Sunday, June 25, 2017


Ghouls just wanna have fun in Cabrillo Stage's funny 'Addams Family'

The summer theatre season gets off to a boisterous start with The Addams Family, the first of this year's musical productions from Cabrillo Stage.

Although it seems odd to apply words like "lively" and "exuberant" to characters so famous for their morbidity and ghoulishness, you can expect to have an, er, spirited time at this handsomely produced, enormously good-hearted, family-friendly show.

Crook and Saucedo: darkly funny
This is a relatively new property that opened on Broadway in 2010 and ran through the end of 2011. Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, it is, of course, inspired by the macabre, darkly funny single-panel cartoons by Charles Addams that ran in The New Yorker for decades.

The classic TV sitcom from the 1960s, and a couple of more recent theatrical films, have kept these characters in the public eye since then, but the writers here cook up an original storyline that mostly takes its cues from the cartoons.

Director Bobby Marchessault gets us in the mood right off, inviting us to feast our eyes on William "Skip" Epperson's splendid proscenium arch decorated with skulls, dagger-shaped supports, and cobwebs above a row of headstones.

Fittingly enough, the show begins in a graveyard, where the entire Addams clan — led by proud patriarch, Gomez (Adam Saucedo) and his slinky wife, Morticia (a seductively deadpan Danielle Crook) — arrives for its annual celebration of the dear departed.

Calling forth various ghosts of Addamses past, from different eras (a flapper, a conquistador, etc.) they all sing a funny paean to their ghoulish life in "When You're An Addams." (These silvery-grey ghosts, called Ancestors, in cheeky but elaborate historical costumes by Chiara Cola, also serve as chorus line and stagehands throughout the rest of the show.)

Wednesday, Gomez, as Chas Addams drew them
The plot kicks in with the show's biggest departure from the source material: little daughter Wednesday, usually portrayed as a middle-grade moppet, is now a teenager (Gabrielle Filloux) in the throes of her first love.

Filloux makes droll teen angst out of her struggle to reconcile the joys of love with the family credo of gloom. The problem is, her boyfriend, Lucas (Ryland Gordon), is "normal."

But, of course, the point of the show is observing the Addamses at play. John G. Bridges all but steals the show as a delightfully sweet and goofy Uncle Fester. (Fasten your seatbelts for the funky, yet utterly beguiling bit of stagecraft when he flies up to cavort with the moon.)
t's a running gag that Wednesday routinely tortures kid brother, Pugsley (Michael Navarro), on a rack — and how much he loves it. Deborah McArthur can't do much with the underwritten part of screechy, witchy Grandma.

Astin as Gomez: Latin lover
But David Murphy's zombified butler, Lurch, always in slo-mo, provides the show's biggest, best surprise.

Lippa's songs are consistently clever, and the book is very funny. ("Wednesday's growing up," sighs Gomez. "She'll be Thursday before you know it!")

I'm pretty sure the concept of Gomez as a Latin lover originated with the delightful John Astin in the TV show (ably continued by Raul Julia in the movies) — beginning with that name.

(In Addams' cartoons, the characters are unnamed. If the patriarch, as drawn, resembles anybody, it's Peter Lorre, or, possibly, the Hunchback of Notre Dame.)

But whatever the character's origins, Saucedo plays Gomez with gusto, geniality, and a terrific singing voice. He couldn't be any better.

(Read more in this week's Good Times.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Their Finest: dueling typewriters
The recent popularity of Their Finest got me thinking about how to make writers dynamic in the movies.

Writing a novel in isolation is hardly a spectator sport. Sure, there have been good movies about novelists, but the act of writing itself is pretty much a snooze-fest onscreen.

But other forms of writing can be made more cinematic because they involve action — and humor.

A pair (or team, or pool) of writers bouncing ideas off each other verbally while concocting a film or television script is an idea situation: the act of creation is achieved as the jokes fly.

Boy Meets Girl: sell that story
One of my favorites in this genre is the 1938 screwball comedy Boy Meets Girl, with fast-talking James Cagney and Pat O'Brien as studio screenwriters hatching an elaborate movie scenario in double-time.

A more updated version was that venerable TV sitcom of the 1960s,  Dick Van Dyke Show, where staff writers Rob, Buddy, and Sally traded non-stop wisecracks while cobbling together a weekly comedy script for their TV star boss.

Another reliably visual writing genre is journalism. You can't go wrong with reporters out there tracking down a story — especially if they're cracking wise the whole time, as in The Front Page (1931, and remade many times).

Or better still, the 1940 remake, His Girl Friday, recasting the second lead as a female newshound played by Rosalind Russell, following leads and cracking the case alongside star reporter Cary Grant.

Wax Museum, Glenda Farrel: girl meets typewriter
One of my personal favorites, less well-known today than the others, is The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). Sure, it's a horror movie, but it also features Glenda Farrell as a gal reporter with plenty of moxie, flinging snappy patter in all directions.

When her roomie (Fay Wray) disappears, right around the time the city wax museum begins exhibiting a bunch of new figures of dubious provenance, Farrell convinces her skeptical, hard-boiled editor (Frank McHugh) to let her track down the story — and, boy, does she ever!

