What It Is…
In this 80th anniversary year of RKO’s King Kong and 40th of Hip-Hop music, writer Randy Weiner and writer/director Alfred Preisser offer up a lighthearted jibe at the theme of outre culture blunted by mainstream acceptance and the enduring legend of “T’was beauty killed the beast.” In addition to Kong-o-philes, life long New Yorkers will get the insider jokes, as will (strangely enough) any recent viewers of the Adrian Brody/Beyonce Knowles film Cadillac Records.
Actors Matthew LaBanca, David Michaels and Sid Solomon play Moe, Hyman and Izzy, the Gold Brothers, whose failing record company – Gold Records – needs a boost of new musical blood. Secretary and would be socio-anthropologist Faye Wellington (Rhiannon Hansen) brings them a demo of MC “Kong” lurking in the deepest Bronx. The brothers’ ultimate goal is to sign the indigenous rapper to their label and collect the publishing royalties. The Gold Brothers’ quick fire tandem delivery plays like The 3 Stooges and Marx Brothers, with stances informed by Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Along the way they encounter mutant rats of unusual size, Thriller style dancing zombies, cops on the take, and spar with the Baron Samedi-like witchdoctor. Nothing is sacred or too puerile. For instance, one the Gold Brothers’ chronic flatulence equals the Kong subduing “gas bomb.”
The Kong character gets a gender flip via actress Tracy Jacks’ portrayal (a goof on “Queen” Latifah?) which triggers Faye to expound on the role of powerful women in male-less households, question her own sexuality, and leads to a loopy Barry White seduction scene in Kong’s lair.
Although the show is part of the 2013 Summerstage season’s “This is____Hip-Hop” series, it plays a lot more like Mel Brooks than Melly Mel. Wes Matthews’ compositions are show tune oriented, save one of the representations of Kong’s rap repertoire. Choreographer Ryan Kasprzak and associate Ellenore Scott give the characters plenty of kinetic range from Al Jolson Vaudeville gesturing to In Living Color fly girl cool and throw in some cartoonish slow motion chases for good measure. The graffiti emblazoned sets, designed by Isis Kenny were deftly maneuvered by the stage crew offering seamless scene changes throughout the intermission-less show. It was particularly fun to watch Jacks’ heartbroken Kong languishing at the top of the Empire State Building, while a rabble of sycophants, hucksters and nay-sayers mill about below.
The card carrying politically correct will need to leave their inhibitions at the door as no ethnic or New York City stereotype is spared. It is important to remember that successful satire points out the absurdity of its targets. King Kong succeeds while taking good natured swipes at everyone from Moses to Robert Moses. Though there are no fall-down-the stairs laugh moments, the play sustains itself with continued chuckles, elicited by a series of sight gags and nudges and winks for those who lived through New York City’s “Pre-Disney” grind house years, or maybe tried to make a living in the music industry. I’ve done both. At the end of the presentation I realized I’d been smiling – knowingly – for its entire length.
Where It’s At…
The free presentation, produced by the City Park Foundation’s Summerstage and sponsored by Time Warner, has up-coming dates at the following locations.
August 7 & 10, 2013 at St. Mary’s Park, Bronx, NY
August 13, 14 & 17, 2013 at Marcus Garvey Park, Manhattan, NY
August 20, 21 & 22, 2013 at East River Park, Manhattan, NY
Check the Summerstage Website for more details on show times and directions.
Sittin’ In the Park Waiting for You…
A peak point in Once Upon A Dream, The Young Rascals’ reunion show now playing at the Richard Rogers Theater, comes mid-show when the sound of chirping birds and conga beats herald the beginning of their 1960’s Top 40 classic “Groovin’.” As the band slides into this pean to the lazy hazy days of summer the fuzzy image projected behind them becomes sharper until it reveals a scene of Central Park lawn loungers soaking up the rays. It’s a perfect picture of the idyllic side of summer in the city that is headed your way again.
