Saturday, April 30, 2022

It's catch-up time!

Following the relaxing of COVID restrictions, entertainment possibilities are everywhere, every weekend!

In the past six weeks, I've had the rescheduling of two events I had tickets for before the pandemic wiped out all slates, the return of a show that was on the ropes when everything shut down and an opportunity I've awaited for almost five years (not VID-related).

Before the world changed in March 2020, I had tickets for American Buffalo on Broadway, set to star Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell and Darren Criss. When that was canceled, I didn't know if that show would ever come to pass, but it finally did for a limited 16-week engagement with the original cast intact at the Circle in the Square Theatre. I took in a preview with buddy Rob (who might have been holding his breath through the whole pandemic in an effort to get the show back) on March 25.

Fishburne gives a necessarily insular performance as Donny, the junk shop owner. You can feel the years this man has lived without him saying many words about them. By contrast, Rockwell's Teach wears everything he feels on his sleeve. It's the kind of role that suits the 2018 Oscar supporting actor winner very well. It's all too easy for a character resplendent with quirks to come off irritating to an audience, and as always, Rockwell deftly avoids such pitfalls. Criss' role as Bobby doesn't require quite the same heavy lifting as the other two leads, but he doesn't feel like a third wheel in the part.

Some extra kudos, first to scenic designer Scott Pask, and no doubt, the legions of co-workers entrusted with keeping the resale shop set stocked to the brim every single day. And second, to the Circle in the Square bartenders, because that was the best coconut rum and pineapple juice pour I can remember having ever.

So glad that show saw the light of day, and I was equally thrilled to find out that Martin McDonagh's "Hangmen" was getting another go at the Golden Theater, also a limited production -- only 10 weeks for this one. I saw the first iteration in previews a couple of weeks before the pandemic closed everything down. And word came a few months later that it would not be reopening.

I was pretty thrilled to then hear it was coming back after all a few months after that. The supporting cast remained the same, the changes were for the three lead roles. And I might have said "yay, but nay," if Alfie Allen hadn't signed on as Mooney. The world at large knows him from Game of Thrones, but Jojo Rabbit was my inroad with him. He and Sam Rockwell (see above!) played off each other so perfectly, really setting the tone for the 2020 Oscar winner for best adapted screenplay. 

So it was back to Broadway for me when The Hangmen's previews began on April 8. The programs were certainly better the second time around. I guess the shortened schedule kept the production from ordering new merch, but cool buttons were handed out upon exit that first night. 

Allen was everything I expected and more. His role -- portrayed by Dan Stevens the first time -- is no easy feat. There's something charming about Mooney, and yet there is something sinister about him at the same time. He comes on the scene deep into the first act, so McDonagh's script purposefully has us empathizing with the denizens of a bar long before the arrival. Stevens was very solid in the role; he got the job done. Allen is mesmerizing, the kind of thing that happens in the theater when someone is so charismatic you wind up watching that person when other people are talking. A pleasure to take in again, even knowing where it's all heading.

Next up was Aimee Mann's show at the City Winery. Originally, she was supposed to have an extended stay the week between Christmas and New Year's. And I had tickets for two of those shows, but when they got scrubbed and after the dust settled, only four dates fit into the City Winery's schedule. I could only go to one.

Now in the interim, a couple of interesting things happened. Aimee was supposed to be the opener on Steely Dan's tour this summer. And when that fell through, the entertainment press glommed onto her disappointment and published it for all to see. One of the highlights of the year has been the comic panels Aimee draws and publishes on her Instagram. She made lemonade out of her disappointment of being bounced from the tour by declaring all would be forgiven if Donald Fagen told her the story of "Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)" from Steely Dan's first album Can't Buy a Thrill. The next day, she had a very long email with the details of that song and that became another great Aimee comic (see left). And then, in turn, the song became the set opener for her first City Winery show on April 15, particularly poignant in the wake of the Brooklyn subway shooting a few days before.

The other thing that happened between the originally scheduled spate of shows and the rescheduled ones was Aimee's increased focus on painting the worst past presidents and First Ladies (of any quality). Is there anything this woman can't do? Those paintings were sent to the City Winery for an art gallery exhibit. They all sold the first night. My favorites were Lou Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt, the latter referenced in her song "You Could Have Been a Roosevelt" for Mann's most recent album Queens of the Summer Hotel (which originally was supposed to be the basis for a Broadway show, but that's another story).

