Bittersweet And Strange: Howard Shines a Bright Light on The Voice Of My Childhood

It is absolutely impossible to calculate the depth of Howard Ashman’s influence on me, and countless other people like me, who fell in love with musicals as a medium because of his work with Disney.

The new documentary on Disney+, directed by Don Hahn, who produced Beauty And The Beast is of a piece with Hahn’s equally wonderful, Waking Sleeping Beauty, chronicles Ashman’s life, from his working class Baltimore roots, to his tragic death from complications from AIDS in 1991.

The movie deals with his early work and relationships sensitively before settling into his life long partnerships, creatively with Alan Menken and his life partner Bill Pausch, both of whom tell some of the most touching stories about him.

What I like so much about Hahn’s approach here, and why I think it surpasses Waking Sleeping Beauty (which I happen to really like a lot) is that here Hahn doesn’t have an axe to grind. He wants to share his friends life and work, especially his work, with people. And the work so often speaks for itself.

Old footage of Ellen Greene singing “Somewhere That’s Green,” or Jodi Benson recording “Part Of Your World,” or an incredible demo of Ashman singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” or the joyous look on Jerry Orbach’s face as he listens back to “Be Our Guest” for the first time, this man wrote such wonderful, perfect, musical theater songs. There are no talking heads, narration is provided by Hahn himself, or by stories told over old photographs, which makes it much more intimate. Occasionally an old interview with Ashman will pop up, and listening to him talk about his work is transfixing.

Thinking about AIDS is something I do, and have done A LOT, in my life. I was too young for the most dangerous time of this disease, but I live in the New York area and love art, so pretty much every bit of the art I love was shaped by the disease, by the generation of men who were lost.

Watch this one with tissues, y’all. It’s going to break your heart. And be prepared for one final punch in the gut over the credits.

Magical Movies Tour: Treasure Planet

In the great “Ninjas or Pirates” debates of the early internet I always landed squarely on the pirate side. (Daredevil and Batman aside) This was largely because of Disney stuff. Disney fricking loves pirates and I grew up loving them too. I think the company has adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate novel Treasure Island 3 times, if you count Muppet Treasure Island (and you should because it is a delight).

For all it’s steam punk and sci-fi trappings, Treasure Planet is a very straightforward adaptation of the story which is actually a smart decision. And it’s also proof that if you’re going to go back to the well, the best way to do it is in spectacular fashion, or straight back to basics.

Treasure Planet somehow manages to do both, and it’s a really special movie for that. The animation is spectacular and smooth, the characters are memorable. Although I could really do without giving Jim Hawkins that early 2000s “You’re not my dad!” energy. He’s supposed to just be a sweet kid who wants to go on adventures, what’s wrong with that. (I love Treasure Island and have many opinions about it.) This sticks to the Tarzan, “Soundtrack not musical number” style, although this time the songs are by John Rzenick of The Goo Goo Dolls, which is, a choice. It feels like a dated choice even for 2002, when the flick hit, The Goos are kind of a 96-98-ish phenomenon.

Unlike Atlantis, which definitely shares some DNA with this movie, I 100% can see why this didn’t hit. It is super niche. But if you’re the kind of person who is very into Emma Thompson voicing a sexy cat lady pirate (and I think by this time y’all should know that I am) then you will probably be on board for the rest of what’s going on here. Long John Silver as a cyborg, the parrot replaced by a shape shifting alien, a whacky robot instead of a marooned former sailor, I loved every bit of it.

Next week, we discover our true selves with Brother Bear.

More Amusing Than Mangoes: A Tequila Cocktail For Your Solo Fun Times

I invented a cocktail! When we get to storytime I’ll explain where it’s name came from, but let’s go, first through, let’s go through how to make it.

Ingredients

2 Shots of Tequila
1 Shot Triple Sec
2 Shots Mango Puree
1 Shot Lime Juice
1 Shot Pineapple Juice

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all ingredient and shake. Strain into a glass over ice.