Yep, it can be a pain living in a metropolis as big as New York, but that is all the more reason to take advantage of the special events being offered. Just so you can’t say no one warned you, here are a host of reasons to get off the couch between now and September. Get out your calendars, dumb pencils or smart phones and start marking the dates for all the wonderful and mostly FREE doings the City Parks Foundation has planned for SummerStage 2013. Presented by AT&T SummerStage events are not limited to Central Park, there are shows in every borough. Use the City Parks Foundation’s interactive calendar to find Summerstage and a bazillion other happenings.
We’ll Keep On Spendin’ Sunny Days This Way…
The choices span every cultural aspect of NYC, classical, rock, jazz, folk, with a fortieth anniversary focus on Hip Hop this season. Genre keystones like DJ Cool Herc and Rock Steady Crew are on board. Foundation President Alison Tocci notes, “Audiences have come to expect the highest-quality, arts programming from SummerStage and we intend to continue that tradition. With the introduction of the new “Forewords” discussion panels and the “This is __ Hip-Hop” series, we hope to present programming that is not only entertaining but further pushes the bounds of what the festival offers and celebrates the spirit and history of all performing arts genres.”
On my personal radar are two theater pieces, a Hip-Hop reworking of King Kong in this 80th anniversary year, and Diablo Love writer Mando Alvarado’s play interpolating the songs of seminal American blues artist Howlin’ Wolf. If you’ve yet to see Liane La Havas don’t miss the chance.
What It Is…
Circuits to Cure Cancer is an ad hoc group of effects pedal makers, reviewers and distributors who have focused their creative skills to spin up a unique fundraising opportunity. Between April 18 and 28, 2013 more than 30 of these electrical alchemists’ products will be auctioned on eBay with 100% of the proceeds going to the St. Jude’s Childrens Research Hospital.
To make the auction even more outstanding, several of the pedals will offer custom tweaks, one of a kind embellishments, autographs (Keith Urban, St. Vincent, Josh Ritter) and key serial numbers. Visit the main CtCC site to see a by builder list of the stomp boxes going on the block, and keep an eye on the Circuits to Cure Cancer Facebook profile for up to the minute news about additions.
Kudos to those who helped organize Circuits to Cure Cancer. St Jude’s is a charity my family and I regularly support because of its high ratio of donation to objective. In the last five years 81 cents of every dollar has gone to research to find cures for children with cancer and other life threatening diseases, and no family ever pays St. Jude for anything.
Sadie, daughter of Australian effects maven Brett Kingman gives you the lowdown. Please help spread the word via all social media outlets.
On his first solo album Lifer guitarist/songwriter Ricky Byrd wears his musical heart on his sleeve. An unabashed student of rock and roll Byrd mines 60’s AM and 70’s FM radio gems for his outcomes and offers up a personal take on his favorite facets. That’s a good thing when you have his impeccable taste and the chops to back it up.
Put Another Dime in the Jukebox…
As a member of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts Ricky got to live the rock and roll lifestyle touring the world in support of the 1980’s mega-hit “I Love Rock and Roll.” In the ensuing years he’s played behind many of his favorite artists including Roger Daltrey and Ian Hunter. I remember seeing him on stage at The Bottom Line covering The Yardbirds during a 60’s tribute show. The Hit Squad is his high-end cover band in cahoots with other top NYC session players like vocalist Christine Ohlman and drummer Liberty DeVito.
What It Is…
Lifer opens with the sound of foot falls on stair-steps and a guitar cable engaging an amplifier input. It sets the stage for “Rock N Roll Boys” a rollicking reminiscence of Max’s Kansas City. Dressed in the sonic glitter of Mott the Hoople the tune spins out Byrd’s teenage autobiography, crowned with the chorus “the girls all wanted rock n roll boys,” a truism that enticed so many of us to strap on a guitar and learn-those-chords.
If you’re a rock n roll “lifer” as well, part of the album’s charm will be catching where Ricky slyly slips in a familiar aside (“I’ve been wanting to do this for years”) or guitar lick. I hear Don Covay via The Rolling Stones on “Wide Open” and the white-boy garage R&B of The Young Rascals through J. Geils Band on “Things To Learn.”
