Monday, December 17, 2018

Some Podcast Recommendations For Your Consideration


I've been listening to more podcasts over the last few months, and I wanted to recommend a few to friends who are hoping to listen to some interesting things.  As always, your mileage may vary, and if you don't like these choices, feel free to stop listening and listen to something else.


What I like about podcasts is that they can very quickly (and without much attention) bring me into a world that I know nothing about, and it's easy enough to shut it out or ignore it if I need to.

I haven't included any dad/parenting podcasts, as I want to compile a few more into their own post.


NON-PARENTING PODCASTS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION


Buy the Risk Book on Amazon
 
Risk Show is one of my must listens every week now.  Hosted by Kevin Allison, this podcast has been around for 10 years, but I am brand new to it.  It's both a live show and a podcast, where people tell true stories they never thought they'd dare to share.  As Kevin warns in the opening, the podcast can be very uncensored, and has its fair share of crazy sex stories (especially when it combines with the Bawdy Storytelling podcast, another live storytelling show turned podcast that I listen to with regularity.)   Both of these are NSFW, so don't listen to this with kids around.  The focus isn't only on sex though, and I've heard some amazing and poignant and hilarious stories about love, childhood, and just about everything else.

 They produce two episodes a week, a new show, and a classic Risk Singles, pulled from their archive of the last 10 years. They also have a book (available on Amazon) that collect some of their best stories and stories by celebrity guests).

 I am trying to figure out what story from my past I would be willing to share for the RISK show and would still be risky enough to be included.  For me that intersection is surprisingly small. But I want to be the kind of person/artist that is willing to take that kind of risk.  So I'm thinking about it!

By the way, the rest of these podcasts are Safe For Work, mostly.  (assuming you are allowed to listen to podcasts at work.)


An Arm and a Leg Podcast 
Health care has been a nightmare of mine for a long time-- each year it goes up unpredictably, and I have a number of weird spreadsheets that try to figure it out.  In the last four years I've been with three different healthcare companies and two of them have gone bankrupt.  And in three of the four years, my analysis showed that it made more sense for my wife and I to be on separate plans.  (for the first time in a long time, we are going to be on the same plan this year).

Enter our friend Dan Weissman, who is a radio journalist who has worked for Marketplace and WBEZ, among many others.  He's created a new podcast to talk about the realities of the costs of healthcare, and it's fun, funny, sobering and terrifying all at once.  Some of the stories he tells are amazing (Renaissance faire workers who have banded together to help solve the problems of being an itinerant performer without regular health care, or the amazingly high costs of ordering medical supplies through insurance instead of buying them on the open marketplace.)  It's definitely worth a listen if you are affected by health care high prices, and that means anyone with a pulse.  (FULL DISCLOSURE:  I helped Dan think about some of the crowdfunding issues with his new venture. I have no financial interest in the podcast, other than if it goes well I won't have to buy the coffee when we go for coffee.)



Cool Tools 
I was an avid reader of CoEvolution Quarterly/Whole Earth Review, I contributed a couple of reviews to the Whole Earth Catalog, and am still involved with the online service that was spawned from that movement The WELL, so it should be of little surprise to anyone that I would be a fan of Kevin Kelly's, who was also involved in all of those things (and far more than I) Kevin also was one of the founding editors of Wired Magazine.

The ethos of Whole Earth Review was "Access to Tools" and Kevin and Mark Frauenfelder (he of BoingBoing and the Maker movement) host a weekly roundup of tool recommendations from well known makers and artists and other interesting people.  The podcast is pretty formulaic, but I am almost always interested in one or more of the tools that people present.  Sometimes the tools aren't tools at all, but books, or apps, or ideas.  Each podcast is 30 minutes long, and I listen to it at 1.5 times the normal speed, which works out about right for getting all of the information and banter.



Wow In the World
 is a great podcast designed for kids.