Storytime

So last week I ordered online some mango puree to make Vegan Richa’s Mango Chickpea Curry.(Very good, recommend the recipe and Richa’s recipes in general.) But I ordered wayyy too much of it. I do not intend to make a full catering portion of Mango Chickpea curry.

I immediately thought, “Let’s make a cocktail!”

So, wrapping up my work last Wednesday reasonably early (around 2 PM) I got right to experimenting.

I landed on the above recipe, which I realized I couldn’t quite call a margarita, so I went to facebook to ask for help naming it. There were a few really good ones, but it was Katie who called it a “More Amusing Than Mangoes” which is a line from Once On This Island which is my favorite musical that isn’t Les Mis, and that we produced together 10 years ago. (EWWWW)

When the gods are mocking our heroine, Timoune about her dreams of racing off in a car with a rich boy, they sing a whole song about hitting her on the head with a mango, and um, yeah, it makes sense with context, I promise, anyway, Katie suggested it and I immediately latched on to the idea.

So that’s what we’ve named the cocktail. I recommend them for when you’re feeling the socially distant blues and also just want to get so tequila drunk that you keep forgetting to eat the dinner you’ve been preparing for hours. (It was shrimp tacos!) (They were yummy!)

Magical Movies Tour:Lilo & Stitch

Much like The Emperor’s New Groove there’s a certain stripe and age of Disney Fan for whom Lilo & Stitch is the be all end all. Unlike New Groove, it’s footprint is bigger, and I don’t like it that much.

It has it’s charms and as a grown quirky imaginative kid, I appreciate that kids like me a little younger had Lilo to look to. Not to mention non nuclear families and people of Polynesian decent. Stitch is a fun character too, and probably the reason why the film left a bigger footprint than the rest of the ones from this era.

As a Disney parks fan, escaping Stitch is impossible. He is fracking everywhere at Walt Disney World and has been pretty much since the movie came out. And again, I see the appeal, Stitch is little kid Id writ large, running around causing mayhem and being only lightly corrected. That kind of energy

The movie does what it does well, and balances it’s intergalactic adventure and family dramedy portions spectacularly, I’m also really into the soundtrack, a combination of new songs and a good selection of Elvis’s greatest hits, but I don’t know why I just can never get into it. I’ve tried a few times and it just never quite clicked with me.

I of course, am not made of stone so therefore, “Ohana means family, family means no one gets left behind or forgotten” and “This is my family, I found it all by myself, it’s little and broken but still good, yeah, still good,” make me weep like a baby.

Next time, we’ll blast off looking for Treasure Planet 

Magical Movies Tour: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

I think that if Titan AE didn’t exist, Atlantis: The Lost Empire would have a bit more of a cult following, but the type of people who’d love it, already gave their hearts to Titan AE, and didn’t have room for this.

Other people that would love this movie, The Firefly people. (I’m not a Firefly person, but most of my friends are. GUYS! WATCH ATLANTIS! YOU’RE GOING TO LIKE IT!)

The thing that stands out the most to me on this is the unique look. It doesn’t really look much like anything else. The characters are boxy and angular and the world of Atlantis itself is alien and beautiful and captivating. It’s also exceptionally fast. We’re on the road to Atlantis, dishing out exposition along the way, about 10 minutes in. It’s actually quite impressive how expediently it gets you into it’s world and on it’s wavelength.

I’m not a big “celebrity voices don’t belong in animation” person, but I will say that Michael J. Fox’s performance as Milo is both very good and super distracting. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of his, (I was a weird kid who was super into Spin City.) but I find his voice and style of delivery so distinct that hearing it come out of an animated character, even one that in his youth and when he was healthy, he could have easily played in live action, just feels eerie. (Odd that I don’t feel this way about Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy, but I don’t. I do a little bit about Kevin Kline as Phoebus in Hunchback.)

This sounds like the movie itself didn’t make an impression on me, but it really did. I think it’s a pretty fun movie that got buried somehow. I’m not sure how, I suppose it is that there’s nothing else quite like it, and it was also a time before everyone realized those 70’s and 80’s nerds who loved Superman and Star Wars had preteen and teen kids who they’d passed that nerdiness onto.

