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Masterpiece YouTube: Donald O’Connor, Applied Mathematics

Today was a horribly cold and blustery day, the first of the year. Let’s hope this doesn’t mean six more weeks of winter for Madison. I actually had a nice day, though: lunch with 12 friends at Great Dane, and I also got to the gym, which was just about empty, thanks to the Superbowl and the weather. I’ve got a lot on my mind, so to give you a more accurate picture of what it looks like and because I don’t have the wherewithal at the moment to think of something interesting and new, here’s an updated episode of MYT from last September that I’ve been meaning to fix.

Just watch.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 14: Donald O’Connor, Applied Mathematics, Are You With It? (1948)

This, my friends, is talent. No offense to the silver screen stars of today (does anyone even use that phrase anymore?) but Donald O’Connor’s feet have more talent in them than the majority of this year’s Oscar nominees. It’s even more striking in black and white. And yeah, it’s not really about math, but it’s fun to watch and pretend that it’s your math homework.

Donald O’Connor was part of an amazing generation of performers. And when I say performers, I mean performers – people who could sing, dance, act, and had personalities and energies that were just electric. People like Ann Miller, Betty Garrett, Vera-Ellen, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly. There’s a reason why Singin’ In The Rain is one of the best American movies of all time; it’s because the viewer is drawn into the story and its characters. These days, I feel like popular movies are all pretty much the same animal; remake of a remake of a remake, sci-fi aliens/dinosaurs/warriors, romantic comedy, or screwball comedy. Not to say that they aren’t good, there’s just a certain magic that goes into a musical film; as the characters go through their changes through song, so do you. I think the only major movie that would fit this category is Pitch Perfect, and even that’s pushing it.

Speaking of remakes, I think it’s high time for Are You With It? to mount a comeback. From what I understand, the plot is about a math teacher who joins a traveling carnival. In today’s economy and the worrisome job market, this might be just the thing to inspire people, or at least entertain them.

Or you could just watch Donald O’Connor dance some more.

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube has been brought to you by the Rachel Sweet Pandora Radio channel, which I’ve been rocking out to for the last half-hour while I wrote this.

In other news, I hope that y’all come back and visit even though the January Blogging Odyssey is over. I’ve had a pretty good day though, with five continents reporting in, all but Africa: North America (Canada and USA), South America (Peru), Europe (UK, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Italy, and Liechtenstein), Asia (Israel, India, UAE, and the Philippines) and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand). Tell your friends?

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Care (Igan) for a Glass of (Lowder) Milk?

Today, for the first time, I looked upon these two faces through my computer screen, although I have been listening to what they’ve had to say for years.

So just who are this cheeky couple?

These are Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. Most likely wonderfully fabulous alone, as a duo they are the stick of dynamite, the force that is…Kerrigan & Lowdermilk. (Oh, and by the way, Kerrigan’s on the right and Lowdermilk’s on the left. In case you were confused.

What do they do?

They write songs. Good songs. Great songs. Wonderful songs. Amazing songs.

Every generation has its pure pop songwriter duo. For my grandparents’ generation, it was Betty Comden and Adolph Green who set the trend from the musical theater angle, coming up with the music and lyrics for one of America’s most beloved musical films, Singin’ In The Rain, and one of the most underrated, On the Town. The sixties and seventies launched Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who are responsible for “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” and other songs whose original versions are solid gold classics, and are probably known to most of my generation as the songs most butchered by contestants on American Idol. And before you say that pure pop classics written by boy/girl songwriting are so last century, look who just won an Oscar: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her partner/husband/newest EGOT-club member Robert Lopez, whose “Let it Go” from the popular Disney film Frozen beat out U2, Karen O, and Pharrell Williams for the coveted Best Original Song. Which brings me back around to my original topic.

I first became aware of the Kerrigan-Lowdermilk songbook in Israel, when a friend of mine decided to sing a song from a little musical called Henry and Mudge entitled “My Party Dress.” The fact that my friend was perfect for the role notwithstanding, the song was intriguing in its music and hilarious in it’s lyrics. I haven’t found a version on YouTube that I like, but basically it’s about a girl who talks and talks and talks, with unintentional humor, so much so that you often forget what the song is about (hint: it’s in the title). Of course, I set about memorizing the lyrics, which I still know, four years later; in fact, I performed it one night to some friends just for fun.

