Eva Maze: With Ballet in My Soul

A life spanning close to 100 years is noteworthy, if only because of its longevity. The rich life of a woman committed to a professional vision ahead of its time, filled with glamour, excitement, and adventure, is truly remarkable. Narrated in her own words, this is the story of such a woman, Eva Maze, who, from the time she left Romania as a teenager in 1939, dreamed of being a ballet dancer, and through a series a circumstances, became instead one of the most successful theatrical impresarios in Europe – with a career spanning more than 40 years.

Now in her nineties, Maze looks back at the path and passion that led her from Bucharest to the United States as an immigrant, and then, as a married woman, back again to Europe and Asia, where she found her professional calling.

Set against key historical events of the 20th century, including the building of the Berlin Wall, the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, as well as the rise and fall of Pan American Airlines, Maze’s fascinating past is brought to life through a combination of serious commentary and amusing anecdotes about the risks and rewards of the business side of theater and dance, some of the personalities who were part of those worlds from the 1940s to the 1990s, her own motivation for being an impresario, and her personal life. Her narration is supported by more than 250 captivating historical and modern images going back to her birth in 1922.

Representing artists and companies abroad from a vast array of talent in the performing arts of the time – including The Alvin Ailey Dance Company, The Living Theatre, and The Swingle Singers – this unique woman became a prolific producer of more than 100 different types of theatrical programs from the world of dance, music, mime, cabaret, and drama.

When the publisher contacted me about Eva Maze’s memoir, the stunning woman on the cover caught my attention immediately. After reading the captivating summary, I couldn’t say no to the review request. I was expecting a regular black and white print copy, but when it arrived, I opened the envelope to find a BEAUTIFUL 200 page full-color coffee-table book!

We all have that one neighbor that we want to know more about–she’s lead the most interesting life, and if we could just sit down for tea with her we know we’d learn a lifetime of history. Eva Maze is one of those people, and opening With Ballet in My Soul is that afternoon tea. So you better have a big pot ready, because you’re not going to want to move from your couch until you finish listening to everything she has to tell you.

Eva has been pretty much everywhere. She was born in Romania in the 20s, and then convinced her parents to move to the US so she could see the World’s Fair–THE YEAR BEFORE HITLER INVADED. Her wanderlust saved her family, and from then on she just never stopped globetrotting. Ballet had a great influence on her life, and this book is intertwined with music and theatre and great talent.

But what I really loved about it were the pictures. Usually when you read a memoir, the pictures are a second thought that the publisher tosses into the center of the book. Not here. They are published along with the story, and as I said before, this is in full-color. It’s the kind of book you want to leave around for someone to idly pick up now and then, and glance through–though definitely actually read it. It doesn’t take long!

Moonstone Press provided a copy of this book for unbiased review. Affiliate links included in this post.

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Margaret Atwood: Hag-Seed

When Felix is deposed as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his devious assistant and longtime enemy, his production of The Tempest is canceled and he is heartbroken. Reduced to a life of exile in rural southern Ontario—accompanied only by his fantasy daughter, Miranda, who died twelve years ago—Felix devises a plan for retribution.

Eventually he takes a job teaching Literacy Through Theatre to the prisoners at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, and is making a modest success of it when an auspicious star places his enemies within his reach. With the help of their own interpretations, digital effects, and the talents of a professional actress and choreographer, the Burgess Correctional Players prepare to video their Tempest. Not surprisingly, they view Caliban as the character with whom they have the most in common. However, Felix has another twist in mind, and his enemies are about to find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever. But how will Felix deal with his invisible Miranda’s decision to take a part in the play?

Opens mouth.

Shuts mouth.

Opens mouth.

Shuts again.

That was…an experience? I have so many mixed up thoughts, which I suppose is not completely unexpected, as this IS Shakespeare retold. I’ve mentioned before that I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare to begin with–it takes me time to come to terms with his plays. But, because this was Margaret Atwood, I wasn’t going to miss it, right?

I was immediately confused by some of the language. Granted, Felix is a snooty theater person, so his speech is “high elitist,” but it is still a little over the top. And the prisoners are just the opposite…is there such a thing as under the top?

And then there’s this sentence:

“Should that happen, his humiliation would be total; at the thought of it, even his lungs blush.”

 

Felix also really took care to describe the races of the prisoners. And I say that with my tongue all the way in my cheek because when he was first introducing us to the men, he would point them out as yellow, red, brown…you get the picture. It was extremely cringeworthy.

I’m sure a case could be made that Felix is an unreliable narrator and this is not actually how the author feels or would refer to people in real life. But I still don’t think it’s at all appropriate or called for. Just because a person is of color does not mean we actually need to refer to them BY that color, especially when in history those colors have had such negative connotations.

While the language really bothered me, I did appreciate the breakdown of the play itself. It was certainly an interesting interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I read through the text before beginning this book, and didn’t quite grasp what happened–Felix’s class broke it down so much better! This is what I wish I would have had more of growing up–legitimate discussion of literature. We didn’t read many classics in school, so I missed this. I would have understood Shakespeare better had it been broken down this way, perhaps. I wish I could go back and take lit classes for fun now. It’s why I write this blog–analysis and discussion.