It stars Mindy Thomas, host of the venerable Sirius XM kids station Kids Place Live, and Guy Raz, an NPR radio everyman who hosts a number of podcasts, including the really great How I Built This (another good one to listen to) and the TED  Radio Hour, a compilation of great TED Talks.  Guy used to have a regular spot on Mindy's show on Kids Place Live, and they've extended it into a podcast that talks about science and cool stuff.
  What I love about this show is that Guy Raz, who typically fulfills the role of a journalist or question asker, ends up acting,   playing an uber-nerdish sendup of himself, and Mindy does her shtick as the kind of crazy lady next door.

They are a great team together, and they've got good comedy chemistry.  And at the end, kids call in to tell Guy and Mindy what their "Wow In The World is" When I listen to this with my son, we end up learning a couple of things as well as being very entertained.


Harry Potter and the Sacred Text
This is one of the first podcasts I ever listened to, and I still listen to it, but not as religiously (pun intended) as I should.


In this podcast, two former Harvard Divinity School graduates read a chapter of Harry Potter and think about it as though it were the bible.  Basically, they are coming up with sermons and sermon thoughts based on Harry Potter- what in this chapter is a life-lesson?  They use various textual analysis tools from the world of religious thinking, as well as a number of other ideas to create great Harry Potter-esque sermons It's a great idea, and they execute it really well.


 I saw them record one of these live in Chicago, and it was fascinating to see and meet them for the first time.  The two hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile have a magical chemistry together, and do a great job of letting us into their private lives in an interesting way.  They are currently on book 5, and if you are interested in Harry Potter (and even if you aren't) it's well worth a listen. (and you can start at the beginning.)  There are also book clubs dedicated to the podcast.



If you've got some podcasts I should be listening to, please let me know in the comments!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Navy Pier's Winter Wonderfest 2018

PHOTO CAPTURED FROM WONDERFEST WEBSITE
It's been a family tradition since even before we moved to Chicago to come to Winter Wonderfest. Navy Pier's indoor carnival/celebration of winter.

 This is the 18nth one, and we've been to probably 8. (And our son is 10) Considering we've only lived in Chicago 4 years, that's pretty good!


PLEASE NOTE:  I received free admission to this event in hopes that I would write about it.  My opinion of the event has nothing to do with the freeness of the tickets.  
I take my integrity seriously, and so should you.

Click to make schedule larger
This year's event runs through January 6, and features a lot of what we've come to expect from the event. Throughout the giant convention space of Navy Pier (they say 170,000 square feet, and I believe it) there are indoor rides (including holiday themed classics like a Tilt-A-Whirl, Bumper Cars, a superman flying and a kiddie train), winter themed slides galore, a bouncy house inside an inflatable snowman,elaborately decorated christmas trees and holiday bushes, a rock-climbing area, and a full sized ice skating rink.  It's beautiful on the inside.
We went with a family of 9, cousins and grandparents included.  My son loves the ice skating rink and we even bring our own skates!  (There are skates for rent if you don't want to bring your own)

Here's a video pastiche of some of my photos from the event:




There's also a Santa station, as well as a Wonderfest village that occasionally houses some improv performers that interact with kids and adults.   There are also places to get your picture taken for an additional cost, including a giant rocking horse and a giant chair.

There are also some snack areas, and places to buy a quick bite, or some cotton candy, or candied nuts,  And what would be a wonderfest without a cookie decorating station?


 In the past there had been a full lineup of musical and variety performances, but that seems to have gone away over the last few years. (I do note in the press release they sent me that there are some brief aerial performances  by a group I've never heard of: Aerial Ataraxia , scheduled on Tuesdays and Sundays, but we went on a Friday night, and they weren't there) UPDATE:  I asked around, and Aerial Ataraxia are Chicago based aerialists  Dayleen Marrero-Taylor, Julie Marshall, & Zoë Sheppard.  (Pictured below)  They don't have a website as far as I can tell.




Aerial artists Dayleen Marrero-Taylor, Julie Marshall, & Zoë Sheppard perform at Winterfest.  Photo by  James Richard IV.. 



