Thursday, April 13, 2017


He-who-must-not-be-named got a little undeserved praise from the press last week, and a little bump in his approval ratings too. After a possibly illegal airstrike on Syria using 59 tomahawk missiles (each missile costing upwards of 1 to 1.4 million dollars, incidentally...  how many meals-on-wheels is that?), certain pundits claimed he was looking presidential. Only days later, when asked about the airstrike in a tv interview, the vulgarian dolt waxed poetic about a chocolate cake he'd been eating and actually forgot which country he bombed. NO, HE ACTUALLY FORGOT WHICH COUNTRY HE BOMBED! It's like we're living in some absurdist play where an imbecile king delivers a moral about celebrity and corruption being the undoing of democracy, except it's not LIKE that, it IS that. And it's not a play, it's real life!

So, the simpleton narcissist man-baby gets some attention when he blows something up (even though, from all accounts, the strike accomplished nothing and the airfield is still operational), and today, he drops a bomb on Afghanistan. Not just a bomb, mind you, but the largest conventional bomb that's ever been used. Reading about the potential destruction of this bomb (a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the "mother of all bombs"), I am overwhelmed to consider the death and destruction it's most likely responsible for. I haven't seen reports yet, but one article I read said it's explosion will cause deafness to any person within 2 miles of the blast. Happy Easter.
Add to this fresh horror the threats and saber-rattling in the direction of Korea. This know-nothing-reality-tv-bully-carnival-barker-shit-bag is gonna get us all killed. I'm only glad I'm in New York City. I'm imagining one upcoming day, probobly not too far in the future, I'm going to feel it get suddenly very warm. I'll turn to whoever is nearby and say, "Wow, it sure is getting hot. Do you feel that?" and BOOM. It'll be over. It's really too bad for the folks out there in the provinces. They'll all have to deal with the fallout. Ya' know, foraging for food, the zombie apocalypse... you've seen the movies. But us here in the urban centers will very gratefully be spared such unpleasantries. 

Oh, America. What have you done?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

after the election

Last night I spoke with a friend who is a counselor at a high school here in New York City. He told me his office was a steady stream of children in crisis yesterday - a girl threatened suicide because she's afraid her parents will be deported, another girl, wearing a hijab, sat in his office sobbing all afternoon. My friend was understandably distraught. When I came home last night, the two doormen in my building, one from the Dominican Republic the other from Azerbaijan, usually friendly, outgoing and talkative guys, were uncharacteristically solemn and avoided eye contact. I texted with a neighbor who was trying to comfort her 11 year old daughter who's worried her friends at school, who are different colors and from different ethnic backgrounds are now in danger.
Traveling around town yesterday, fellow subway-riders were silent and somber. I became acutely aware of my whiteness (and my maleness). Can people think I had anything to do with this? Do they associate me with this tragedy? I'm vowing to replace my usual on-the-subway irritability with kindness. Our world, especially now, lacks kindness, I'll do what I can however small the gesture.
I'm only slightly encouraged crowds have taken to the streets. I know activism works, but I've also seen vital movements: Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street... be ridiculed and squashed. I'm angered by the stream of empty platitudes and false optimism: it's gonna be okay, we'll get through this. No, actually, not all of us will. Friends and lovers didn't get through the Reagan administration in the 80s, yet somehow Saint Ronnie is still held up as a shining light. And maybe the PTSD I've sustained these last decades since my friends' agonizing and senseless deaths, or the 21 years since my own HIV diagnosis have colored my disillusionment, but probably no more than for the families of Eric Garner, or Sandra Bland, or countless others. Or the suffering of the men and women whose sons and daughters rot inside an unjust industrial prisons system for something as innocuous and benign as walking the street with a joint or jumping a turnstile.
Perhaps what hurts most is that out of fear, or ignorance, or anger, or spite, or hatred, or bigotry, our fellow countrymen and women have done this to us (and themselves). The feeling of betrayal to our nation, and especially vulnerable communities is not only painful, but feels also deeply personal.
There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Right now, I feel as if I'm flailing around in a pool of the first four. Old traumas have been triggered, and I know, for myself, I've actually been experiencing physical symptoms of shock: clammy palms, rapid breathing, nausea, weakness, dizziness... On the streets and in public spaces, it feels as if we're suffering a collective fight or flight response. The uneasiness and calm is uncannily reminiscent to those days after 9/11. It's still all very new, and in the coming weeks, as the toxic dust from this catastrophe begins to settle, we'll see how we manage.
This morning, I'll brush my teeth, and make my bed, and feed my cats, and do the dishes, and do all sorts of other regular things as if today were a regular day. This morning, the sun is shining, the air is brisk, people are going to work, and feeding their children, and walking their dogs, and shopping, and banking, and doing all sorts of other things as if today were a regular day. But it's not a regular day.