I’m sure all of this is completely unlikely. I know there are classes held in prisons, but full scale theater productions, with props and blackout performances? I can’t see that happening–especially where ministry dignitaries would be allowed unescorted by security. I will say it was an engaging book, but I cannot rate it very highly due to the racial disregard shown. We must do better.

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I won a copy of this book from Hogarth Books in their Read It Forward newsletter. This post contains affiliate links.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

I might be one of the last people to read this play–at least of those who preordered it. I thought I’d never get my copy! Ya’ll know I’m a mega Harry Potter fan, so of COURSE I had to read it.

There have been a lot of mixed reviews from the fandom. Many think it feels like fanfiction, but the overall consensus was that it was good, even if it wasn’t the story we had hoped for. (HELLO–MAURAUDERS!) Either way, I knew I would have strong feelings.

But…I…um…HUH??

The only real feeling I have is confusion. And disappointment?

I know what this play was trying to do. It tries to bring the wonderful wizarding world to the stage. IT isn’t a novel, and so characterization and staging is limited. It can’t be the same expansive THING that are the first seven books.

However–this almost did too much in the other direction. So much of the magic of this world is Hogwarts itself–the castle, the feasts, the sortings, the Quidditch. The play had almost none of that. In fact, we hardly spend any time at all at the school; Ravenclaw isn’t even mentioned, and Hufflepuff gets one very quiet nod.

Instead, the play focuses on yet another wizarding war, and Albus becomes just one more Potter clone–and he was supposed to be the one set apart. The time turning plot gets confusing, jumping back and back and back. Maybe it comes across better on stage, but I really just miss the rest of Hogwarts.

I can see why people see this as inauthentic. It feels like it’s trying to hard–and maybe it is. I don’t think I’ve talked to a single Harry Potter fan that actually likes the epilogue, and to build a play upon it just makes it that much more uncomfortable.

I had a feeling that this is how I would feel, when I was reading the previews for the show. There was no doubt I would buy it for my collection, and read it right away. I hoped that I would be as in love with it as the rest of the books–but this will probably grow dusty on my shelf, and never get as worn as the other seven.

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Hamilton: The Revolution

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Eleven Tony Awards, including Best Musical

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country’s origins for a diverse new generation.

HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages–“since before this was even a show,” according to Miranda–traces its development from an improbable perfor­mance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.

Their account features photos by the renowned Frank Ockenfels and veteran Broadway photographer, Joan Marcus; exclusive looks at notebooks and emails; interviews with Questlove, Stephen Sond­heim, leading political commentators, and more than 50 people involved with the production; and multiple appearances by Presi­dent Obama himself. The book does more than tell the surprising story of how a Broadway musical became a national phenomenon: It demonstrates that America has always been renewed by the brash upstarts and brilliant outsiders, the men and women who don’t throw away their shot.

I just finished reading what is affectionately called The Hamiltome. So don’t worry, I’m not sobbing or anything.

I promise.

I’m perfectly fine.

And if you believe that, then look under your seats because I bought you all front row tickets to tonight’s performance of Hamilton.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to love this musical any more than I already do, at least not until I actually get to see it. Then I read the book. MY HEART IS EXPLODING. With as shitty as the last two years have been, we have been so blessed to have Lin-Manuel Miranda right now. I don’t know where his creative genius comes from, but I am so thankful he is sharing it with us.

The Hamiltome as a book alone is gorgeous–the pictures are stunning, and the text is formatted like an old-school pamphlet. Jeremy McCarter wrote two page chapter introductions to explain the creation process of each section of the show:  set design, LMM’s writing process, casting, workshopping, etc. Then a few songs follow, with LMM’s notes in the margins.

Those notes are definitely the best part. Some are funny, some are sad, some are just interesting. But all give us just a hint of just how fast and deep LMM’s brain works. He is no where close to the rest of us. We are not worthy.

If you are a fan, you need to pick this up. I’m telling you now, put it on your birthday list, Christmas list, Must Buy list. Do it. Click the linky below.

Don’t throw away your shot.

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Othello

The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the short story Un Capitano Moro (“A Moorish Captain”) by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565. The work revolves around four central characters: Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army; his beloved wife, Desdemona; his loyal lieutenant, Cassio; and his trusted but unfaithful ensign, Iago. Because of its varied and current themes of racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and repentance, Othello is still often performed in professional and community theatres alike and has been the basis for numerous operatic, film, and literary adaptations.

Here’s the thing. I rarely understand Shakespeare fully on the first read through. But two things struck me in this.

  1. This is a freakin’ racist play. If you do not know what a Moor is…read.
  2. This play should actually be called Iago, the racist douche who needs to mind his own damned business. Othello isn’t even the lead role in this play–Iago is–and he’s the villain. He’s one of the few villains that I don’t like!

Surprise! More Shakespeare that I’m not entertained by. I will continue to read it for educational reasons…but I’m not sure he will ever be my cup of tea.

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Alexander Hamilton

What’s your name, man?

Alexander Hamilton. My name is Alexander Hamilton. There’s a million things I haven’t done. Just you wait, just you wait.

