Saturday, March 21, 2015

Little Shop of Horrors

Who doesn’t like a love story – especially one with flesh-eating plants?  Little Shop of Horrors is coming to the Frank Guaracini Jr. Theater at Cumberland County College in April – the 16th through the 19th, to be exact.  Deborah Bradshaw and company, the same people who brought Les Misérables and August Osage County to the Guaracini Theater are bringing Seymour and Audrey II to life on the stage once more.  Click right here for their Facebook page and more information:

In 1960 a filmmaker named Rodger Corman shot a darkly comedic movie called, Little Shop of Horrors.  It had some strange and wonderful things going for it.  There was a flower shop made up from left over sets, a little known young actor named Jack Nicholson in a small role, and a man-eating plant named Audrey Jr.  The plot revolves around a man, Seymour, who works in a florist shop who accidentally becomes the caretaker of a plant that demands to be fed human flesh.  Initially, the movie had some problems getting distribution but it eventually found its footing and it became a cult classic – the kind of film that would come on after the 11:00 o’clock news and play on until the early morning.  It turns out Little Shop had feet.  In an interview in 1995 with M.J. Simpson, Corman said, “I shot Little Shop of Horrors in two days and a night for about $30,000, and the picture has lasted all these years.”  

In 1982 the story was adapted into a musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.  It started on Off-Off-Broadway and then it hit.  There was a Broadway run, a UK run at the West End Theater in London, a US and a UK tour.  There were some changes between the original film and the musical.  There was now a more salient love story, Nicholson’s role was gone, and Audrey II (not Audrey Jr.) was not simply a plant that wanted flesh and blood for sustenance – she was now a space pod alien bent on world domination!  The catchy musical numbers and strange story where, in some productions, members of the audience were eaten struck a chord and it became very popular in Europe and America.  It still is and theater companies continue to make magic with the show. 

In 1986, Frank Oz directed the film version of Little Shop of Horrors.  It combined elements from both the original film and the musical.  Rick Moranis played Seymour, Ellen Greene as Audrey, Steve Martin played the sadistic dentist and Bill Murray was his happily masochistic patient.  The movie, after being set before test audiences who didn’t get it, had its ending changed.  Now there were two endings – the happy Hollywood ending where Seymour and Audrey live happily ever after and the ending that was more akin to the 1982 musical where Audrey II takes over the world.  The original ending was restored to the film in 2012. 

With all of these different ways to enjoy Little Shop what way is the best?  Well, that would have to be intimately and in a theater.  In April, you will have the chance to do just that.  Show dates are the 16th through the 19th and you can get tickets right here:

If you see only one show about a man-eating plant from another world this year make this the one!   

See you at the Guaracini Theater in April.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Shape the Futue

Right now the FCC is voting on something that could change the internet (when it is working) forever.  It is called Title II and voting will commence on February 26th.  Title II is all about Net Neutrality and who will shape the future of the internet.  Will it be molded by users, common people like you and me, or will the flow of information be dammed & diverted by the cable companies? 

NOW is the time to have your voice heard.  This is a non-patrician issue.  This is your internet.  Help keep it alive.  This site: will show you how.  It makes a solid case for why Title II is needed and I humbly encourage you to give it a read.  I signed the petition, emailed my representatives, and phoned the FCC.  It only took a few minutes but it was time well spent.  I believe that a free and open internet is tantamount to a free and open society and this is why I support Title II.

The vote happens on February 26th.  Let your voice be heard.  Help shape the future.

Thank you.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Atlantic City Race Course

I have some great memories from the Atlantic City Race Course.  When I heard that it would be closing its doors forever, I had to take one last look.  I remember spending many an evening with a, let's say, "unique" group of gentlemen; each of us holding a racing form in one hand and a cheap cigar in the other.  We had a blast.  It wasn’t so much the betting – although we did so to make the races interesting.  It was participating in a live and very real event.  There is something about hearing the thunder of hooves rounding the track and watching them, in close ranks, tear towards the finish line.  It gets the blood up and the heart pounding.  It something that should not so much be described as it should be experienced.  Sadly, for South Jersey, the possibility for that experience is now gone.

I had a conversation with some locals before I visited the track.  I asked them about their memories.  “Oh, that place was really something,” the man said.  “My uncle was there all the time,” said the woman.  I asked them what they thought would eventually happen with the property.  “No one knows.” The woman said to me.  “They wanted to make it a NASCAR track some years back.  We signed a petition against it.  It would have been awful.  Can you imagine the noise and the traffic?”  I asked her if she could imagine the jobs it would have created.  “Yes, but then where are you going to house the all the people who would come?” she asked.  I said that I suppose they would have had to build more hotels creating thousands more jobs.  I said that with the multiple casinos closing it would have been a nation-wide draw to the Atlantic City area.  I mentioned that I could care less about NASCAR (which dropped her jaw) and preferred the horses but having that juggernaut of an industry right here, right now would have helped save the community.

“Oh well,” I said and thanked them for their time.  My next stop was the Atlantic City Race Course.

I took some pictures of the outside of the complex.  My first stop was the staging area where the horses were paraded around by their jockeys so the crowds could see them before they placed their bets prior to the races.  It was once a place where owners and trainers proudly showed off their prized thoroughbreds.  Indifference and time have now done their work and what was once a showcase has slipped into its current state. 

It was a cold day so I was happy to go inside for more than just nostalgia.  I asked an older man who was selling racing forms if I could take some pictures of the inside.  He directed me to talk to management.  I did so and was told that I could but that I could not publish them anywhere (for publication of for a blog).  They said I could take them for private use.  I thanked them and walked back over to the gray haired man selling the race forms and we struck up a conversation.  I told him that I saw Willie Shoemaker race here back in the nineties. 

"All the greats raced were here," he said and then he rattled off the names of about a dozen jockeys that I never heard of but I have no doubt were part of the artistry of the sport and the history of this track.  I asked whatever happened to Joe Bravo.  He said that he still races out in California, which, surprised me since the guy must be in his sixties.

Stepping into the Atlantic City Race Course is stepping back in time.  The man I spoke with was correct, there is a lot of history here.  One half expects to see a fedora adorned ghost ascending the staircase to the second level or a woman in garb from a by-gone age standing in line to place a bet from one of the agents.  All the human agents have been replaced by machines.  This was odd to me, it shouldn’t have been, but it was.  It seemed to make the experience just a touch colder.  Deep green and white have always been the colors that of the interior of the complex.  The pipes, columns, and trim are all green.  The great doors that lead to the downward slope of the track are now covered over with blue tarps to prevent people from exploring them.  I took a look around and saw the empty seats lining the wall with all of the photographs from days gone by.  The thoroughbreds, the trainers, the owners, and celebrities – smiling faces with names lost to history.  Simulcasting was still happening when I was there and the banks of televisions that sit above white lattice board shelves were broadcasting races from across the country.  There are still people who come to place their bets on who will win, place, or show.  They sit huddled over their tickets waiting for their races to begin.  Over their heads is a Daily Double slate where workers one time chalked the names of the winning horses for the first and second races.  Hanging in antiquity, it hasn’t been used in years.  I wonder what will become of it... I wonder what will become of the gray haired man selling the race forms.

Yesterday, 1/16/15, after 69 years of operation, the Atlantic City Race Course closed its doors.  It has been dying a slow death for the last few decades.  Deterioration and rot have crept in throughout the grounds.  The main building; however, is concrete and is built to last.  It was a must see destination where people rubbed shoulders with Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope.  What happens next for the Race Course?  I don’t know.  I do know that once upon a time it was something to see.  I’m thankful that I saw some of those days up close.