Give Peace a Chance (All)

There were several videocameras there, including one on a jib; the concert will reportedly be released on DVD! Look for me in it; I'll be the middle-aged guy in the audience with the big smile on his face.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

I didn't order any whistles...

Wow, this is great:

I thought it was so great, in fact, that I studied it carefully to try to figure out which episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood John D. Boswell used to make the video. By keeping track of Mister Rogers' sweater and tie colors, along with some Googling, I was able to figure out that the episodes are 1563, 1651, 1653, 1751, and 1753. Using my Amazon Prime membership, which allows for free streaming of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood episodes, I edited together a video of the clips that were used to make the song. Here it is:

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Henry 6.2

Last night we watched Henry VI pt 2 from the BBC Shakespeare series. It was certainly all of a piece stylistically with Henry VI pt 1, and I suppose with the two following plays. The "Nicholas Nickleby" effect is in full force, where prominent actors in one scene show up as mere faces among the crowd in the next. Although many actors did appear in multiple roles throughout the series, one wishes that more of an ensemble approach had been taken in casting the entire project.

Of special note to me was David Pugh in the relatively small role of Peter Thump. Usually when an actor plays a dim-witted character, there remains some small remnant of the actor's persona, just to remind us that he's not actually that slow and simple. Not so with Pugh; he disappeared completely and opaquely in his role, and was a delight every moment he was onscreen.

But what a gruesome play! So many heads rolling about the stage. And Saye's and his son-in-law's fate -- having their severed heads mounted on tall spikes and made to "kiss" -- was a reminder to me that puppetry is, indeed, everywhere.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

My Shrinking Tweet Project

Today I concluded my "shrinking tweet" project, begun on 1/1/12. It was a fun and challenging project to do, and is also (for me at least) an interesting sort-of-journal of the first four and a half months of the year.

Here it is:

For 2012 I am writing a daily tweet, starting at 140 characters, with each successive tweet shorter by one character. This is the first one.

This is the second in my series of ever-shortening tweets. Perhaps eventually they won't be so self-referential. Perhaps that's inevitable.

140 characters is actually plenty to use for expressing yourself. Of course, now I only have 138. I think I'm beginning to hyperventilate.

So I followed Huffington Post here, but I was so bombarded with tweets that I unfollowed them. It's crucial to keep a balanced tweetflow.

I'm down to 136 characters in my ever-shortening tweet project. I will end by tweeting one character. The floor is open for nominations.

I'm down to 135 characters today. I've put my tweets on a diet for New Year's! I wonder what a tweet eats? Just a few bytes, I suppose.

With each day's tweet being shorter by one character (this one is 134), it's getting harder to pack them with meaningful content. See?

I've seen "The Muppets" four times now and am intrigued by the copy of Bernstein's "Joy of Music" displayed prominently on the piano.

Burton loved "The Muppets", and has gone from "Why do you like them so much?" to "Do you think they'll bring back The Muppet Show?".

It's the second week of 2012! How are all those resolutions going? If you've already broken them, I say just wait for 2013 to come.

Ten days in on my shrinking tweet project. This one has 130 characters, a savings of ten characters! I pass the savings on to you.

So I guess I have an unspoken rule not to use text speak in my shrinking tweet project. That would make it too easy. mayb l8r tho

So one of my tweets is missing. This ever happen to you? My tweet of 1/2/12 doesn't appear on my page. Kind of ruins the effect.

My shrinking tweet project would be more effective if Twitter showed a character count. I could cheat and you wouldn't know it.

Two weeks in on my every-day-a-shorter-tweet project. This one is 126 characters. This could get interesting. In a few months.

Beauty and the Beast 3D is in theaters. But it's been playing at Disney World daily for the past 20 years...and sans glasses!

If I really wanted to make my tweet-shortening project difficult, I'd do it without the letter "e". Like the novel "Gadsby".