Next time we’re on that Hawaiin roller coaster ride with Lilo & Stitch. 

Magical Movies Tour: The Emperor’s New Groove

There are no other Disney Animated Movies, and few movies period as gloriously and delightfully and wonderfully silly as The Emperor’s New Groove.

I admit we’re currently in a stretch that if I saw the movies at all, it was likely on a bus on a field trip or a plane or something. I was a little too busy being in middle and high school and thus being in rehearsal every night of my life while all of this was going on and these movies weren’t even musicals so like, who gives a crap?

(I missed out on some cool shit with that thought process, let me tell you.)

And missing out on something as good as The Emperor’s New Groove until some uhhh…chemically altered viewings in college was a huge bummer. (But seriously, this is a fun movie to watch with a bunch of nerds who are stoned. If you’re wondering.)

The Looney Tunes style slapstick is perfectly executed with a fun character style and really game vocal performances by David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt and Patrick Wharburton.

Especially Wharburton. Kronk is definitely the breakout character, a loveable and vain lug who fell in with Yzma (Kitt), but actually wants to do the right thing. That’s not to say that Kuzco and Pacha (Spade and Goodman, respectively) and their odd couple buddy adventure isn’t spectacular, because it totally is, just everytime Kronk does something completely lunkheaded Wharburton’s dopey barritone compliments everything perfectly.

I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy this as much this go round (sans Cannabis) it’s just a delightful romp, with excellent gag after excellent gag.

Next week we get to the adventuring with Atlantis: The Lost Empire 

Weirdest Summer Ever Heatwave Rum Punch

My nearly six month long quest to teach myself to bartend recreationally, (I’m not good enough at customer service to be a pro bartender. And I’m pretty good you guys.) is coming to a head in teaching myself to make stuff I can scale up.

Sure I probably won’t actually be entertaining for a while, but when I do, I want to be able to give my guests fun cocktails. If there’s more than ten people, which given the size of my social circle is possible, I want to be able to handle it.

Hence, realizing I need to learn a rum punch.

Here’s what, after a few test runs, I’ve come up with. The NJ/NY/CT tri-state area is currently in a serious heatwave, and if you can think of a better time to play around with rum than that, I can’t! (Maybe literally living on an island?)

Weirdest Summer Heatwave Ever Rum Punch

Ingredients

1 Shot Dark Rum
1 Shot Gold Rum
1 Shot Malibu
2 Shots Pineapple Juice
2 Shots Orange Juice
2 Shots Cranberry Juice
1 lime Juiced

For serving:

Pint Glasses Chilled
Ice

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, and add all ingredients and shake

Pour into a chilled Pint Glass over ice

Drink and pretend you’re at the beach. (Or be at the beach. I don’t know your life.)

Story Time!

The first thing I do when I look for a vacation spot is make sure the hotel has a bar, especially when I’m travelling alone. There’s something about spending the weird space between wrapping up your day of activities and dinner at a bar chatting with the bartender that I really love.

And, my mom taught me an excellent trick for starting that conversation. Ask, “Hey, do you have a rum punch?”

If there’s one on the menu it’s probably pre mixed, and well tested and delicious. If there isn’t, the bartender probably has one in their back pocket and will happily make it while chatting. Also, rum makes me friendly. (Sometimes too friendly as many men in Brooklyn bars ten years ago will likely tell you)

Some of my beloved people have them too, that are excellent for parties, as they make them in huge batches, enough to libate large groups of people at a house party. Juli, my cousin Suzie, and my brother Mike have my favorites, in that order. Though Juli and Mike would be offended at not using their preferred names of “Juli Buckets” and “Boat Drinks”. Juli Buckets go great with drinking games, and Boat Drinks will kill you. Suzie’s Rum Punch is more refined and belongs at the kind of yacht club party described in Taylor Swift’s “Starlight.”

But those big batch rum punches do me no good when I’m stuck by myself in my apartment and it’s 90 degrees out and I want to pretend I’m on vacation.