Monday, October 31, 2016

halloween memories

I walked out of my appointment on Van Dam St and Hudson around 3 o'clock this afternoon, and began heading north to 14th and 6th Avenue. I'd forgotten it was Halloween, and walked up Hudson to Christopher St, then cut up Christopher to 6th Ave. I was just in time to see the barricades being set up along the route I was walking. By the time I got to 6th Avenue, there were about 200 cops checking in. I assumed they were checking in for their assignment at the Halloween parade tonight. I started out this morning thinking I should make sure to do everything I need to downtown early, so I'd be sure to be home in time to avoid the parade and the excessive crowds.
Years back, when I was an eager Halloween reveler, when New York was dirtier, less crowded, more dangerous, yet somehow kinder, the Halloween parade was one of my favorite events of the year. It used to begin at 5th Avenue, cross west on 10th St, down the 1 block of 6th Ave to Christopher, and then diagonally down Christoper to Hudson. Kids and parents would walk the route first, then flocks of drag queens and scantily clad young men (gladiators, go go boys, lifeguards, mermen, etc...) It was small, local, crazy, and such unspeakable fun.
The last time I was at the Halloween parade in the Village, it must have been 6 or 7 years ago, I actually feared for my life. I wasn't in costume, and was trying to get to the subway, but was trapped behind barricades in the center of a boisterous crowd of hooligans; kids who'd specifically come to the Village to jeer at men in dresses, throw eggs, and cause havoc and destruction. When I finally freed myself from one terrifying crowd, I found myself trapped in another. It was a harrowing experience trying to make my way to the subway and escape the neighborhood that night, and I swore I'd never go back.
As I was walking up Christopher Street this afternoon, I noticed too many empty storefronts nestled between the intermittent high end designer boutiques. I fell into the familiar resentment I have at the changing and ever-more-exclusive landscape of my hometown, yet was also somehow feeling nostalgic, and reminiscing about Halloweens past. I was remembering how a gang of us would meet at a decided upon apartment, drink voluminous amounts of booze and do copious amounts of other substances while getting dressed up, then run wild in the streets as if New York City were our own personal playground. Which, indeed, it was. We'd get hammered, laugh, hug, kiss, play with strangers, and have the best time ever. Eventually we'd end up at the Tiffany Diner on Sheridan Square, which is now a Bank of America, a sad and tragically apropos commentary on the city's transformation.
This was, of course, years before LGBT issues were spoken of as any kind of legitimate concern, certainly not by elected officials in any political way or for a national audience. Gay marriage hadn't been thought of yet, let alone mentioned by legislators - let alone become federal law. In the midst of the worst epidemic since the bubonic plague, we had a president who wouldn't even mention it. An HIV/AIDS diagnosis was still a death sentence, and the threat of it was everywhere. Those friends - drag queens, gladiators, lifeguards, cheerleaders - not all of them made it. We needed to get drunk, and get high, and run wild. Halloween was a sacred night, a glorious yearly bacchanal when we could be who we were unhidden, unashamed, and unafraid. I'm sorry younger generations of LGBT kids won't experience what joy it was to be part of that community celebrating together before Halloween became a tourist attraction, but I'm grateful they don't have to live with the fear and challenges we did. Most of all, I'm grateful I was there, that I'm still here, and for all the memories of all those past Halloweens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


A number of years ago, I wrote a rather maudlin post on this blog about the transient nature of life, growing old, friends who've died, and how much I miss them. In that post, I mentioned my friend Noel. I met Noel when I was a kid, about 16, and, for better or worse, he was a regularly scheduled cast member in my life for many, many years. I had such fun with him - such crazy, unspeakable fun, and so many stories.

