Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Black Sea

Title: Black Sea

Doesn't Jude Law Have Five Kids? Makes sense. Compared to that, being trapped with a bunch of stinky dudes in a Soviet-era submarine sounds positively relaxing.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half Cary Grants out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Disgruntled sub captain hunts for sunken treasure, paternal redemption.

Tagline: "Brave the deep. Find the gold. Trust no one."

Better Tagline: "Scenes from a class struggle in Batumi."

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Fly at Ensemble Is a Really Loud Retelling of the Tuskegee Airmen Story

Categories: Stage

Photo courtesy of David Bray
(L-R, Front - Back) Kendrick "KayB" Brown, Joseph "JoeP" Palmore, Jason E. Carmichael, Nkem Richard Nwankwo in Fly.

The set up:

There's a crucial lesson to be had in Fly, a play about the first American black military pilots, and it has nothing to do with race or politics or social justice. Yes, for sure, there's plenty of that really important stuff in there too. But the other takeaway from this play based on true events meant to educate and inspire is that if you want to people to pay attention to an historical story, you can't make it seem like a classroom lecture. Or at least that's the lesson playwrights Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan were hoping to tap into when they wrote and staged Fly at Lincoln Centre in 2008.

Originally a one-hour children's play, now expanded to an almost two-hour, two-act play and no longer marketed for a youth audience, Fly tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first division of black aviators to fight in combat during World War II. Formally called the 332nd Fighter Group, the pilots took their nickname from Tuskegee, Ala., the town where they trained from 1941 to 1949.

It's a tall order for a play about U.S. military desegregation, prejudice, and the progress of civil rights not to feel somewhat didactic or at the very least sentimental. In an effort to thwart this kind of heavy handed treatment, Ellis and Khan have injected elements into the production that attempt to keep the narrative away from merely a "good for you" kind of theater experience.

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The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Love Lies Bleeding and More

Categories: Top 5

Photo by Charles Hope
From Love Lies Bleeding
Pair the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin with ballet and what do you have? Believe it or not, a show that has traveled to considerable acclaim from its home in Canada. As part of the Houston Ballet's The Cullen Series, Love Lies Bleeding comes to the Wortham Theater for a weekend run, including a Friday show. Created by the Alberta Ballet's artistic director, Jean Grand-Maître, and performed by 36 dancers from the company, it features 14 classic songs in a story that traces a lot of things from John's own life: his rise to stardom and the good and bad things that followed. Grand-Maître spoke to us recently while walking to work on what he called a warmer day. (It was minus 6 instead of the minus 20 it had been the day before, from his headquarters in the Calgary-Edmonton area.)

"When we started these portrait ballets, we started with Joni Mitchell," Grand-Maître said. John had heard about the show and asked for a performance tape, which Grand-Maître sent him. Three months later, Grand-Maître sent John an email asking if he'd be interested in doing something similar and to his surprise, John said yes. They met in Las Vegas, and when John began talking, it wasn't about his many successes, Grand-Maître said. "For Elton, the first thing he said to me was he wanted us to use his life to educate people, so about homosexual repression, drug addiction, bulimia, alcoholism, he had it all. The death rate is very high in that business. Acting too and the business of celebrity. He didn't talk so much about his triumphs. He talked about his struggles, and so you realize the struggles really make the music."

Grand-Maître studied John's entire catalog of songs before submitting his selections to John (who suggested and got two changes). Grand-Maître says he didn't want to do a biography. ("It would take too long.") Instead, Grand-Maître focused on the demands of celebrity and the burnout. "Because for Elton, for the first four years of his contract, had to write four albums a year. And they all went platinum."

See Love Lies Bleeding at 8 p.m. Friday; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Wortham Theatre Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit $100 to $105.

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Houston Grand Opera Announces Its 2015-16 Season

Categories: Opera

Photo by Bill Cooper
Ana Maria Martinez in Rusalka
It's a season designed to portray the journeys people take, says Houston Grand Opera Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers in describing the upcoming 2015-16 HGO offerings ranging from the Siegfried (and Summers' favorite part of Wagner's Ring Cycle) to the return of Carlisle Floyd now in his 88th year who's written a new opera Prince of Players that takes him far from his usual Americana.

There's a mixture of classic (and classic in new productions) and new with another special holiday offering - this time The Little Prince - and one from musical theater - Carousel. "Of all of the pieces of American musical theater, Carousel is the most profound. It is the piece of musical theater that sits between opera and commercial theater most obviously. But more than that, the themes of Carousel, the idea of a life that didn't get to be finished, having an opportunity to redeem itself I think that Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers finding that tale and getting to write it just as the war was ending, just as as all kinds of households in the United States were facing a future that had lives that did not get to be completed. They took an extraordinary story in which a man on his own journey gets one day to return to his life to try to redeem himself," Summers says.