The genre inspired its own homage in Woody Allen's Scoop (2006). Ian McShane is great as a recently deceased reporter who haunts cub journalist Scarlet Johansson with clues to a crime, because he — being inconveniently dead — can no longer get the story.

As long as writers are producing the scripts, tales of the writing life will be told onscreen. (Write what you know, and all that.) Here are some of my other favorites.

Monday, June 12, 2017


The countdown continues — s-l-o-w-l-y — to the publication date of my next novel, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge.

Due date is March 6, 2018. Get in line now!

Okay, that's still 10 months away.

But in the meantime, I'm posting a Beast of the Month on this blog, sharing some of my favorite Beauty and the Beast images from the 260 intervening years since what we now think of as the classic version of the novel was published in France by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont in 1757.

This month: feast your eyes on this gorgeous painting from contemporary African-American artist Thomas Blackshear!

This does not resemble my Beast, or my heroine, but I love, love, love the Klimt-like decorative element of the patterns and brushwork!

Seriously, could this be any more gorgeous?

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Okay, there's no ocean anywhere near Phoenix, Arizona. And yet, James Hook's voyage of world domination continues!

A friend directed my attention to this summer reading book display at a Barnes & Noble in the Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix.

Notice the prominent position of Alias Hook! The idea is, they are pairing up classic books and authors with their suggestions for "great modern" retellings or updates!

For my part, I'm thrilled to be sharing valuable tabletop space with such good company as Jane Austen and Alexander Dumas! (Along with J. M. Barrie, of course!)

And speaking of which, see the paperback of Peter Pan at the lower right, wedged in between the "Go" game and The Count of Monte Cristo? The cover image is by none other than Roy Best! It's the same image of Pan that's on the cover of that 1931 storybook that was gifted to me last week.

Anyway, I'm thrilled that my book keeps finding its way back into the public eye. Occupy Bookstores, that's my motto!

Sunday, June 4, 2017


Russell Brand as Captain Hook, by Annie Leibovitz
Captain Hook continues to have legs!

(And, why not; it was only his hand that got cut off.)

What I mean is that readers over at the Republic of Goodreads keep discovering Alias Hook and posting enthusiastic reviews!

Many early readers assumed the book would be YA (Young Adult) because it's about Peter Pan (although they were quick to discover my book is really about James Hook). And some were disappointed that it was not. But now, some of this late-coming crop of Goodreaders are actually relieved that the book is not YA.

Their comments have been interesting:

This was a book for people just like me - adults who still love magic and the fairy tales from childhood, but don't want to read another book about teenagers (I'm pretty sure 97% of all books now are YA action romances :/ )

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, much more than I probably expected too, despite the interesting premise. I had sort of pegged it as a young adult fantasy with probably many of the same themes that seem to frequently recur in that genre, but this is most definitely a grown-up book, with an adult's perspective of Neverland.

It does sometimes seem there are more YA fantasy series than anything else in the marketplace. Of course, lots of adults read YA because, as a writer friend recently observed, "that's where the ideas are." But it's up to writers to resist the lure of formula that could so easily lead to stagnation within the genre (or any popular genre).

This is useful to think about, since my next two novels will be YA. Keeping the stories fresh and the writing fresh — for readers of all ages — that's the challenge!

(Meanwhile, it's great to know that my James Hook continues to win fans. Pardon me while I blush over this Alias Hook review posted last week on the You Tube book review channel Liene's Library! Thanks, Liene!)

Saturday, June 3, 2017


So this happened this week:

A friend helping her mom move unearthed this vintage storybook edition of Peter Pan. For some strange reason, she thought of me!

It's an oversized volume called The Picture Story Book of Peter Pan, published in 1931, and illustrated in voluptuous watercolors by Roy Best.

Obsessed as I am with depictions of Captain Hook in all media (to see how they stack up with my James Hook in Alias Hook), I couldn't wait to dive in!

This Hook arrives in full comic-opera regalia, complete with luxuriant, long black Charles II curls. And the red coat, which is standard in Hook depictions probably as far back as the original stage play in 1904. (And immortalized in the 1953 Disney cartoon.)

I do approve of the elaborate headgear here; my James Hook has an absolute fetish for extravagant hats.

But while J. M. Barrie makes a big deal of Hook's icy blue eyes, I find it a little bizarre that illustrator Best tints Hook's entire eyeball (what we usually think of as the "white") a fetching shade of powder blue.

Meanwhile, Best's version of Pan is much younger and way more cherubic than mine. In these illustrations, he's practically a toddler.
Which I guess makes a kind of sense, since the Pan in my book, is going through an eternal case of the Terrible Twos.

But I do love Best's  va-va-voom Tinker Bell. Just look at her, so saucily perched on her little vase, scantily-clad, and vamping like a mini Jean Harlow! Or a chorus girl in a 1930s Busby Berkeley musical.

It's plain to see why this artist was best known for his calendar girl pin-ups!

None of these images remotely resemble the characters as I see them in Alias Hook. But I'm such a sucker for vintage illustration, this one is definitely going on the "keeper" pile!