The music portion of the evening began with Jonathan Coulton, whose songs are so pithy and entertaining that you forget you're waiting for the headliner. Well, you might forget, if said person didn't come on during the set to do a couple of numbers -- "All This Time" and "Red Shirts" -- with him. Before departing, the self-proclaimed writer of sad songs implored Coulton to do "the greatest f*ckin' sad song ever written, "I Crush Everything." How could he resist? Frankly, I think Jonathan could open for any act anytime and fit right in.  

Setlist: Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me), You Fall, I See You, Patient Zero, Rollercoasters, Moth, Burn It Out, Little Bombs, Suicide Is Murder, Save Me, I Can't Help You Anymore, Video, Gumby, Lost in Space, King of the Jailhouse. Encores: Wise Up, Long Shot.

Aimee's show opened with the aforementioned "Brooklyn," and boy, that song fits so sweetly into her milieu. It feels like an Aimee Mann song. The rest was a great mix from a number of different albums and leaning heavily toward the latter-day catalog -- four apiece from The Forgotten Arm and Queens; two from Lost in Space, Magnolia and Mental Illness; and one from Charmer and I'm with Stupid.

When I first settled into my City Winery chair -- now at Hudson River Park's Pier 57 -- I found it a little uncomfortable. But after a couple of vodka spritzers and Aimee's mellifluous sounds, I either totally forgot about it or settled into my seat. Perhaps a bit of both. 

Fans who might have expected more from the early years, like say a few 'Til Tuesday hits or more from Whatever, I'm with Stupid and Bachelor No. 2 or the Last Remains of the Dodo might have been taken aback by a glance at the setlist, but if they were there, they couldn't have been too disappointed. To me, the setlist was perfect, and more importantly, it felt right. I only wish I could have taken in one of the other shows. 

The following week was a signing at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey, for Jim Kaat's Good as Gold. The former Major League pitcher and broadcaster will be going into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. He's long been a favorite of mine. I got to meet him in the press box about 4 1/2 years ago at the Triple-A National Championship Game, but I was on duty at the time, so asking for a selfie would have been unprofessional. I did get to talk with him a bit that day, and I already knew how well versed he is in all aspects of the game.

That was reinforced upon picking up my book and reading some chapters before he settled in for a Q&A and signing at Bookends. It was kind of lightly attended, and that bothered me on his behalf, until I realized 1.) the Yankees were playing at home that day and 2.) he was scheduled to be at a baseball convention over the weekend and many people probably held out for that event.

As always, he told stories in the most colorful and interesting way possible. Like the one about when co-broadcaster Phil Rizzuto told him after the seventh inning during a game that he was going to the bathroom. When the show's director asked where Scooter was, Kaat said he had gone to the men's room, and then the unsuspecting broadcaster summarily was told Rizzuto would not come back. Kitty finished the rest of that show on his own. And he wasn't the only one who fell victim to that Scooter ruse. Kaat told the assembled about another broadcaster who asked for Phil to bring him back some coffee before pulling the same trick. Before the telecast the next afternoon, Rizzuto set down a cup for his unwitting victim -- "Here's the coffee you asked for." There are stories like that galore in the new book about Kitty's early years, playing days and broadcasting career. 

After the Q&A, we queued up to get our books signed by Kaat and co-author Douglas Lyons. On my way to Bookends, I had looked back in my Facebook history to find the exact date I had met Kitty and discovered this post from 2017: "Jim Kaat just broke my hand." So when a gentleman ahead of me extended a hand to him, I said, "Be careful, he once broke my hand!" Cut to Kitty's look of astonishment.

When it was my turn, I explained the earlier comment and where I had met him. We laughed about it, then he mentioned the Bobby Murcer shirt I was wearing and how he thought the late Yankee player/ broadcaster was one of the greatest. All I could say in response was that I think they both are. (A little back story on that shirt choice: Since I met Kaat, I have tried and failed to find a Yankees one with No. 36 on it. So I went with the backup choice.) At least I finally got the picture I'd been wanting for almost five years.