Dog my cats, us Fotts is lovin' Volume 1 of Fantagraphics' complete Pogo. Walt Kelly were a natural born brown-eyed genius.

The Belcourt just screened "Being Elmo" and now has scheduled "We Need to Talk About Kevin" and "Clash by Night". Sequels?

Day 20 of my shrinking tweet project. I start each morning with a bowl of Shrinking Tweets. Part of a balanced breakfast.

Starting on 1/1 with 140 characters, I have posted a tweet a day, each shorter by 1 character. Why? Because we like you!

Using hashtags in this shrinking tweet project would be cheating. I could throw one in if I needed an extra #character.

Every day a shorter tweet. If "brevity is the soul of wit", can't you just feel my tweets getting funnier and funnier?

Listening to "Pacific Overtures" in great anticipation of Blackbird Theater's Nashville production next month. Yo-ho!

My shrinking tweet project will finish on 5/19 with my tweeting just 1 character. Should I then work my way back up?

Our "All the World" and "Scaredy Squirrel" are ALA/ALSC 2012 Notable Children's Videos! Thanks to the Bigfott team!

Why does "T.G.I. Friday's" have an apostrophe? Like there's some restauranteur named Thomas George Ichabod Friday?

How many songs about rainbows are there, actually? I can think of six. That's including "The Rainbow Connection".

Down to 112 characters in my shrinking tweet project. Starting to feel the pinch. I must think smaller thoughts.

Wow, January almost gone! What's next? Oh yeah, February. Kind of reassuring how that works. Good ol' calendar.

Burton is now mourning because Lego Universe ended last night. Way to hook kids and then dump them flat, Lego.

Costco had "Shakespeare in Love" on Blu-ray for $8.99. Impulse buy. How could I possibly not? It's a mystery.

I suppose the mark of Twitter Fame is when your number of Followers is higher than your number of Following?

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday. Is that six more weeks of winter, or of what we've been having?

I wonder if you could sell product placement in your tweets? What an absolutely ridiculous COCA-COLA idea.

Don't you think that on February 29th, Twitter should let us write 141-character tweets? A man can dream.

Question: How is the "Pogo" comic strip different from a tweet? Answer: Tweets only have 140 characters.

It's too bad Coca-Cola never had their own "throwback" product. Would "Diet Coke Throwback" be Tab? Ew.

I should hire a ghosttweeter to write my tweets for me. Maybe I already have one. Yes...maybe he does.

I've loved H.R. Pufnstuf ever since I saw "Kaleidoscope" at HemisFair in San Antonio when I was four.

Starting on 1/1 with 140, each of my daily tweets has been shorter by 1 character. This one has 100!

At 99, my shrinking tweet character count is now in double digits. Single digits will not be noted!

Nashville, you have 1 more weekend to see Blackbird Theater's production of Pacific Overtures! Go!

Burton and I can't go past a display of talking toys without pausing to set them all off at once.

Happy Valentine's Day to my beautiful wife Laura Jane Bigbee Burton Fott! Our 23rd one together!

There are 95 characters in this tweet. I got married in '95. A random coincidence? I think not.

Watched "The Wizard of Oz" on Blu-ray. After seeing Oz, the Scarecrow packs a pistol! How odd.

Perhaps the Scarecrow's pistol in "The Wizard of Oz" is really a water gun? Watch out, Witch!

Excited that Ringo Starr is coming to the Ryman on 7/7, his bloody birthday! Peace and love!

Show idea: Semi-neglected & under-developed corporate mascots. The Bunny Bread Bunny stars.

This tweet has ninety characters. I'm applying the other fifty toward a novel I'm writing.

Even as I tweet and enjoy others' tweets, I can't figure out exactly why this is popular.

What was Twitter like before so many people joined it? "Boring and lonely" I'm guessing.

I joined Pinterest. I have no idea. Thought it was another name for the "Pinter pause".

Going out now for Ringo tix, right from the Ryman box office. Take that, Ticketmaster!

