Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gotham Gal Review: Love Never Dies

I'm in London on vacation for 10 days before I plunge into my revisions for Scandalous Women. While I'm here, of course, I must see some theater. Last night I took myself to the Adelphi Theatre to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to his 1986 musical Phantom of the Opera, entitled Love Never Dies. Let me just say upfront that I am a huge fan of Phantom of the Opera. I've seen the musical three times on stage, twice with the original phantom Michael Crawford, I saw the original Christine Sarah Brightman. I've also seen the movie starring Gerard Butler as a super sexy phantom several times. What I love about the musical is that it's lushly, unabashedly romantic with a touch of the grand guignol. The Phantom is the ultimate anti-hero, he's been treated as a freak since childhood so he has some serious issues. He's sexy but dangerous, he's not afraid to send a chandalier come crashing to the floor, or to kill anyone who get's in his way. He loves Christine, is obsessed by her, but he also wants respect for his music. For Christine, who lost her father at a young age, the Phantom is father figure, mentor and lover all rolled up into. Brought up in the opera house, Raoul for her represents the past, and some normalcy.  The crux of the show is the passion and the danger leading up to the climax.

It's tempting for me to say I loved the show simply because I bought a ticket in the last row of the Upper Circle yet I was able to move to the third row because it wasn't sold out, or because I found a program on the floor which meant I didn't have to pay £3.50 for one. Unfortunately I have to say that I was not impressed by Love Never Dies. I think that Andrew Lloyd Webber had a great concept: The Phantom survives and moves to Coney Island where he starts out as part of the freak show but then amasses enough money and power to own  his own theater called appropriately The Phantasma. It would have been too easy to just have the Phantom come to New York and say buy into The Metropolitan Opera House, perhaps trying to turn Meg Giry into another Christine. However, he doesn't go far enough with it. There is no sense of what made Coney Island so different from other seaside resorts.  Apart from three characters who look like refugees from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, there is no sense of acts like the Bearded Lady, The Wild Man of Borneo, or the Siamese Twins that would have been regular attractions at Coney Island.  This Phantom could have been The Phantom of Blackpool or The Phantom of Atlantic City for the use Lloyd Webber makes of his chosen setting.

Instead of the unseen but powerful voice at The Paris Opera, this Phantom is just some dude who lives in a giant skull and writes Vaudeville tunes. That's right, I said Vaudeville or should I say Burlesque since that's what it sounds like. Yes, the Phantom is writing ditties called 'Bathing Beauties.'  The director mentions something about Ragtime in the program but there is no hint of ragtime in the music.  That would necessitate knowing something about the music and that it was created by black musicians who played pianos in brothels. The show takes place in 1907 which Lloyd Webber says is 10 years after the end of the first Phantom. Unfortunately he's wrong, Phantom takes place in 1881. Anywhoo, Christine has been invited by a mysterious impresario to sing on Coney Island now that she's a world famous opera singer and all. And who should be the mysterious impresario? Could it be David Belasco? Charles Froham? Now why it's the Phantom. That's another problem with this show, neither Christine nor Raoul seem surprised that the Phantom is still alive and living on Coney Island.

Raoul is now a bitter alcoholic with a gambling problem which is why Christine took the engagement, they need the money to pay off his debts.  They also have a son named Gustave who Raoul has no use for. Hmm, why would that be I wonder? While the music from Phantom was lush and hummable, none of the songs are memorable, in fact they are down right dull. Nothing seems to be at stake for anyone in this musical. Christine doesn't seem torn at all between Raoul and the Phantom, there's no real tension.  Meg Giry, who is now the star of Phantasma, seems jealous of Christine's return which is never fully explained. Is she hot for the Phantom? Has he made her a huge star? Why doesn't he write her better songs? The audience is never given any scenes between The Phantom and Meg, the way that Christine and the Phantom has scenes.

Sierra Boggess who made a big splash as The Little Mermaid on Broadway flounders here in the role of Christine. Sarah Brightman, the original Christine, had a four or five octave range with a voice so pure it was almost unreal. She could sing opera, musical theater, pop tunes, there was nothing she couldn't sing. Boggess doesn't have that kind of range, her voice is pleasant but a bit bland. She's ill-served by the fact that her Christine isn't given anything to do really. Ramin Karimloo who plays The Phantom tries really hard but I got the feeling that he had been directed to be like Michael Crawford. Again, I'm not sure what his motivations are. He gets Christine to Coney Island but for what? He hasn't seen her in 10 years, does he want her back, want revenge for leaving him? What? He has a very powerful voice but Michael Morrison on Glee could have played this role and been better. His Phantom has no charisma, no sexiness. Women were dropping their knickers for Michael Crawford, I have a feeling no one's doing that for Ramin Karimloo.