There’s a Stax style horn arrangement on “Ways of A Woman” and it might be Bowie mimicking The Yardbirds mimicking Muddy Waters on “Let’s Get Gone.” Along the way both “Small” and “Ooh La La” era Faces are referenced, while the subtle and touching 9/11 rumination “Turnstile ’01” is the kind of tune you wish Bruce Springsteen would write again.
It’s His Life…
To his credit Byrd puts his own stamp on this mountain of musical homage with a solid set of personal lyrics and unaffected vocal style. This unpretentious crop of tunes makes for a really enjoyable listen that is bound for repeat on your playlist. Though stylistically diverse Lifer makes sense the same way AM radio made sense in the 1960’s. That is, you can play any kind music right next to any other kind music as long as it was created with honesty and heart. Check out any Billboard Top 40 chart from 1965-67 to see what I mean.
Whether those opening footsteps are taking you upstairs to Max’s Kansas City 40 years ago or downstairs to The Bowery Electric 40 minutes ago the message is the same; the mighty long way to rock and roll is never ending. Guided by loving aficionados like Ricky Byrd it’s a sweet journey.
My love for King Kong stems back to the 1950’s when the RKO Pictures catalog first came to television. That group of films was relentlessly screened by WWOR Channel 9 in New York as part of their “Million Dollar Movie” format. It offered proto “monster kids” like myself an opportunity to see the great gorilla trilogy of King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young as many as 7 times in one week! What a wonderful way to imprint young brain cells forever.
My early 1970’s film writing professor’s cringed at my glowing critiques of Kong, a film they clearly considered high camp but the ensuing years have looked on it with a kinder skew. The world at large seems now more likely to agree with my view that it is as an elemental example of cinema where unfettered imagination and technical talent converges.
Alternately, I became a fan of Doc Savage fiction back in the 1960’s when Bantam Books revived the series in paperback format adorned with spectacular James Bama cover paintings. At the time I had no idea they were reprints of pulp books from thirty years earlier. Much like the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars and Earth’s Core novels I was devouring concurrently, they were exciting and timeless stories aimed pretty squarely at a boy my age.
Two On An Island…
To celebrate these fortuitous 1933 births Altus Press will publish a pulp inspired tale bringing the two titans of American pop culture together. Scheduled for release in March Doc Savage: Skull Island will be the fifth installment of the company’s Wild Adventures of Doc Savage series and will be penned by neo-pulp and comics author Will Murray (aka Kenneth Robeson). Murray has been the leading legacy author of Doc Savage stories since he completed several of Lester Dent’s outlines for Bantam books.
Cover art will be rendered by Joe DeVito who is no stranger to the octogenarian characters. DeVito previously illustrated Kong:King of Skull Island, which is available for your iPad or Nook tablet, and has supplied art for Altus Press’s previous Doc Savage extrapolations.
The new story will take place in flashback after Kong’s fall from the Empire State building which also serves as Doc’s NY headquarters. Doc relates his first encounter with the outsized gorilla in the 1920’s which Murray notes will interconnect with Savage’s familial backstory. “I knew it had to be written with reverence for both of these immortal characters. So I used the locale of Skull Island to tell a larger story, an untold origin for Doc Savage. It all started back on Skull Island….”
Bama – Lama – King – Kong…
It’s interesting to note that Bama also illustrated the cover of Bantam’s first paperback edition of the Kong novelization. I still treasure my well worn first printing, purchased off the local newsstand back in 1965.
Should you not already own it, Brian M. Kane’s book James Bama – American Realist pulls the artist’s key works (including his art for the classic Aurora monster model kits) under one cover. It’s beautifully printed and offers a look at some of the photographic model poses Bama worked from for the Doc Savage paintings. I was fortunate enough to grab a signed and numbered deluxe slip-cased edition (with DVD) when it was first published in 2007, but hardcovers are still out there for a reasonable price. Highly recommended to say the least.
This mash-up of two of my favorite adventure characters is an irresistible lure and I’m personally hoping it’s a grand slam rather than an offbeat footnote in their histories. I will admit to a bit of wariness based on the need to keep the power and mystique of these archetypes unmarred. Nonetheless this is one of the few books in recent memory I can say I’m eagerly awaiting.