We have a good time every year we go, and it's a fun event.  However-- you do need to know that the security details have changed this year and that the prices have changed


SECURITY CHANGE:
In terms of security, because of construction at Navy Pier, you can no longer walk from the parking all the way upstairs into the center.  This year, you have to take a long walk (probably 10-15 minutes from the front of the building) through the parking lots of Navy Pier.  You go outside several times, so don't leave your coat in the car.  (I did, and was pretty frozen by the end of the long walk.)  You then go through a pretty extensive security checkpoint, including a bag check and a wand check before you can get inside.  There has been a security check for the last few years, but I would say this is the most thorough one I've been through at Navy Pier.

PRICE CHANGE:
Prices and the pricing structure have changed over the last few years.  A couple of years ago it was free to enter, but if you wanted to ride on anything you had to pay (or buy a bracelet for all you can ride)  That was great for adults, as you only had to pay for kids.  Apparently that was not satisfactory, so for the last couple of years everyone has to pay.


This year, prices for adults range from $20-$28 depending on the day, and Seniors and Juniors (those under 42" tall) are $12.00 each. Children under 36" are free with a paid adult. Military discount is available to US active duty service members. Present ID at box office.


BUY TICKETS ONLINE.  There is also a groupon available, that lowers those prices slightly.

Please note that the prices above are online prices.  If you just buy them at the box office they are even more expensive.  While I was there, I saw several people walk up, thinking they would just wander around for a few hours, and then turn away when they heard the price.  I'd like to see them have a "Guardian" band at around $10, that allows people to enter, but not go on rides.

 I should also note that every ticket is good for one admission/ride on the Centennial wheel as well.  That offer is good through March 2019.

Parking has also gone up a little bit.  Total cost is $30 to park at Navy Pier. (It used to be in the 20's)


All in all, it's not cheap to go to Winter Wonderfest, but it is totally a lot of fun, and it's a great thing to do to build memories with your family!



Friday, December 7, 2018

REVIEW: The Play That Goes Wrong (Broadway Tour)

We saw the touring show The Play That Goes Wrong, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I laughed as hard as I have ever laughed at a show.  The show is an object lesson on how to milk a gag for its maximum effect.

It's playing in Chicago through December 16, and if you like to laugh, I would highly recommend the show.

We'd actually already seen the show in London, but it was funny then, and we were interested in seeing it again and seeing how it translates to the tour.  In short, it does.  The theatre was much larger than the jewel box theatre we saw it in in London, and the set seemed a little smaller (no doubt just an illusion)
The Marquis at the Oriental Theatre (20 W. Randolph) where
The Play That Goes Wrong will be presented through December 16.


The premise of the show is that the Cornley University Drama Society is presenting a 1920's potboiler of a play, The Murder at Haversham Manor.  In doing so, everything that can go wrong does in fact go wrong.  Doors malfunction, people forget their lines, cues are missed, the set falls apart, actors misbehave, and even the director has a meltdown.

Just some of the crazy shenanigans that go on in this supremely well-done farce.  Photo provided by theatre.


Photo provided by theatre.
The show starts with an extended pre-show, so get there early to get into the swing of things, and you might even help the stage manager look for some missing personal items.  All of the actors are quite good. My son's personal favorite was Trevor, the stage manager (played by Brandon Ellis).  When we saw it in London, he was a surly working class guy with a thick British accent who could be quite rude at times.  Here, he's a a surly working class guy with a thick Southern accent who can be quite rude at times.  I think the British guy was ruder, but the belligerence from Trevor made up for it.

Most of the other actors had British accents of one kind or another.  All of the actors were great.  I especially liked Ned Noyes, who plays Cecil Haversham.  He plays the role with a kind of physical theatre bounciness, and gets caught up in the audience's applause to give them more of what they want.  I also liked Evan Alexander Smith, who is very tall and thin, playing Inspector Carter (and the director of the piece)  He is so tall, that he is nearly taller than the second story study that is part of the set.  And Scott Cote as the butler Perkins, with a sad penchant for mispronunciation (cyanide is pronounced  Sigh-A-Nide, not Cin-a-Node-Ee).  I especially loved the way he looked at his hand just before he misspoke.  He'd written himself notes on his hand on howto pronounce it, and he still got it wrong!

