Monday, November 24, 2008

'Wonderful Life' and turkeytime trivia

In the top photo, Rod Thomas as George and James Harms as Clarence star in Theatre at the Center's wonderful production of yes, "It's A Wonderful Life."
The lower image is, of course, Thomas Jefferson.
Yes, I've been a wayward blogger. No excuses, but I'm here to delight you (I hope) with holiday treats. With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I've assembled a roundup of Thanksgiving tidbits. First, for those of you who live in the area, my review of a Chicago area do-not-miss production of the holiday classic, "It's A Wonderful Life," is first.
After that, please check out my list of Thanksgiving trivia and no, not questions, but straight out nuggets of interest.
While the factoids will be fun to read, the show is the perfect antidote for holiday doldrums.
Yes, Clarence has returned, this time to Munster.
He's the same Clarence who desperately wants his wings. Alas, the 200-year-old angel has been unable to earn the divine honor badge, beautiful, fluffy white wings signifying full-fledged angelic status.
Joseph, an older wiser angel, presents Clarence with an opportunity, perhaps a final one, to reach his goal. Clarence must successfully tackle an earthy challenge, save one George Bailey of Bedford Falls, New York, a good family man whose kindness and generosity are about to sink him and put his family into bankruptcy while lining the pockets of greed-driven Mr. Potter.
It's Christmas Eve and a despondent George is on the verge of throwing himself in front of an oncoming train.
The American classic, "It's A Wonderful Life," first brought to the screen in 1946 starring the legendary Jimmy Stewart has been reworked for the musical theater stage by Sheldon Harnick and Joe Raposo. TAC artistic director Bill Pullinsi's decision more than a year ago to present the holiday musical in December 2008 could not have been more prescient with so many people facing such wrenching financial struggles of their own.
While the Raposo Harnick music is not the walk-away-humming variety, it doesn't need to be. The words alone and phenomenal performances by the TAC cast touch the soul, tap into the funny bones and bring the season of good will to the heart.
Rod Thomas, a strong George, is onstage most of the time and never falters. He melds with his character in a commanding, convincing performance. George's wit and confidence followed by his despair and then disbelief are totally safe with Thomas who will remind audiences of the young Stewart.
As Mary, George's girlfriend and then wife, Natalie Ford is at once coy and forward, always focused on George and clearly his soulmate. Ford and Thomas generate tremendous stage chemistry, so necessary to make their relationship real.
Still, the angels have it. 
Veteran actors James Harms as the beleaguered Clarence and Dale Benson as the older, wiser Joseph float through the show with their intermittent but absolutely essential appearances.
With Harms' cherubic innocence and Benson's paternal consternation with his 200-year-old charge, the two actors generate the real magic of this production. Fans of Benson and Harms should finish reading this review and then immediately order tickets to the show. I am not overstating the joy, humor and force of the two actors' performances. They are not to be missed.
Stacey Flaster, who directs and choreographs "Wonderful Life" should garner a Jeff Award nomination and award for this incredible package of holiday theater. Her imaginative choreography, perfect for the large thrust stage, along with her inspired direction make this production soar.
Chicago actors Ron Keaton as the somewhat lost Uncle Billy Bailey and Skip Lundry as the nasty Mr. Potter who feeds on avarice deserve note with their superb performances, essential to a wonderful "Wonderful Life," a production that embraces the holiday spirit and reminds us that life's joys are not found in fat wallets.
The production runs through Dec. 21. Theatre at the Center is at 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, just east of Calumet. Tickets are $36 and $40 at (800) 511-3255. There is no charge for parking in the spacious lot.
OK. Now for the tidbits you don't need to know but will find just plan, well, fun. Along with the review, I hope this holiblog will add some knowledge, lightheartedness and even a bit of levity to your Thanksgiving week.
No surprise, the internet is stuffed with Thanksgiving trivia so I've pulled together some factoids that might surprise you as they did me. Although I cannot validate the items with first person documents, I've double checked a few and they appear to be true.
Pilgrims, who first set foot on land in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621 with a meal of deer, codfish and boiled pumpkin, and they ate with their hands, spoons and knives. They had no ovens for baking, no sugar or milk.
 Alas, only half the people who landed at Plymouth survived to observe the one-year mark  in the new land.
More than 200 years later, President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday.
On a lighter note, it appears turkeys can drown by looking up when it's raining. Also, only male turkeys gobble and only seasonally and when they're going to sleep. 
Speaking of turkeys, Californians consume more turkey than folks in any other state and speaking of eating turkey, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first astronauts to eat a turkey dinner on the moon, obviously on their historic voyage in July 1969. In fact, foil packets with turkey and all the trimmings contained that celebratory dinner, a safe landing certainly cause for giving thanks.
What about all those pardoned turkeys. Well, the lucky birds pardoned by presidents and other elected officials (including Sarah Palin; did you see the clips on TV?) should thank the memory of President Harry Truman, the first chief executives to make that kind gesture to the big bird.
Now about that picture of Thomas Jefferson at the top of the blog. 
If you've wondered -- or even if you haven't -- why male turkeys are called Tom, here's the story as passed down throughout American history. We know that Benjamin Franklin actually wanted the turkey to be our national bird. Thank goodness he didn't get his way, in part because of strong opposition by Thomas Jefferson. Franklin retaliated by dubbing male turkeys "Tom," a name that somehow stuck. Not exactly a tribute to the author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States.
Have a joyous and very thankful Thanksgiving.
 Added note: Laugh your way through 'How to become the first she-president of the U.S.' at

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photo by sarah gross

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Tinley Park, Illinois
As a longtime newspaperwoman who left the business to freelance, I want to keep in touch with the world. This is my place to reach out with words.