Audiences will also be able to see Dvorak's fairy tale Rusalka, a new version of The Marriage of Figaro, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and Puccini's Tosca, as well as world premiere's of chamber pieces O Columbia and another yet untitled one about the effects of Hurricane Ike on Galveston.

Summers calls Floyd's world premiere "the centerpiece" of the coming season. "We're in a golden moment at Houston Grand Opera concerning Carlisle because there's no opera company in history that has had such a long and close association with a living composer and with a living composer of Carlisle's talent and reknown. He has been associated with Houston Grand Opera for more than half its history both as a composer as an influence as a co-founder of the Houston Grand Opera Studio."

"It's an opera about the theater of life itself and how acting is for many people how they discover who they are," Summers says. It's told through the life story of an actual person, Sir Edward Kynaston, who was the most renowned Shakespearean actor of the day., but he was renowned for female roles. Sir Edward Kynaston was the last of that generation of actors before a decree came that women should be able to play female roles which of course was a great advance for women but very bad news for Kynaston."

A lot of regular opera-goers are looking forward to the return of Christine Goerke, who last year achieved so much acclaim in New York City when she sang Strauss. Goerke will be singing the Brunnhilde role in Siegfried and has a long association with HGO.

"It is certainly not an overnight sensation. Christine Goerke has been working diligently for 20 years," says Summers, who added he's known her 20 years. "Yes, HGO invested very early on in Christine, casting her in Lohengrin. It was a very controversial decision at the time, which says more about the art form than Christine Goerke. Christine and I had a plan together to lead her into the Wagnerian roles. So the idea to me that she's an overnight sensation is rather hilarious. Voices take time to mature. She is an extraordinary artist."

For more details on the upcoming season, see the next page.

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UH Launches the Opera Winter Season With Frau Margot and The Elixir of Love

Categories: Opera

Photos courtesy of the University of Houston
Nicole Woodward (left) as Kara; Emily Louise R obinson as Frau Margot
Unrequited love is a mainstay of opera. The heroines in Frau Margot and The Elixir of Love, presented by the University of Houston Moores School of Music experience potions, séances and more as each attempts to keep her suitors, romantic and intellectual, at bay.

Thomas Pasatieri's Frau Margot is a local premiere and the first performance of the work since its initial production in 2007 at the Fort Worth Opera. It tells the mysterious tale of a wealthy widow, Frau Margot, whose late husband was in the process of composing an opera when he died. Many musicians try to get permission to complete the work, but the scornful widow goes so far as to hold a séance to show them that her husband disapproves of the completion of his opera. Pasatieri's work is loosely based on the story of Austrian composer Alban Berg whose opera Lulu was unfinished at the time of his death. His wife did, in fact, hold séances to seek his counsel, just as Frau Margot does.

"The music, like the libretto, is reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock movie of the 1940's. It has a lush, lyric sound that we associate with scores by the great film composers of that era," said the Moores Opera Center's Artistic Director Buck Ross. "It's very accessible to a traditional opera audience."

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Rock and Roll Hero Buddy Holly Lives On via Buddy

Categories: Pop Culture, Stage

Photo by Peter Cox/Buddy Worldwide Ltd.
Todd Meredith (standing on bass) stars as Buddy Holly at Jones Hall.
Todd Meredith, who has the lead role in Society for Performing Arts' production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, has turned the musical into what could well be a lifelong career.

"I always aspired to be a professional musician," says Meredith from a hotel room in New Jersey where he and the rest of the cast are snowbound by the monster cold front that hit the Northeast this week. "But in fact acting in the Buddy musical has actually made a music career possible."

This is Meredith's 17th tour in the cast of Buddy, and he's turned his knowledge of Holly's repertoire into a popular Holly tribute band -- the Rave-Ons, named after the title of one of Holly's biggest hits -- that now works 50-70 dates per year.

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Kinky Boots Tells of Love and Friendship With Dancing in Stilettos

Categories: Stage

Photo courtesy of TUTS
Steven Booth and Darius Harper in Kinky Boots
A young man, living in London suddenly inherits a struggling British shoe factory when his father dies. Faced with a company near bankruptcy and row upon row of shoes that no one wants to buy, he resolves to save his father's legacy although he doesn't know how. It's Kinky Boots, the Cyndi Lauper Broadway show with a book by Tony-winner Harvey Fierstein that won six Tony Awards® including Best Musical and is still playing on Broadway.