Photo provided by theatre.


Perhaps the hardest working actor in the show isn't alive at all.  It's the set, which is beautifully designed to fall apart on cue and on command.   The set is supremely clever, and it's enormously technical, and I assume that there are occasions in which the set falls apart the wrong way, as it literally has many moving parts.  Which leads me to an existential question:  What happens when the Play That Goes Wrong Goes Right?  I am sure it is still hilarious.

Here's the promo video made for the show, and the bumper at the end contains some scenes from the show.






For more information, visit www.BroadwayGoesWrong.com or follow @BwayGoesWrong on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram:

PERFORMANCE DATES  (Through December 16)
Tuesdays at 7:30PM
Wednesdays at 2PM and 7:30PM
Thursdays at 7:30PM
Fridays at 7:30PM
Saturdays at 2:00PM and 8:00PM
 Sundays at 2:00PM and 7:30PM (no evening performance on Sunday, December 16)

 Individual tickets range in price from $25-$98 with a select number of premium tickets available. . For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Tidings of Tap- This Sunday!

It's December, which means that holiday shows are in full swing.

There are plenty of Christmas Carols, Nutcrackers, and Hallelujah Choruses in Chicago this year, but if you are looking for something different, the Chicago Tap Theatre may have your answer.

This Sunday, for one show only, they are presenting their annual holiday spectacular Tidings of Tap.


 In the past it's been a revue, but they are steppng things up a notch this year, and have written a story and a plot around the theme of winter and holidays.  As it has the past two years, the show will feature nationally ranked rhythmic gymnast Dasha Merkulov.  It also features tap dance students, high production values, and some of the best professionals in the area, including artistic director and master teacher/performer/choreographer Mark Yonally.  The show has received excellent reviews and record-breaking attendance over the last two years, and this year should expand on that.

Here's a promo video, courtesy of CTT.


Chicago Tap Theatre (CTT) was founded in 2002 with the idea of preserving the history of the quintessentially American artform of tap while taking it to the next level in terms of innovation, creativity, and quality.  They perform exclusively with live music, and have tapped from everything from David Bowie to Duke Ellington.   They also pioneered the idea of "tap opera", telling stories through tapdance and adding memorable characters and strong plots to the already virtuoso footwork.  They teach classes all year round, and also serve as a hub for local tap professionals to practice and perfect their craft.

There is just one show, Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL.

Tickets range from $25 – $41 and are available at 847.673.6300 or ChicagoTapTheatre.com.



Monday, November 19, 2018

REVIEW: Jord Watches: A Time For Fashion

I am not much of a fashionista, unless we are
talking about 15nth century garb, where I am
quite the dandy! (Sadly, wristwatches were during this
time period anachronistic)
As readers of this blog and people who know me personally (hello wife!) will testify, I am not much on fashion. I wear simple clothes bought at Target or Old Navy, I own one suit (well, I own a tuxedo also, and a couple of thrift store jackets that don't fit very well, but one good suit, which I wear three times a year at the functions that require them.) In general, I prefer function over form. I have a bunch of the same shirts in the same color, as well as the same pants. I mix and match socks.

The same is true for watches. For years I was a loyal Casio G-Force wearer. I would wear it until the battery wore out or the band got too smelly. Then I would go out to K-mart and buy another one. (I wasn't a Target guy then-- I've moved up in the world!) About 5 years ago, I became a Basis Peak wearer (a fitness watch that was one of the top competitors to the Apple watch until they went out of business.) When that happened, I moved to the Apple Watch, and that has been my everyday watch for the last 3 years. And I'm pretty happy with it.