By the time the show came to the final secene, I really didn't care what happened to anyone. I won't spoil the ending for anyone who is planning on seeing the show in London or on Broadway. If you love Phantom of the Opera, who will not like Love Never Dies. Save your money and rent the movie.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Gotham Gal Review: Diamond Ruby

Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace
Simon and Schuster/Touchstone
May 2010

From the back cover: 17 year old Ruby Thomas, newly responsible for her two young nieces after a devastating tragedy, is determined to keep her family safe in the vast, swirling world of 1920's New York City. She's got street smarts, boundless determination, and one unusual skill: the ability to throw a ball as hard as the greatest pitcher in a baseball mad city.

From Coney Island sideshows to the brand-new Yankee Stadium, Diamond Ruby chronicles the extraordinary ylife and times of a girl who rises from utter poverty to the kind of renown only the Roaring Twenties can bestow. But her fame comes with a price, and Ruby must escape a deadly web of conspiracy and threats from Prohibition rumrunners, the Klu Klux Klan, and the gangster underworld.

Gotham Gal thinks: As a Native New Yorker, I jumped at the chance to review this book when Jessica from Simon and Schuster offered it to me. The 1920's is a particular interest of mine as well and this book captures the excitement and exhiliration of NYC that was even then, the greatest city in the world. And the heroine of the novel is wonderfully endearing without being a superheroine or the book being sappy. Ruby Thomas was inspired by the life of Jackie Mitchell who played minor league baseball in the early 1930's. Jackie had the chance to pitch against Babe Ruth at Yankee Stadium before being banned from the sport because the commissioner at the time, a relatively new job, Jude Keneshaw Mountain Landis felt that girls were too delicate to play sports. In Diamond Ruby, Wallace gives Jackie the happier ending that she didn't get in real life.

Ruby is an endearing heroine. Half Jewish and Half Catholic, she's been raised in neither religion but of course that doesn't matter to the Klan. All her life she's considered herself to be a freak because of her long arms and her ability to throw a baseball harder and faster than most men. After a terrible tragedy, Ruby finds that this talent is the only thing that is going to keep her and her nieces alive. Ruby is prickly, stubborn, insecure but at all times incredibly real. She's that awkward girl that most of us have either been in school or knew, the one with very few social skills but once you got behind the masque turned out to be a loyal and funny friend. All of us at one time or another have probably thought of themselves as a freak the way that Ruby does.

Wallace allows the reader to see not only Ruby's good points but also her flaws. She doesn't always do the right thing or make the right decisons. Having been on her own for so long, she does't know how to ask for help. Ruby is fiercely loyal to the people who matter to her, her nieces, Colonel Fielding who hires her for his minor league team and her new friends Helen Connell and her mother. She's tough on the outside because she's had to be.

This book is filled with wonderful scenes and colorful dialogue. The scenes where Ruby has to go hunting for squirrel to feed her family is just heart-wrenching. Baseball plays a huge role in this book, Ruby sees her first game as a child at Ebbets Field (my mother's favorite ballpark), she ends up playing for a minor league team. But one doesn't have to be a fan of baseball to enjoy this novel, although Wallace, an author of four books on baseball history, brings the game vividily to life. The minor characters are particularly well drawn, Allie and Amanda, Ruby's nieces are adorable and although wise in some ways beyond their years are still unmistably little girls. I particularly adored Allie with her candy wrapper collection. Even the historical characters of Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey are vivid and alive characters, not just cardboard cutouts stuck in a book. I've always had a soft spot for Babe Ruth and that continues after reading Diamond Ruby. Also who knew that the Klu Klux Klan had any presence in NY at all in the 20's? I certainly didn't. For Ruby, being persecuted as a woman daring to play baseball is one thing, but for religions that she doesn't even practice? It's an eyeopener for her.

A third character in the book is of course not just Manhattan but also Brooklyn. Both my parents grew up in New York at the time the book is set, so as I was reading the book, I got a glimpse of the New York that they must have known. There was an innocence about this time despite Prohibition and the violent crime that grew up around it. Diamond Ruby chronicles some of the minor players in this world. I admire Wallace's decision to create fictional gangsters instead of overloading the book with two many historical figures. Real life historical events are mentioned but they don't intrude on the narrative.  The book moves at a breakneck speed as it heads towards its conclusion that will make the reader stand up and cheer for Ruby.