So, I started playing around, with the expressed purpose of creating a rum punch that I could both enjoy on my own and scale up when I’m around people.

The portions here are easily scaled up for a pitcher or larger, this recipe yields two pint glasses full.

Mostly though, I was glad to come up with my own rum punch. I’m looking forward to a dinner party next summer where I get to make a pitcher to go with like, fried rice and some grilled fish. Which I think this would go perfectly with.

Magical Movies Tour: Dinosaur

Wow, Dinosaur is boring.

The thing it has going for it, the photo realistic dinosaurs are kind of cool, but their appeal is exhausted after the first twenty minutes. After that there’s still like an hour and a half of movie.

The plot, such as it is, involves a baby dinosaur who is orphaned and raised by monkeys, who one day finds a heard of his own kind who are escaping a comet and moving to their nesting grounds. His monkey guardians are psyched about this, because they were very worried their adopted dino son was never going to meet a nice girl and mate. Luckily, there is a nice girl dino of his own species. She’s got a dickhead brother though who’s stubborn belief that he’s right is going to get them eaten by a Carnosaur.

Anyway, then they walk to the valley and our lead dino and dino girl have babies of their own.

Look, this movie is visually stunning and is definitely a technilogical marvel, but it is so dull. There’s just nothing exciting or interesting that happens. Even the few chases involving the Carnosaur are over quickly and don’t hold much suspense.

This did inspire a fricking TERRIFYING ride at Animal Kingdom that I have vowed to never ride again.

Anyway, next week, we’ll enter the hilarious cartoon world of The Emperor’s New Groove

Magical Movies Tour: Fantasia 2000

Watching Fantasia woke up something inside of me. I think it’s an incredibly special piece of art, interesting and idiosyncratic and unique. It was also a deep financial failure for Disney Studios and despite years of trying, Walt’s desire for a sequel never got off the ground. When Roy Disney took over, it became his dream to chase and, based on the reading I’ve done this year, really bugged the crap out of everyone else at the company.

The result of that war (besides Michael Eisner losing his job and Bob Iger becoming a thing) is Fantasia 2000, which is an interesting beast, and nowhere near as lovely as it’s predecessor. Choosing a slate of new pieces and remastering “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” the film is presented much more like a splashy symphonic event concert, complete with celebrity introductions and projection screens.

It is nowhere near as charming and the work on display feels a good deal less magical.

I liked a few of the pieces more than others. Interpreting “Rhapsody in Blue” as a bustling day in 1930s New York, drawn in the style of Al Hirschfeld is inspired and the resulting piece is a lot of fun to watch. “The Firebird” is interesting if imperfect and “Pomp And Circumstance” is a lovely little fable that features my good friend Donald.

At the bottom of the barrel is probably “The Pines of Rome” where several blue whales migrate and jump out of the water. While I’m sure this sequence seemed really cool on Imax screens in 2000, now the CGI looks dated and there’s no majesty on my home tv.

The celebrity narrators are well chosen and acquit themselves well, but still feel, off, I guess?

Next week, we’re talking about Dinosaur, which I genuinely cannot remember if I’ve ever watched before.

Anessa

WORLD BUILDING.

Also a first kiss.

The Marina Chronicle

It’s after dinner, which, I’ve learned is the best time to talk to Annalise. It’s about the only time she’s not trying to move. 

We’re working on embroidery, which neither of us excel at, but it’s bonding.

“So, tomorrow is market day,” Lisette says and looks at me. I nodded. “I have to go to market, I mean, I don’t have to, but I usually do, it’s the sort of thing that,”

“That the orphan ward of a Count would do,” I said. She nodded. “I don’t have a problem with it.” She glanced at Tristan. “He won’t either, just go while he’s running.” She laughed.

“Is there anything you want?” She asked. I raised my eyebrows. “To eat in the next week or so.”

“Oh, um, I like rabbit?” I tried. She cocked her head. “It’s silly, but when we were little we were at Resistance camp a lot…

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