However, there are times when even I recognize that you need to go beyond the quotidian and transcend your ordinary. I recently had two occasions to dress up (a memorial service and a bar mitzvah) I decided to switch it up a little and wore a new watch that had recently been sent to me for review by a Saint Louis company called JORD (Pronounced "YORD")

(PLEASE NOTE: The Jord watch was provided to me at no cost with the hopes that I would write about it. My opinions here remain my own and have no bearing on the cost of the watch. I take my integrity seriously, and so should you.) 


The watch comes in a beautiful wooden box, and that alone made it feel very deluxe.
They have a wide variety of Men's Watches


The watch on my hand on the table.
The watches that Jord sells are beautiful. They are made of wood and metal and other natural materials. They have many different varieties- I chose a darker look (The Hyde, made with walnut, and it has an enigmatic black watch face.) It takes me a couple of seconds when I look at it to figure out the time (hey, I've been a digital watch user for a LONG time) but it's not much of a problem. I still remember how to tell time!

Here's a link to my specific watch.

It did take a few minutes to remember how to wind a watch. Fortunately, they include instructions. This is a mechanical watch, so it needs to be wound about 15-20 times before wearing. Once it's wound, normal wrist movement should keep it wound, as long as you wear it for 8 hours a day.


When you order the watch, you have to send them a millimeter sizing of your wrist. On their website they have an easy paper ruler that you can print out, cut out, and measure your watch. It's very accurate (I upped it half a size, and my watch is a little loose on me. Which is better than the alternative.)  If you have a problem, here's a blog post by The Laura Lindsay   that has a handy tutorial on how to resize your watch.
This sizing pdf is available on the Jord website:
 https://www.woodwatches.com/static/Jord_Wrist_Measuring_Instructions.pdf

My Jord and I, in my typical mufti
I like the way my watch looks, and a little surprisingly I like the way the watch makes me feel. It made me feel more dressed up and a little fancier. Two people at the Bar Mitzvah commented on the watch, saying how nice they thought it looked. But I have to say, I carried myself a little differently, wearing the fancy watch. And I think some of the people noticed that, even if they didn't notice the watch...

I don't think I'm ready to give up my Apple Watch for everyday use, but the Jord watch makes a great accessory for when I need to look and feel fancier. 


(And it turns out that they also have an Apple Watch band! It was out of stock so I couldn't check it out, but it looks great! Definitely thinking about it!) 

You can't tell that I am wearing my fancy Jord watch, but I can!
Jord watches run from around $150-$500, depending on style, model, and size. Some of the watches also have a very limited run, which could add on to the price.  They all have a one year warranty, and they offer free shipping. Oh yes, and engraving!

To check out the huge variety of wooden watches available, visit   http://www.woodwatches.com

If you like the watch, you can enter a contest to receive a $100 gift code towards the purchase of a watch. Enter here:  www.jordwatches.com/g/dadapalooza

Even if you don't win, every entrant will receive a 10% off coupon for a watch, so it's definitely worth doing if you are interested.



Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Adventures of Robin Hood at Adventure Stage October 19-Nov 24

A cast of three will perform over 20 characters in the new production of The Adventures of Robin Hood, directed by clown (and friend) Adrian Danzig.

The show will play at Adventure Stage Chicago at the Vittum Theater (1012 N. Noble Street, Chicago) through November 24, 2018.

 Tickets are on sale now and range from $12 to $17.

To purchase tickets or for more information, visit adventurestage.org or call 773-342-4141.


PLOT SYNOPSIS:
In The Adventures of Robin Hood, a corrupt sheriff plagues the commoners of Nottingham. His skyrocketing taxes are preventing the needy from being able to feed themselves! Who will stand up to the injustices and bring hope back to the people? Follow Robin Hood and his Merry Men as they take you on a journey of action, danger, and of course, archery. This medieval legend with a modern twist places a cast of three at the center of the story. The production incorporates clowning, physical comedy, shadow puppetry and audience interaction.

With the help of the theatre, we are giving away a family 4pack to the show.

If you'd like to win tickets, enter this Rafflecopter giveaway




Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a Sweet Confection

Roald Dahl's classic tale of gluttony, invention, and Oompa Loompas has been turned into a Broadway musical, and I don't think that I am stretching it by saying that it is a sweet and airy confection that is delicious to consume and will leave no deleterious effects on your waistline.