On the back cover, author Laura Lippman describes the book as 'special' as she's right. I found myself looking forward eagerly to the next chapter in the lives of the Thomas girls. According to the interview in the back, Hollywood will play a major role and I can't wait to read it.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 Big Apples for Diamond Ruby

Check out the author's web-site at

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Gorgeous Dresses and the Celebs Who Wear Them

New York is one of the great fashion capitals of the world, and every year the Metropolitan Museum throws a gala to celebrate the Costume Institute. There are almost more stars at this event then there are at the Oscars. Seriously, its one of the biggest events on the New York social calendar. I dream of winning Mega Millions so that I can afford to go to this ball. It would be like Cinderella (I think there might be a Harlequin Presents or Silhouette Desire in this) arriving at this ball.  Here are some of my favorite dresses and some of my least favorite. Also head on over to Amanda McCabe's blog to see some of her favorites.

Jennifer Lopez

Sarah Jessica Parker in Halston Heritage. She's just signed up to be Creative Director. Not sure how I feel about this one. It looks kind of like a tent in this picture.

Blake Lively from Gossip Girl and her impossibly long legs wearing Marchesa

Demi Moore looking gorgeous at 47

Clare Danes

Hermione Granger all growed up. Emma Watson in Burberry

Sienna Miller in Emilio Pucci. She went with Jude Law, who she is apparently seeing again. Run, Sienna , Run!

Janet Jackson in a dress that look's like a Home Ec experiment gone wrong

Chloe Sevigny. I like the lace but not the dress

January Jones.  I have nothing to say about this monstrosity

Ah, Giselle, I know you thought this was a good idea when you left the house.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Hump Day Hotties: Australian Edition

I love Australian men, they're such Alpha Males and the accent kills me. Here are just a few of the Australian Hotties that have hit Hollywood in recent years.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

An Open Letter to Oprah

Dear Oprah,

Now that you are winding down your talk show, I think it might be a good time for you to rethink your bias against romance and their authors. Seriously, if you can devote an entire show to Naomi Campbell and her cellphone throwing antics, and a show on the porn industry, I think that you can feature the romance publishing industry on your show. I think that if you polled your audience, you would find that at least half of them have either read a romance or are serious readers of romance.

I believe that you once said that romance novels promote unreal expectations or an unreal view of the world and relationships. I'm not sure if you've ever really read a romance novel or if you read them years ago in your youth, but I think that you will find that romance novels are actually enpowering to women which is exactly what your show does as well. Yes, they promote a happy ending, that it is possible to have a healthy relationship with a member of the opposite sex (or the same sex). What is wrong with that? And the couples in romances have to work for their happy ending, through misunderstandings and barriers both internal and external. The heroines in romance novels aren't waiting around for a hero to show up either. Most heroines have high-powered jobs, or they're single mothers trying to raise their children in a confusing world. When the hero shows up, often the heroine is not interested, her life is full enough. I would bet you that women who read romance novels have healthier sex lives than women who don't.

Some people complain that romances are just female fantasies, but what's wrong with that? Isn't the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues male fantasy, Playboy, Porn for that matter? After a hard day working or taking care of the kids, reading a romance takes you away for an hour or two into a different era or a different world and at least gives you a satisfied happy feeling when you are done.

Women who read romance are also highly educated, they have college degrees and have high-powered jobs. They are not just bored housewives with nothing else to do. The same could be said for the women who write them. Romance authors are lawyers, doctors, they have PhD's (Hope Tarr), some of them are even tenured professors of Shakespeare (Eloisa James).  49% of all paperbacks sold in the United States are romance novels. And women who read romance also read widely in other genres. We read non-fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries, classsic novels. Women also buy most of the books out there, which I'm sure you've found out from your Oprah picks. That is why many male authors who write thrillers etc. are now courting the women who read romance. It is not uncommon to find authors like James Patterson and Barry Eisler at the RT Conventions or at the annual RWA conference.

Romance has exploded, there are Historical Romances, LGBT romances, African-American romances, Paranormal Romances. In fact, Brenda Jackson, an African-American romance author who writes for Harlequin/Silhouette is so popular that she has an annnual cruise for her fans. There are Inspirational Romances and Erotic Romances. Why was Twilight so popular? Yes, it had Vampires but at its core it was a romance, the love story of Bella and Edward that captivated so many readers.

Here is what I propose Oprah. You invite some of the top names in romance including Susan Elizabeth Phillips (who lives in Chicago), Heather Graham, Suzanne Brockmann, Jayne Ann Krentz, Julia Quinn, Eloisa and Nora Roberts to be on your show. Perhaps feature some footage from RT and RWA. Perhaps due a seperate feature on the Multicultural authors like Sandra Kitt, and Caridad Piniero as well as the paranormal authors etc.  I have a feeling it would be one of your highest rated shows.

I know that you are open minded Oprah, so I would ask you to open your mind to the romance publishing industry before your show takes its final bow.