"Charlie Price starts out as a bit of a lost soul. He doesn't quite know what his path is in life," says Steven Booth (Broadway: Glory Days) who plays the character in Kinky Boots. "He's torn between staying back and upholding the factory legacy or following his fiancé to London to the big city and making his own path there."

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10 Great Spooky Board Games From the Past

Photo by Brett Taylor
There's got to be some spooky games in there somewhere...

Board games have been around a long time, and despite being a now older form of entertainment, there are lots of great ones that still manage to be fun. Sure, the old standbys such as "Monopoly" and "Risk" are a lot of fun, but I always liked the games with a spooky theme to them, and there have been quite a few released over the years. These are but a few I have enjoyed.

10. "Jaws" (1975)

Released around the same time the '70s blockbuster was, "Jaws" is not really a "board game," strictly speaking, but it's aimed at the same crowd who play them. The game consists of a fairly large plastic shark with an open mouth full of junk, which players attempt to fish out with hooks. One wrong move and the jaw snaps shut. A few years later, an "Alligator" version was released in conjunction with the fun "Jaws" copycat film Alligator. While "Jaws" is not the most challenging game ever made, that shark is cool-looking.

9. Ka-Bala (1967)

Billed as "The mysterious game that foretells the future," this weird oddity came out in the late '60s, and it shows. Riding the line between "fortune-telling device" and "game," Ka-Bala consisted of a glow-in-the-dark sculpted board with a scary-looking "Eye of Zohar" that would tell the player's future. It's a pretty weird system, and more akin to a Ouija board than to a typical game. Seeing as how Ka-Bala combined strange elements of Tarot cards, talking boards, astrology and even kabbalistic mysticism, this is also one that probably upset quite a few religious relatives and friends way back when.

8. Fireball Island (1986)

Fireball Island may be the most fun game on this list, and unfortunately it hasn't been manufactured for a long time, and is a collectible -- Copies on eBay often sell for hundreds of dollars. The board is a large 3D representation of an island with a volcano in the center, and players race around the board, trying to get a jewel and then make it to a waiting boat, while being pursued by others who wish to steal the ruby for themselves. There's quite a bit of strategy, and games can last awhile. On top of everything else, there's an evil-looking idol on the volcano that will shoot fireballs (red marbles) that can knock a player out temporarily. While not exactly "spooky," it's a lot of fun, and that Volcano idol guy is pretty scary.

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Reality Bites: Vanderbilt MDs

Photo courtesy of USA Network
Pressed for time, doctors often find themselves forced to tear their clothes off.
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Reality shows based on the various medical professions always end up concentrating on the actual work performed. This makes sense, as doctors, nurses, and EMTs and the like have jobs that are much more compelling than most of us cube jockeys. Several seasons of Trauma: Life in the E.R. and ... Untold Stories of the E.R. provided ample proof of this, if also showing how fond people are of watching their fellow man suffer in emergency rooms.

As a result, most of these shows only touched upon the personal lives of their subjects. Enter network TV, which has been filling this gap by churning out medical melodramas for decades. Everything from St. Elsewhere to E.R. to Grey's Anatomy relies on a formula combining gripping hospital action with allegedly moving personal drama, punctuated by seasonal absurdity.

The USA Network, not known for its forays into the genre, nonetheless is trying something new with Vanderbilt MDs. Unfortunately, throwing seven medical residents into a house Real World style and juxtaposing their personal interactions with their various duties at Vanderbilt University Medical Center didn't have the desired effect of "we work hard, we play hard." More like, "Hey, doctors are pretty much as douchey as anybody else."

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Jérôme Bel and Cédric Andrieux Change the Choreographer-Dancer Relationship

Categories: Dance

Photo by Herman Sorgellos
Most dancers never have the opportunity to truly portray themselves onstage. Even the strikingly honest and vulnerable performers we know and adore are most often executing someone else's vision--the choreographer. In Cedric Andrieux, Jerome Bel sets out to shake up the customary relationship between dancer and dance-maker through this solo work, performed by former Merce Cunningham Dance Company member Cedric Andrieux for Contemporary Arts Museum Houston audiences on Friday and Saturday.

In conjunction with CAMH's current exhibit "Double Life," Andrieux's performance exposes a role frequently left unseen: the role of a real working dancer. Choreographer Jerome Bel's first solo in this series, 2004's Veronique Doisneau, tells the stripped-down biographic story of French ballerina Veronique Doisneau, who, in her own words, "never became a star."

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