Someone, who had apparently also been friendly with him, read that post and contacted me through the blog wanting to reminisce about him. We emailed back and forth for a while, eventually talked on the phone, and yesterday, he emailed me a bunch of pictures of my old friend. I immediately got on the phone with my friend, Ed, who I've known just about as long, and gratefully reconnected with a few years back after having lost touch many years ago, and the two of us waxed nostalgic for a while. 

Noel was an actor, and for a brief period, back in the day, he was quite the talk of the town. Here's a photo of him with Maximilian Schell in A Patriot for Me (1969), and a headshot from a few years later, which, I believe was featured in After Dark magazine.

When he was a young man, as you can clearly see from these photos, Noel was very beautiful. As he aged, however, while still handsome, he became, well... crazy. But he was my friend and I loved him just the same. 

Noel, that beautiful crazy fucker, took his own life right before I relocated back to New York from California in 2002.

Disturbed, troubled, crazy, whatever - he was someone special to me and now he's gone. 

You know, I've learned a lot from experiencing loss and from crazy people - about patience, perspective, acceptance, myself...

Life is funny. Oh, it's hard too, but it's funny.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

the tombs

Sitting at my computer this morning, scrolling around the news sites, drinking iced coffee, eating smoked salmon and heirloom tomatoes on a toasted pumpernickel bagel - suddenly the thought of the guys I'll be talking with tonight came to mind. I'll be doing volunteer service at The Tombs (The Manhattan Detention Complex) this evening. I'm contemplating what they eat for breakfast; what kind of morning they're having inside those cold, austere institutional walls, as the temperatures outside climb.

For a couple of hours tonight, two of my buddies and I will surrender our civilian rights to the NYC corrections system, and be let into the bowels of an ugly, windowless 1970s institutional building. We'll share our experience with the inmates who show up, and try to bring them a message of strength and hope. Attendance is voluntary, usually 5 to 10 guys will show up.

When I first started doing this, around 10 years ago, I was more than a little uncomfortable, a little scared, and felt very self-conscious (what should I wear? how should I talk? should I hide my orientation, or pretend to be something I'm not?). My impression is that most of the inmates we see are just guys down on their luck. Guys who were caught doing stupid things, things I might have done myself, but was saved from having any legal consequences because of dumb luck or white priviledge. The injustice and racial disparity of the judicial system is very plain when you're inside the belly of the beast. Of course, there are hardened criminals too, but the disproportionate amount of poor, disconsolate run-of-the-mill joes is a disturbing and grim reality. Glaringly evident is the lack of mental health services inside the system. A number of the inmates are simply mentally unstable and have wound up incarcerated as a result.

Those who show up are usually so grateful, it's almost heartbreaking. They know we've volunteered our time to come see them and talk to them, and they seem so happy anyone has gone out of their way to give them any attention. I can't begin to know what it must feel to be so isolated and apart; relegated to a community the majority of our culture wants treated as animals, a faction of which actually act as such, and the fear and stress of having to be forced to live among them in such awful conditions. I imagine they feel forgotten and hopeless. Ultimately, my experience has often been both sad and surprisingly rewarding.

Here is a 1905 photo of the Bridge of Sighs, the covered walking bridge that connects the NYC criminal courts building to the original Manhattan detention complex (the tombs), on Center Street downtown.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


Forgive me for getting sentimental. I just watched "Looking: The Movie" on HBO. It's the conclusion of the discontinued HBO series Looking. A kind of Sex in the City that takes place in San Francisco featuring gay men in their 20s and 30s. The storyline focuses on friendships, relationships, looking for love, commitment, life choices, and risk taking.