Why yes, I did just sing that from memory. I *might* be a little obsessed. OK…more than a little.

GUYS GO LISTEN TO HAMILTON IMMEDIATELY I COMMAND YOU.

SON. CALL ME SON ONE MORE TIME.

Dammit. Sorry, I did it again.

As if my Hamilton obsession couldn’t get any worse, I just finished the 730 page Ron Chernow biography that Lin Manuel Miranda based his musical after. And by that, I don’t just mean he took a few facts from it, oh no. GUYS, I COULD MATCH THE RHYTHM TO THE ENTIRE BIOGRAPHY. Have you ever read a 730 page biography in rap? It makes it SO much more interesting. I wish Lin Manuel Miranda could teach us all of the history. We would understand so much more.

Hello, Mr. Next President, do you want to save the schools? This is what you need to do. Hire LMM to produce our curriculum. Post to the internet. Done. Teenagers will now be engaged. They will even create fanart.

But I’m getting away from the actual biography again. For the most part, it’s exactly the same as the George Washington one that I read several months ago. It’s very long and very dry. There is SO much research here, and he does a brilliant job. It’s a 730 page history, though, and while Hamilton is very interesting, there’s only so much you can do to make it not boring. And that is to get LMM to make a musical about it. Seriously, Chernow needs to kiss LMM’s feet for the amount of extra book sales he is getting out of this. I couldn’t find it anywhere because it was sold out.

Sorry. Sorry. The book. Right. It’s a solid biography. If you like biographies, read it. If you are interested in the founding fathers, read it. If you’ve previously read Ron Chernow’s work and liked it, read it. If you are obsessed with the musical…it’s going to be a toss up. Because I’m a book nerd and will read EVERYTHING, I say read it–but I also think there are a lot of musical nuts who may start this monster and just really not care for it at all. It’s a beast. Just know what you are getting into when you pick it up, and if you’re used to fiction and never read NonF, this may not be the book for you.

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Fulfills Bibliophilicwitch’s #BigBookChallenge

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A Doll’s House

One of my goals for 2016 is to begin reading around the world. I’ve began a list of books from every UN recognized country and while I won’t get through them all this year, I want to make a dent at least.

My first country is Norway with A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. This three act play portrays a Victorian marriage troubled by debt. According to Wikipedia, Ibsen was inspired by the belief that “a woman cannot be herself in modern society,” since it is “an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint.” The play was extremely controversial because (old-time book spoiler alert) the wife, Nora, leaves her husband and children at the end of the play to find a life for herself.

I was extremely bored throughout this whole thing. All of the conversations, save one, are about money. And the one that IS about illicit romance ends in extremely anti-climactic suicide. I mean, the couple KNOW their friend is on his way to kill himself, and they simply go on with their argument instead.

Um, hello? Goddamn Victorians.

Check one off for Norway, I guess. As in literally, one.

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Favorite Villain

Theatre villains are always tough to beat because they are always just so over the top evil. And king of all of those is the Opera Ghost. The Phantom. Erik.

Whatever name you call him, he’s mysterious, genius, devious. He looks pretty nasty too.

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Just don’t forget to keep your hand at the level at your eye.

 

The Phantom of the Opera

Most theatre fans will agree that Phantom of the Opera is iconic. We all have our favorite Phantom. Mine will always be Gerard Butler. I know, I know. I can hear you all groaning. But he was my first, ok? I’m drawing a blank on who my husband’s favorite. Someone classic. I’m sure you are all screaming it at the computer right now.

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Anyway, I didn’t even realize Andrew Lloyd Weber had based his musical on a book until recently. It quickly made my TBR list when I found out, and not too long after, a coworker found it on a FREE BOOK shelf and surprised me.

I was surprised at how different the book was from the show. The main plotline was followed of course:  You have Christine, and the Phantom, and Raoul. But Madame Giry plays a completely different role, and her daughter is all but invisible. There is an added hero–The Persian. And Phantom even has a name! Erik. It’s weird to associate that with him.

The differences were so profound that it’s almost hard to compare, but I think I prefer the show to the book. I need the music, the drama. I like seeing Don Juan Triumphant, and hearing the taunting and power from the Angel of Music. It makes the story so much more intense.

Which do you prefer? Do you have a favorite Phantom?

Update:  I have been informed that Michael Crawford is R’s favorite Phantom.

Love Song

Richard and I both have a huge love for theatre, especially musicals. If you show up out of the blue at our apartment, don’t be surprised to find one or both of us dancing in the kitchen, singing at the top of our lungs to Wicked or Les Mis or, his favorite, Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde (I’m unsure if that’s the actual title of the book-based musical).

As a testament to this love, the first Christmas we were together, we both slyly stuffed each other’s stockings with a brand new copy of Gerard Butler’s version of The Phantom of the Opera. OOOOOOPS. Great minds think alike, right? We know this one by heart, even if we sing it completely off key.

I’ve never actually read the book, but a coworker of mine found it for free a few weeks ago, and grabbed it for me. It sits on my TBR shelf, patiently waiting for its turn to share its song with me.

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