Then I realized…could there be more where this came from?

And the answer: yes.

K & L have not only written musicals about awkward children’s books I barely remember, but also original musicals for contemporary audiences, with songs that could easily top the Billboard charts if given to someone like Demi Lovato or Lorde or Michael Buble as a single. There’s The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown, which I don’t know that much about other than its basic plot structure, but that I realize I need to learn more of, as one song from it keeps coming back into my mind: “Say the Word.” It’s a lovely ballad that is just as easy to understand out of context as in, and also works great for either gender and really just about any age. I wouldn’t put it in its own Masterpiece YouTube segment or anything, because there’s not really a music video for it, but you should hear it any way.

If I didn’t have a million things due by tomorrow, I would walk you through their website, their karaoke page, or their YouTube channel. But you should do that, and then leave a comment on this page telling me which song or theirs is your favorite, or which one makes you smile, or simply which one gives you the feels. Because, undoubtedly, one of them will.

Do it. Do it right now.

Then come back and tell me how it was, so the next time my head is not full of papers-cake-dinner-proposals-dramaturgy-life, we can share the magic together.

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And Don’t Call Me Shirley

Holy. Crap.

I don’t know what’s going on with my blog right now, but I just got over 300 views in an hour – mostly from the USA but also from Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and Isle of Man. Insert language-appropriate welcomes here.

And not all of them were from me refreshing the page.

If someone can tell me what is going on, please do…

But not before this very important message.

I woke up this morning, checked my Facebook, and read one of the saddest things I’ve read in awhile – the death of legendary child star/actress/dancer/public servant Shirley Temple Black.

For those of you who don’t know, Shirley Temple was an adorable little girl whose movies such as Curly Top, Baby Take A Bow, and Little Miss Marker (among dozens more) became American classics, not just for her cute face but for her incredible dancing at such a young age. She appeared alongside some of the best dancers of her time and kept up with them, sometimes even outshining them with her innate ability. As she got older, though, she focused more on academics then acting, announcing her retirement from film in 1950 (which she maintained – Justin Bieber, take note). Her interests moved toward politics, resulting in her appointment to three diplomatic (or should I say, dimplomatic) posts as US Ambassador to Ghana, then Czechoslovakia, and then to the United Nations. She was eighty-five years old, and died of natural causes, surrounded by friends and family. That’s the way I want to go.

Media outlets picked up on her death rather quickly, of course. But these days, I’ve discovered that laxity in reporting has led to more and more inaccuracies when reporting on such events, and often compete so virulently to be the first to break the news that someone inevitably gets it wrong. Remember #nowthatchersdead? Referring to the death of former British PM Margaret Thatcher, people misinterpreted it to mean that legendary singer Cher had gone to the great farewell tour in the sky – so much so that Cher herself had to go on Twitter and post pictures that she was still alive. True, this has been around since the legendary “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline, but more recently, upon the death of Whitney Houston, photos of several African-American female celebrities (Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg) somehow made their way through clueless designers’ filters to accompany articles surrounding the controversy.

So, before you go off and read another inaccurate report on Shirley Temple, here’s a guide to who Shirley Temple really is.

Is This Shirley Temple?

This is the image that inspired today’s post, as I was in the grocery store and almost did a double-take, but I’m so clever that I caught myself. This is not Shirley Temple. This is, in fact, Little Debbie, purveyor of fine, carbohydrate-laden snack cakes.

This is also not Shirley Temple. This is Mary Pickford, an actress from the silent film era after whom Shirley Temple’s mother modeled her daughter’s signature curly hairstyle.

Is this Shirley Temple? No. This is also not Shirley Temple. This is Shirley Manson, British-born lead singer of Madison-based rock band Garbage. Despite having similarly prominent cheekbones, an adorably penetrating gaze, and beauty that increases with age, this is not Shirley Temple. Yes, I’m sure. Don’t let the curls fool you.

Did you guess no for this one? Well, you’re wrong, because this is Shirley Temple. She grew into her looks and made a few films in her late teens and twenties, but most of them failed to replicate a modicum of her previous successes.