I lived in San Francisco from 1992 to 2002 - some very fun and some very hard-lived years. Having been there for ten years, almost every location in the film was recognizable to me. The final scene takes place in Orphan Andy's, a 24 hour greasy spoon in the Castro district that I used to frequent relatively often. At the end of the scene, the group of friends sits embracing each other as the camera pulls out to a long shot of my old neighborhood. Memories of nearly-forgotten relationships, poor life choices, and past friendships came flooding back. Sitting in front of my computer with tears running down my face, I felt very sentimental and self-indulgent. Likely due to the setting and the close friendships portrayed, my mind kept directing me to memories and thoughts of my friend Greg. I took this photo of him at the beach, probably around 1999 or 2000. It sits on a shelf in my room and I see it every day. Greg died in 2002. He was 38 years old. He was kind and he was beautiful, and he was always there for me. My last couple of years in SF, I was in pretty bad shape and was making some very poor life decisions. Greg was there for me; he held me and encouraged me. At my lowest, he was a source of strength and love. We don't get a lot of friends like that along the way. Hold onto the ones you have.

If there exists some 'other side' where we someday get reunited with our loved ones, I want to hold him again. I want to hear his laugh and feel his hand in my hand. I've never stopped loving him, and I miss him every day. 

Rest in peace, my angel. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

la foule

This performance! Any superlatives I could come up with would be insufficient. The words, the music, the exquisite sorrow, the unspeakable joy! That unlikely little body and that awkward fluttery voice - and the result of that improbable combination, well, there's really no word to describe it other than magic. And while what she does is absolutely personal and unique in every way, somehow, it is also irrefutably French.
After last night's terrorist attack in Nice (these horrors seem to be coming with such regularity; FUCK, I'm sick of it!), I fell down a French music rabbit hole this morning. I listened to favorites by Poulenc, Chausson, Duparc, etc... but then I started listening to and watching Piaf, and I became spellbound and entranced with her once again.
What causes a personality, a soul, to be so irrepressible?
There have been countless biographies and films based on her life. Of course there have been, her story is miraculous, the stuff of legends: father a traveling circus performer, abandoned by her mother as an infant, raised by prostitutes, singing for money on the streets of Paris as a child (it is believed she was as small and frail as she was in adulthood due to childhood malnourishment). Piaf's journey from hapless and desperate beginnings to the national voice of her country is so extreme as to seem too fantastic even for fiction. Plagued by poor health and addiction, she died a tragic alcoholic death at 47.
Surprised at my own response this morning, I wept for the senseless tragedy in Nice last night, and I wept at the diminutive chanteuse, dead 53 years now, who still, somehow, through time and space, across continents, different languages, and even modern technology has the ability to touch me so deeply. And I'm pondering the acute and unlikely emotional connection between present day calamity and bygone art.
Vive la France!

Friday, April 29, 2016

oh, the interwebs

The interwebs are a wonderful way to keep informed about what's going on in the world. They're also a surefire way for me to derail my emotional and spiritual condition. For example, I've just read that a House committee has approved an amendment to President Obama’s executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors. The amendment, introduced by Rep Steve Russell (R-Okla.), would enable religious organizations doing business with the U.S. government to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Every one of these recent anti-LGBT laws are being pushed through under the guise of 'religious freedoms.' Let's be perfectly frank. The legislators pushing these new laws aren't concerned Jews leave work early enough on Fridays to be home before sundown. Nor are they concerned Hindus be offered vegetarian options, or Muslims have adequate breaks for prayer. These new laws are specifically designed to allow people to legally discriminate against faggots and dykes in the name of Jesus.

Let's take a moment to consider what Jesus actually said about discriminating against fudge-packers and carpet-munchers. Please turn to Matthew 25:40.