So a pretty full few weeks there. I'm hoping for some better spacing out of events in the future. But I'm not counting on better quality, because I'm not sure that can be done.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Made in Ridgewood: All Access with Gina Schock

It was a definite Schock to the system. ... It was also, literally, the picture-perfect start to my vacation.

See, Gina Schock -- the unfathomably underrated drummer of the seminal band-turned-Rock & Roll Hall of Famers The Go-Go's -- capped her book signing tour at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey. (Longtime followers of my travels might remember that book store as the place I met Rick Springfield while feeling like I was at death's door with the flu about 11 years ago.)

The book -- Made in Hollywood: All Access with The Go-Go's -- is the recently released collection of Schock's decades of photographic documentation of the band. But not just gorgeous pictures, those images brought back a wealth of memories for Gina, the other Go-Go's and those who were in their orb over the years. When do we get that kind of prolonged look of a group at the height of their powers, as well as the low points?

Social media affords us the chance to see what's going on with celebs almost every day of the week, and after procuring my ticket for the event, I waited and watched as Schock made her way across the country following the long-awaited induction of her band in Cleveland's Hall of Fame. 

Upon arrival at the bookstore, I checked in and the store's personnel checked out 1.) the myriad of rock patches adorning my jean jacket and 2.) my Go-Go's face mask. I got on the line at the side of the building, I didn't remember much from the Rick event, but I did vaguely recall being on that line. It was already dark out, so I couldn't peruse the book at that point. (Insert sad emoji.)

I quickly started chatting up the women around me. The one in front was a fan who lives in Ridgewood but had never been to a Bookends event. She was there to get the book signed for her sister, a massive fan who has traveled the country following the band. She later told us about seeing The Go-Go's before the first single came out when they opened for The Specials on Long Island. The band was booed, things were thrown at them ... and Gina gave the naysayers the finger.

Behind me was another lovely lady who had just decided on the spot to come to the event by herself because she didn't know any other person who was as big of a fan as she is. She made us all green with envy with a great story about her Pat Benatar meet-and-greet. 

Standing behind her was the mega-fan. I give her this distinction not just because she's a drummer who emulates Schock, but because she and her husband had traveled from Virginia to New Jersey just for this signing. I started talking with her about my favorite Go-Go's side project -- the House of Schock -- and she whipped out her phone and cranked up "Middle of Nowhere." We got at least one other fan downloading the stream off that discussion/playing of the song.

At about 6 (when the event was scheduled to happen), we noticed the line hadn't moved and figured Gina hadn't arrived yet. We started watching for her car, and sure enough, a few minutes later, we heard someone at the back of the store say, "Here she comes." Couldn't really see a thing, but the Virginia fan and I yelled "Giiiiiina!" I wish House of Schock songs were still playing at the moment. That might have surprised her.

It was about 15 minutes more before the queue started to move. It felt longer, but it really wasn't. Before we knew it, we were in front of the Bookends window and could see Gina chatting away with people on line. And yay, pictures were being taken too. The ladies and I had concocted a plan to take photos for each other if it was necessary. Luckily, it wasn't, and they didn't have to find out my hands shake in these circumstances.

As we got to the first corner of the store, we were talking about how great the book cover is. That's when a woman on the other side of the rope said she was happy to hear that, because there was much animated discussion at the publishing company about which photo should be the cover. Before I even perused the whole book, I deemed it perfect -- an image from the "Vacation" video shoot with Gina in the foreground in her tiara and Kathy Valentine with a combination of boredom and resignation on her face and a cigarette dangling from her lips. (After reading the whole book, I still say it's the only choice for the cover.)

And before I knew it, it was my turn. I said hi, told her my name and said I had really enjoyed the Cameo video she had made for me the previous month. Knowing a bookstore signing doesn't afford much of a chance for prolonged conversation, I had whittled the gist of I wanted to say down to a few sentences: One of my first Go-Go's memories was of being out on the junior varsity softball field practicing, "Our Lips Are Sealed" was playing and it was just a perfect day. A favorite childhood memory. Flash-forward a few years and my parents were divorcing and we moved to Florida where we didn't know anyone but my grandparents. But (and "Head Over Heels" was fortuitously playing over the sound system at that moment, and I pointed up as I continued), I could see my girls every couple of hours or so in that video. And it really helped.