The story itself has become a classic.  A 2004 study found that it was a common read-aloud book for fourth-graders in schools in San Diego County, California. A 2012 survey by the University of Worcester determined that it was one of the most common books that UK adults had read as children, after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Wind in The Willows.  (This was on Wikipedia, so I really hope it's true.

Of course, it started as a book (and it's actually two books! 
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. (1972)  In 1971 it  was turned into a movie Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, featuring the inimitable Gene Wilder, and then the movie was remade again in 2005, featuring Johnny Depp.  An operatic version (The Golden Ticket) was created in 2010 and in 2013 the Broadway musical premiered on the West End in London.  It's also been made into a video game, a children's play, and lots of other adaptations.

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SOME OF THE PREVIOUS SOURCE MATERIALS.  Click the picture to view the original books and movies on Amazon.




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We saw the touring production in Chicago (now on through October 21) and it is delightful.  It's changed quite a bit from the Gene Wilder movie and the books (the idea of spies trying to hold onto Wonka's secrets has been toned down significantly)  Instead the musical plays up the wonder inside of the Chocolate Factory, and how Charlie is the right kid to become the successor to the Wonka throne.




When I think of the original movie, I don't think of it much as a musical-- but it certainly is.  There are a number of great songs, including  "The CandyMan", "Golden Ticket", and "Pure Imagination" These are all brought back for the musical version, along with some original song to fill it out as a musical.  The other songs from the original movie that are memorable are all of the Oompa Loompa songs.  They didn't make the cut in the Broadway musical (although there is a nod to them)  There are Oompa Loompa songs, and they do make commentary on the spoiled children's foibles, but the songs are very different.  The remaining songs are peppy and deftly written by the composer responsible for Hairspray.

The Oompa Loompas are also handled very differently than the movies--they are a very inventive amalgamation of puppet techniques that work beautifully.  I don't want to give too much away, but they are surprising and delightful.  They were created by Obie and Drama Desk Award winner Basil Twist.

Enter the world of imagination with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Photo provided by production, by Joan Marcus.
Henry Boshart as Charlie.
Photo by Joan Marcus.
The main characters are all portrayed very well.  My 10 year old son saw the musical and said "The characters are overdone, but not TOO overdone.  Just perfect!"  I think he hit it just on the head.  the world of the play is fantastical, and not realistic, but it's realistic enough for us to recognize as our world. Cartoonish, but not cartoons.  A lot of that has to do with the acting, but also the costuming, and the directing, and the set design as well.  All of it works towards a great effect.

Noah Weisberg plays Wonka in the touring production, (The Broadway cast album has Christian Borle) and Weisberg is fine in the role. It's tough to fill the shoes of either Wilder or Borle, and Weisberg is peppy, snappy, and a good dancer. 

There are three actors playing Charlie (which makes sense, as it is quite a demanding role)  I joked to my wife that in some ways, Charlie could become the boy's equivalent to the role of Annie. The boy we saw Henry Boshart, was really great.  Really, there were no poor actors in this show.  The quality of these touring productions are quite high.

In short, this is a lovely show to bring your family to and revisit this classic story.

The contract that the winners must sign.  You get a good sense of the world they are in from this photo by Joan Marcus.

TICKET INFORMATION

The show will run through October 21 at Chicago's Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph Street.

Tuesdays at 7:30PM
Wednesdays at 2:00PM and 7:30PM
Thursdays at 7:30PM
Fridays at 7:30PM
Saturdays at 2:00PM and 8:00PM
Sundays at 2:00PM and 7:30PM (no evening performances on Oct. 14 & Oct. 21)


Individual tickets for Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY start at $27 with a select number of premium tickets available.  If you have a group of 10 or more, there are group rates as well.  For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

You can also look at http://www.charlieonbroadway.com for more videos and where the tour is going next.



Noah Weisberg as Willie Wonka. Photo by Joan Marcus