'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Wait... What?

Okay... let's turn to 1 John 4:21

He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

In other words, Jesus ain't down with this shit!
Y'all are just hateful bigots!

As you can see, I've gone and made myself completely nuts this morning by keeping abreast of current events. So here's a picture of Matthias Schoenaerts with a bulldog puppy. I'm just gonna take a few moments and let its healing power sink in. 

Have a good day.

Monday, April 11, 2016

look at the pictures

I watched the HBO documentary last night, “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures.” It's very good and very interesting. The big takeaway for me was the necessity of drive and perseverance, most specifically as it relates to having success as an artist. Of course, as always with his work, the issue of exploitation versus love of subject matter is brought to the surface, and it reminded me how essential it is for an artist to express his or her own passion and life through their work. 

It was certainly brave of HBO to show the images that caused so much controversy back in the day (basically penises, and oh yeah, fisting and pissing, etc...). But they now somehow seem surprisingly tame; maybe because those images have been seen so much as to have become almost iconic representations of what controversial 1980s photography was, or maybe it's just harder for me, personally, to be shocked by sexual imagery, I don't know. 

Two people who played prominent roles in my youth were featured in the doc and in the photos. It forced me to think if the trajectory of certain events had shifted just slightly, might he have photographed me? It seems self-centered to even think that, but it's not out of the realm of what would have been possible at the time. The whole thing brought back youthful, nostalgic, exciting, clandestine memories of a vibrant and gritty New York. A New York that's been washed away by tourists and foreign investors; a New York that I mourn daily as I walk through scrubbed canyons of shiny new luxury living towers. Light, shape, form, sexuality, work, friendship, family, the artist's process, the passing of time, the cultural significance of imagery, mortality; this doc had it all.
Well worth a watch.

Friday, November 20, 2015

in his hands

Yesterday, members of congress, Republican and Democrat, proposed to shutting our doors even tighter against asylum for Syrian refugees. In doing so, they've placed politics before the very principles upon which the United States was founded - disgracing our country as well as our reputation around the world. They've cowardly pandered to fear, jockeyed themselves so as not to lose their own positions of power, and allowed terrorists to win by dictating their decision.

Adding insult to shameful injury, Republican presidential candidate Trump suggested warrantless searches and mandatory registration in a faith-based identification database for Muslim-Americans. Republican presidential candidate Carson likened Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.   

When it is suggested that ours is a Christian nation (though it never was, nor was it ever intended to be), when bigotry is disguised as religious integrity, and when people in positions of power blather on about 'religious liberty,' understand that to turn away suffering people; hungry, frightened, oppressed, traumatized, driven from war-torn homes and continue to call oneself Christian is an impossibility. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

the gun song

If it weren't so tragic, it might be comical. We all know how this plays out - there will continue to be talk and articles and posts about guns, gun violence, and gun control and mental health for maybe the next 3 or 4 days, and then we'll snap back to seeing endless loop kitten videos - nothing will be done, nothing will change. To call our national response routine would be an understatement. 

In the last few years, I've traveled to different parts of the world; India, the Caribbean, and recently, Amsterdam. When people from other countries learn that I'm from the United States, there is the inevitable question about the U.S. and our cultural relationship with guns. Embarrassingly, this is what we are known for around the world. 

Piteous and absurd, the notion of freedom has somehow become conflated with a perverted reading of the 2nd amendment, so much so that the two might never be teased apart. Nor, do I believe, is it possible any longer to remove gun culture from our national identity. It is as undeniable and almost as shameful a part of our country's history as slavery and Jim Crow. From the Revolutionary War, to the Old West, prohibition era gangsters, organized crime, and drug wars - guns are as American as baseball and apple pie.
"All you have to do is move your little finger and you can change the world."

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Few singers ever approach this repertoire, but George London had the vocal power, musicality, and emotional capacity to transform this closing scene of Wagner's Die Walküre into an emotionally overwhelming and stirring experience. 