This is also not Shirley Temple. Despite the beautiful smile and curly ‘do, this is Shirley Jones, singer and actress famous for many roles including that of the matriarch of The Partridge Family. Here she is as Laurey Williams in the famous film version of the ever-popular 1940s musical Oklahoma!

I bet you thought this wasn’t Shirley Temple. Well, guess what, you’re wrong, because this is Shirley Temple, sporting a lovely jewelry ensemble probably picked up overseas during her Ambassador to Ghana/Ambassador to Czechoslovakia stint.

Is this her? Did I get it right? No. This is also not Shirley Temple; it’s Shirley MacLaine. Also an actress, but turned to the spirit world in her adulthood rather than the actual world. Fun fact: She was named after Shirley Temple.

Finally…

Is this Shirley Temple?

Yes, indeed, it is! Known for her energy and effervescent smile, here she is proudly accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. She really knew her stuff.

To one of the world’s most enduring stars…

Shirley Temple Black, take a bow.

Thank you for your work, you will be missed.

PS: My personal (completely arbitrary) Shirley Temple connection –

When I went with my family to Germany/Prague two years ago, we had the chance to dine at the residence of the Ambassador of the Czech Republic. (My sister used to babysit the current Ambassador’s daughter when they lived in Washington, DC). It was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done and the meal was one of the most elegant I’ve ever enjoyed. Towards the end of the meal, I asked His Excellency, who was a few feet away from me, if Shirley Temple had lived here when she was the ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

First, he said, “You don’t have to call me Your Excellency, you can call me Norm,” and then, he said, “Yes, Shirley Temple did live here when she was ambassador.”

Me: “And did she sit at this table?”

“Yes, she most likely did.”

That pretty much made my night. That, and the fact that of around twenty people at the table, no one had remembered or had thought to ask that.

And that’s how I ate dinner at a table once used by Shirley Temple in Prague.

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Masterpiece YouTube: Not Your Average Beauty Queens, feat. Queneerich Rehman & Alyse Eady

That’s So Jacob presents: Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 6: The Talent Portion of the Competition

One of the best parts of watching a beauty pageant is watching the section called “talent.” It’s mean to use quotation marks, but it’s true – these women might be beautiful, intelligent, and work for good charities, but not everyone’s cut out to be a performer.

But it’s fun to watch them try.

Most pageant performances are passable, a good deal are ghastly, a few are good, and only a very select few are what I would refer to as incredibleAs in, I would legit pay to see someone do this onstage. Popular choices include song and dance. Usually, that song is something operatic like “Nessun Dorma” that very few of the ladies can hit. You’ve gotta be able to store all that air somewhere inside that body of yours, and that place is not in your boobs or your butt. Even worse than opera are renditions of popular songs in a completely different style than what they were intended for. Exhibit A: Every single woman at Miss America who’s ever performed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as Edith Piaf rather than Judy Garland. (Retire that song, America. It’s enough.) Dance is another popular choice. I’m partial to ethnic dance or some good Latin, jazz, or tap numbers that actually showcase some coordination or cultural awareness. Ballet and modern do not work as well. Frankly, ballet is pretty boring onstage unless you’re like one of those ballerinas on acid like in Center Stage or something. And modern? Well, you can pretty much get away with rolling around on the ground and yelling these days, so no points for you.

The next level up would be that of instrumental music. Piano is pretty traditional, but is boring to watch, unless you’re Liberace. Which I hope that none of these ladies are. Harp, guitar, violin, sax, or drums are usually a good choice, because you can move around or use some showmanship, and it’s interesting to watch. The odder the instrument, the better. I’d love to watch some girl one day play the tambourine like the useless youngest sister on The Partridge Family. Or maybe even the triangle.

And then…there were Queenie and Alyse.

First up is Queneerich “Queen E. Fresh” Rehman, Miss Philippines in Miss World 2012.

WHOA MAMA. This is some hardcore legit performance right here. It starts with some falsetto singing, but gets better and better. Not only is this lady insanely pretty, but she can beatbox.

Beatbox.

GENIUS.