We saw the Oscar-nominated animated shorts, and I think I am rooting for "Wild Life".

Incredible that the Mac has a 15% market share in the US. I remember the days of 2%!

Saw "Lost and Found" over the weekend, an excellent animated short from Studio AKA.

I thought "The Artist" was just dandy. But Best Picture? "The Muppets" was better!

Today is Leap Day. A magical, Brigadoon-like happening. February with a hangover.

If we just add 59 seconds to each day, we won't need Leap Day. Much better plan.

Since 1/1, each of my daily tweets has been 1 character shorter. This 1 has 79.

Poltergeists make up the principal type of spontaneous material manifestation.

Following some celebs on Twitter makes you glad you don't actually know them.

I had one scrambled egg and toast for breakfast. In case you were wondering.

C'mon! Let's make this the best 3/6/12 EVER! (Sorry, 1912. You're history.)

I try to avoid politics, but I just can't stay mute any longer: I Go Pogo.

Good morning world! Sleep well? Any strange dreams? Ooh, that's so weird!

"The new iPad" is .11 pounds heavier than the iPad 2. That's a negative.

With "the new iPad", I guess Apple no longer numbers hardware releases?

This 70-character tweet is exactly half of the maximum length allowed.

Shrinking tweet project is officially "over the hump". 69 characters!

A puppy? Yeah, just what we needed! 7 cats, 2 goats, and now 2 dogs.

Our cats are Indy, Shadow, Dash, Petunia, Sparta, Keypot, and Mary.

Our goats are Milo and Buddy, and our dogs are Cornelia and Missy.

The best thing about the "Pufnstuf" movie: The score is terrific!

At six, I hated that Pufnstuf had a different voice in the film.

The word "characters" sure does have a lot of characters in it.

Some tweets can be pointless and without intrinsic merit. See?

Reading the Steve Jobs bio. On my iPad. Home court advantage.

Sixty characters/Is just barely sufficient/For writing haiku

Happy birthday, Stephen Sondheim! (Yeah, Lloyd Webber too.)

Disney: Release seasons 4 and 5 of The Muppet Show on DVD!

My tweets are growing shorter daily! As am I, supposedly.

Looney Tunes at the Belcourt in original 35mm yesterday!

Following a 55-characters-per-tweet limit. No speeding.

Don't forget: To legume makes a leg out of you and me.

My tweet project can be called "constrained writing".

I'll smell the roses...but do I really have to STOP?

Dreamed about Meryl Streep. She was terrible in it.

I am not the very model of a modern Major-General.

This shrinking tweet project is too hard. I quit.

Is Hungry Hungry Hippos one of the Hunger Games?

We have too many pets. By "too many" I mean 11.

With only 46 characters, what would YOU tweet?

45 characters. Getting kinda cramped in here.

All work and no play makes Galen a dull boy.

Opry Mills's Sweet CeCe's has Junior Mints!

Nutty Professor in Nashville! Thanks, Mac!

"41 characters of Twitter on the wall..."

40 characters! Who needs that other 100?

It gets harder to say much of anything.

Nashville Film Festival starting soon!

This tweet has exactly 37 characters.

Now aiming my tweets toward "pithy".

But I'll always settle for "terse".

Don Hertzfeldt. Belcourt. Tonight.

Shrinking tweets, now very tight!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Meaninglessness has its appeal.

My Lava Lamp needs a new bulb.

This tweet has 29 characters.


I have a Kermit marionette.

My tweets are almost gone.

1 score and 5 characters.

I am a man of few words.

This is my daily tweet.

Beauty is Embarrassing

Coherency may suffer.

What more can I say?

Circling the drain!

I'm a bit peckish.

Is this thing on?

Today is Friday.

¡Cinco de Mayo!

14 characters!

Almost there!

RIP Maurice.

Sleep well?

I am here!

I'm cool.


Mom Day


I am.