In this scene, Wotan (a Norse god) is duty bound to punish his disobedient, yet favorite daughter, Brünnhilde, by putting her into a deep and long sleep. Conflicted and tormented by his love for her and his duty, he sings some of the most heart-rending and emotionally challenging passages in all of musical literature. Beneath London's rich and dark voice you can hear the horns; tubas and trombones, and the huge string section swell; the orchestrations here are sweeping and massive. 
Ultimately, in the story, he surrounds his sleeping daughter by a ring of fire so that only the bravest of heroes may save her. He knows he will never see her again - the conflicting expressions of loss and tragedy wrapped in tenderness is deeply affecting. 
London, whose career was tragically cut short by a heart attack that left him partially paralyzed, is nothing short of magnificent.

Disclaimer: I know this won't speak to the majority of you; at the very mention of Wagner, or The Ring Cycle, eyes glaze over and more than two thirds of any audience becomes instantaneously disinterested - most won't listen simply because of its length, but this performance of this grandaddy of operatic repertoire is vocal artistry and music-making of the absolute highest order.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

baby doe

Perusing the news this morning, I became so distressed and disenchanted with everything going on in the country: treasonous senators, "religious freedom" bills, income inequality, police assaults on unarmed black children, discrimination, bigotry, etc... I had to look away; shift my attention. It being Pi day (3/14/15), I turned my attention to pie. I started looking at photos of apple pies, and began to wonder, what makes a thing iconic to, or expressively representative of a particular culture - especially America? 

With this idea in mind, I started listening to music. 

Opera is European and not an American art form. This is a firmly held notion, yet there have been the few rare exceptions (Barber, Thomson, Gershwin, Kern) when this idea has been turned on its head. In Douglas Moore's 1956 opera, "The Ballad of Baby Doe," opera and Americana mix so organically, you can almost hear patchwork quilts, and smell apple pies cooling on windowsills as Norman Rockwell's brush hits his canvas. 

Set in the silver-mining state of Colorado, the opera tells the tragic and true story of a young girl who stakes everything on love, taking a successful 19th century prospector and business man, Horace Tabor, away from his wife, only to see him die a ruined man, and then to die in poverty herself. 

For those of us who may mainly remember Beverly Sills as, "Bubbles" the orange-haired, smiling hostess of PBS pledge drives, or narrator to Live from Lincoln Center telecasts, this is a good reminder that her celebrity was founded in extraordinary singing and breakthrough performances. At the risk of overusing superlatives, these few minutes contain some of the most haunting and beautiful singing ever. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

d'amore al dolce impero

It has been more than two weeks, and I cannot stop listening to this.
Originally released on the RCA LP "Rossini Rarities" in 1967, Spanish soprano, Montserrat Caballe is not only in peak vocal condition here, but shows a musicality and vocal elasticity, the likes of which are virtually impossible to come by today (or ever?). I've listened to other recordings of this piece, and usually the results are that someone has barely managed to get through a very difficult aria (notable exceptions go to Cristina Deutekom and Maria Callas), but no one comes close to the seemingly effortless musicality and joy that Caballe brings to this performance. Not only does she toss off the most difficult coloratura with ease, but she makes this devil of a piece sound musical and even fun. The extended run of triplets (1:34) is astounding, and when the tempo increases for faster and more extended runs (3:04), it is simply mind-boggling. I understand this will only interest a few of you, who fall into a rather small "specialty market" category of music listeners, but if you are at all interested in great singing, this is really well worth a listen:

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

once upon a time

Warning: spoilers ahead!

In 1987, I was an ambitious, undereducated, oversexed, too-smart-for-my-own-good, 24 year old. Ronald Reagan was President, Ed Koch was the Mayor of New York City, and AIDS was ravaging both coasts of the country. To those who weren't there, it's difficult to explain how extreme the levels of fear and anger permeating nearly everything in New York City, especially the world of the performing arts. Rock Hudson and Liberace were the highest visibility celebrity casualties of the epidemic (Hudson died in '85, and Liberace in '87), but the worlds of fashion, opera, ballet, and Broadway saw daily losses. Casting directors were actively overlooking gay men for less talented heterosexual actors for fear of illness or death, and in social circles, friends would get sick and return to their childhood homes to wither away with their families, or they'd simply disappear. On the dance floor Saturday night, gone by Monday. These were very scary times.