Why had nobody thought of that before? Beatboxing has been around for ages, and if beauty pageants care anything about breaking stereotypes or being more “current,” as the case may be (and always is)…wake up and smell the coffee because Ms. Rehman is burnin’ down the house right here. Screw all the ladylike nonsense of ballet and singing Barbra Streisand songs – I want to see Miss Belgium break down a rap or Miss Ghana doing a hip-hop routine or…okay, maybe not twerking, per se, but how about something like crazy jump rope tricks or acrobatic dance or an old fashioned dance-off. Make it edgy and hip, and then maybe you’ll see your flagging ratings raise. And you know what else? Miss Philippines had a long ponytail and a gold outfit – no one would dare to call her unfeminine, and if someone did, they’d probably get the beat thrown right back into their face. The compilation is exquisite as well – for someone who doesn’t care much for pop music, she certainly got a lot of the basics from the 90s, 00s, and today, so kudos to her for the smooth transitions.

Next up, probably my favorite beauty pageant performance of all time: Alyse Eady, Miss Arkansas (a few years back as well).

Again, wow. Just wow. Ms. Eady clearly spent a lot of time on her craft and her presentation, because it is fantastic. Ventriloquism is something I couldn’t even begin to attempt, and I didn’t even see her lips move once!

Unfortunately, the Miss Universe pageant (like Miss USA) does not contain a talent portion, so, sorry ladies! You’ll have to leave your ballet shoes, bongo drums, and bass guitars at home for this one.

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Masterpiece Youtube: “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Christina Bianco

That’s So Jacob Presents: Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 3: “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Christina Bianco, 2013.

I actually found this link on the wall of a friend of a friend of mine on Facebook (I think) because I was, and am, a creeper. Meet Christina Bianco. She’s a singer from New York who has the unusual talent of being able to not only do spot-on impressions of famous female singers, but actually sing in their voices. This woman is, in short, incredibly talented. And she’s super cute. I wonder how she discovered this – did she just wake up one morning and say, “gee, I wonder what I’d sound like as Barbra Streisand?” She has a few other videos on her channel, including those of her singing “Firework,” among other songs. She was recently on Ellen, where she did a repeat performance of this one. Though it was nice not to have so much background noise in that one, it lost a little bit of the magic and spontaneity of the original. Speaking of which…

Unlike the others in this series, this was shot on-the-spot rather than planned, but I decided to make an exception for the sheer amount of talent in this one clip. It appears to be in a club, and Bianco riffs off of the audience before she starts, to much cheering. The iconic opening notes of Bonnie Tyler’s seminal 1980s hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” are plinked out on the piano, so we all know what’s coming. But wait! Bianco opens her mouth, and out comes the voice of Adele, in full force. Someone off-camera calls out different names, and Bianco adapts her voice, posture, and facial expression for each of the singers. I’m not going to list all the voices she does here, because I want you to experience the thrill for yourself. However, I’ll point out some of my favorites:

  • As Kristin Chenoweth, she makes a Muppet face and holds her hands in the “musical theatre” position.
  • As Julie Andrews, she narrows her eyes and clasps her hands as if Julie Andrews = church choir.
  • After Edith Piaf, she really gets into it – you can see it in her face.
  • Before Bernadette Peters, you can see a little bit of the singer’s real persona for a split second as she listens for the next name.
  • My personal favorite: Celine Dion. Before she starts, she takes the mic off the stand and it seems that she turns on a spotlight with the snap of her fingers. I could totally see Celine doing that. Plus, she’s got the Celine mannerisms down pat, from the head tilt, to the wide-eyed face, to the pointing, to the way she says “luuurve.”

I could listen to this all day. This woman should be named a national treasure – not only is she insanely talented, she seems to be pretty humble about it, or at least as humble as a performer can be. I hope this fame doesn’t go to her head so that she stays with the same act. I hope she continues to do more voices, new voices, and come up with more numbers in which to showcase them. After watching this clip, I couldn’t help but trying to see whose voices I could do – the possibilities are endless for learning (or, embarrassing yourself in public) by trying this at home.

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube was brought to you by fabulousness, and a sudden self-awareness of my lack of vocal talent.