Amid the horror and tragedy, Stephen Sondheim, who is both openly gay and arguably the father of the modern American musical (that particular torch having been passed to him from Oscar Hammerstein), opened his eagerly awaited Broadway musical parable, "Into the Woods," which featured a cast of characters straight from the pages of familiar fairy tales. Incongruous? More ingenious, really. 

He's never said so, but to those cognoscenti-New York-theater-goers who were lucky enough to have seen those first run of performances at the Martin Beck Theater on West 45th Street (renamed the Al Hirshfeld Theater in 2003), it was clear that Sondheim was using the murderous, and in that production, unseen giant as an allegory for AIDS. In the play's second act, characters we'd grown up with, known all our lives, and felt a deep kinship to were inexplicably taken from us; violently snatched away, some as retribution for personal transgressions, others completely randomly. The Happily Ever After at the end of the play's first act proved a fallacious construct that couldn't be realized no matter how much we wished for it (I wish...). 

Robert Westenberg as the Wolf
Despite its fancy-free, fairy tale facade, "Into the Woods" was a dark piece of theater, one that dared to address and even push the public's comfort boundaries on topics that rarely see the light of day, at least not in musical theater. The original scenes between Little Red as a sexually curious teenager and the Wolf as an insatiable sexual predator deliciously teetered on inappropriate. So much so that when I saw the original production in previews, the wolf appeared on stage wearing just a motorcycle jacket and a huge, hairy, prosthetic cock and balls. I understand that after many complaints from theater patrons who'd brought children to the show expecting a family-friendly fairy tale musical, the Wolf's costume was changed, and he got a pair of pants for the opening.

The Disney-fied film version completely avoids addressing any sexual content within Little Red's story line by casting the prepubescent Lila Crawford. While the young Ms Crawford's performance shone for me in the film, of course, none of the vital and electric topics (childhood sexuality, female sexuality, sexual curiosity and experimentation) that made her story line in the stage production so compelling were able to be addressed. And given the cartoon phoning-in of Johnny Depp's, Wolf (more like Pirate Jack Sparrow in a kitty-cat costume), it would be preposterous if he'd had any sexual appeal at all. Though Little Red's lyrics remain unchanged, what I remember in the theater as clearly indicating newfound sexual knowledge and loss of virginity, read as hollow in relation to her bizarre encounter with the Wolf in the film.  

There are numerous other vital happenings that were in the stage production that have been scrubbed from the film. Perhaps most notable, and most mentioned in nearly every review I've seen (which is admittedly, not many), is the absence of the Narrator; an important role whose song, "No More," a partial duet with the Baker (his son), was not only beautiful and poignant, but important to the trajectory of the story. The Narrator also served as a go-between from audience to action, and when he was brutally killed in the second act, the delineation between audience and on-stage action was symbolically eliminated, making the tragedy of the second act that much more real for the audience. 

Also sadly departed, and I feel equally important, is the reprise of the song "Agony." The Princes sing this song in the first act when they're longing to be united with their Princesses. The reprise of the song in the second act (missing from the Disney version), comes "happily ever after," when the Princes have already been united with their Princesses, who are now waiting for them at home. In the reprise, however, the Princes are not only bored with their Princess wives, but long to stray with, respectively, a sleeping girl as white as snow encased in a glass casket (there's a dwarf standing guard), and a sleeping beauty isolated in a castle surrounded by brambles and thorns. The song sets up Cinderella's Prince's adulterous encounter with the Baker's Wife, and also highlights the piece's overarching moral, "be careful what you wish for." Those who saw it will remember that in the original stage production, the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince were played by the same actor. This, of course, is harder to pull off on film than it is on stage where the audience's suspension of belief is heightened, but it was a very successful device, which helped to suggest that perhaps there is a little bit of Wolf in even the most charming of princes. 

The theme of death and disillusionment remains in the film, but seems so watered down so as to not offend or challenge Disney's target demographic. In the stage production, for example, when Milky White (the cow, and Jack's friend) dies, Jack's loss (Jack, simple-minded and also played by a teen on stage) is deep and poignant, yet Milky White's screen death seems to pass with no mention at all, save how the cow might help resolve the Witch's spell.

Also absent was the vital struggle of the Baker's Wife to be seen as an equal by her husband. The action of the film seems to start with both Baker and Wife on equal footing, seemingly eliminating any need for this feminist subplot. And while that may be a good indication of how far we've come in the past 27 years, the urgency of the Baker's Wife's struggle to be seen as an equal in breaking the spell (a struggle which won Joanna Gleason a Tony award for Best Actress in a musical) was missed by this viewer. 

Perhaps most intrinsic in the film's not working for me is the Witch. There are two points related to the Witch where I feel the film goes astray. The first is that, in the original, Repunzel is killed by the Giant. This, of course, helps explain the Witch's urgent and extreme descent into madness and her disappearance. 

There is certainly more to be gleaned from the Witch's character that I may be missing or am glossing over simply for the sake of time and space - notably that the Witch's love for Repunzel indicates that "Witches can be good," among other things. This piece is very complex and rich with plenty of room for analysis. 

The second problem for me with the Witch in the film, and I know I may get some flak for this, is the casting. Yes, Meryl Streep is an amazing actor; a magician who can do no wrong. She can conquer any accent, time period; she can sing, dance - we love her, really, we do, but, forgive me, she is just too old for this role.  

In 1987, when Bernadette Peters, as the Witch, was freed from the spell that turned her into a crooked-nosed, wart-covered, hump-backed old crone, she transformed into, well, Bernadette Peters! And not just any Bernadette Peters, but a sparkling, voluptuous, 38 year old Bernadette Peters, whose snowy-white breasts were spilling from atop her silken curvy hourglass silhouette. A transformation that made the audience gasp as one - we all suddenly realized how unfair and cruel the spell was to hide this glorious beauty behind the mask of an old shriveled gorgon. When Meryl Streep's Witch, by comparison, breaks the evil spell, she is transformed from a disheveled old woman, to a very well-put together old woman. Again, she's terrific! I love her, but no amount of cinematic movie-magic is going to transform a 65 year old Meryl Streep into a 30-something year old knockout. She gets transformed into a great-looking 60-something year old Meryl Streep.

Some of this may read as petty and nit-picky, and I apologize for that, but as I watched the film, I actually wept remembering what was going on in my world when I'd first seen the show, and how deeply it had effected me. Watching the film, I also felt cheated that such an important and richly textured piece of musical theater had been robbed of its dark and prophetic messages, and turned saccharin for Disney's box office, family-friendly purposes. While perhaps understandable that the celluloid version be sweetened up for its Christmas day release, it's also, unfortunately been stripped of its psychological complexities and much of its emotional content.

In light of what was happening at the time of its premiere; Right-wing religious fanatics claiming that homosexuals had brought a pestilence upon themselves, FDA regulations refusing life-saving drugs to dying young men, hospitals denying humane treatment to patients, and a President who hadn't mentioned AIDS until that very year (compare Reagan's response to more than 20,000 dead Americans with how the press treated Obama when 1 American was diagnosed with Ebola), I continue to hold the show's original messages close; not only that I must continue to be careful for what I wish for, but that someone is on my side, and that no one is alone. 

That damaged and beaten small community; that nontraditional family of those frightened and traumatized few that remain at the closing of the show promise to rebuild, and that is just what we have done, and continue to do. 

Isn't it nice to know a lot?
... and a little bit not.