I had thought about what I wanted to say for a while, but I hadn't really considered anything coming back to me. I just wanted to tell her she and the band have meant a lot to me for decades, thank her for that and congratulate the group for getting into the Hall of Fame. When she said to me, "Thank you for telling me that. It makes my heart feel good and it makes everything we do worthwhile," I must have looked, um, Schocked? I managed to say, "That makes my heart feel good."

I asked the super-cool bookstore guy taking pictures with our phones to keep shooting while I was with Gina. And he did. There were some truly unflattering pix in that bunch, but he kept doing it, and I thank him to the bottom of my toes for that. I look worked up and overly animated in almost all of them. That's OK with me, there's a correlation there to Schock sharing her history -- warts and all -- with fans and the rest of the world. I appreciate that symmetry.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

2-for-1 return to the concert scene

Maybe we didn't have an inkling of how long the hiatus was going to be, but we had a pretty good idea that the concert/Broadway scene would be grinding to a halt on March 10, 2020. 

On that date, Mark and I headed to Madison Square Garden for the Brothers concert, the 50th anniversary tribute to The Allman Brothers Band. Masks and hand sanitizer hadn't become part of our daily lives, but it was obvious the pandemic was about to envelop the world. That was the last show that took place at the Garden for a long time, and the last one for me until a couple of weeks ago when I had two shows over the course of one week. Might as well jump back in feet first, right? 

Speaking of life returning to a level of normal at MSG, the first show put on there since the world changed was by the Foo Fighters on June 20. I couldn't go to that one, but when I heard they'd be not incredibly far away from me in Bridgeport on Sept. 17, I scooped up a ticket for that. Didn't want to miss them getting down as The Dee Gees, that's for sure. And then the Foos announced on Sept. 10 that they would be performing at Coney Island on Sept. 13. 

That combo was too good for me to resist. Decades ago, I used to visit Coney Island with my great Aunt Ruthie. We always walked the boardwalk, went to the Aquarium and ate at Nathan's. I got to ride a couple rides and swim in the ocean.

Got to Coney Island a little later than I expected that day thanks to an unrelated train incident in Edison. But I did get to grab some Nathan's and eat in the same patio I once did with Aunt Ruthie. (Sure miss the individual lines for each item, instead of the long snaking one out the door like a Shake Shack.) The sights were awesome -- the rides (the parachute jump that has been closed for as long as I can remember and The Cyclone and Wonder Wheel, just closed on that particular day) and the pier pointing off to the ocean. It all felt so familiar even though it's been so long since those halcyon days. It's even been a while since I've revisited with family or friends.

But I digress. I turned right instead of left on the boardwalk and headed to the Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Ballpark. I must have smiled the whole way, just hearing that familiar sound of feet on the angled planks. Another sense memory from decades ago. Yep, I made the right call, changing my plans from Bridgeport to Coney Island. (I got to make another friend happy by flipping my ticket to him, so even better.) 

Setlist: Aurora, The Pretender, Learn to Fly, No Son of Mine, The Sky Is a Neighborhood, Rope, Shame Shame, Breakout, My Hero, These Days, Medicine at Midnight, Walk, You Should Be Dancing, band intros with bits of Blitzkrieg Bop, Somebody to Love, All My Life, Times Like These, This Is a Call, Best of You, Everlong.

I just know Aunt Ruthie would have really been into the Foos. After all, this is a woman who saw Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore East. (I took her to the Eric Clapton-Elton John show with me at Shea Stadium in 1992. When I went to the restroom, a girl sitting in front of us turned around and asked her whether she really liked the music. "I love it!" Aunt Ruthie had said, and although I wasn't there for it, I could hear the gleeful proclamation and see the gleaming smile today.) She loved music.

I was on my own for this one, and the dude sitting next to me seemed terribly interested in the details of that -- Him: "How did you get to come to this by yourself?" Me: "By buying the ticket?" -- and my stamina. I was definitely up for standing ... and boogeying for the entire show. I've done it before (MSG 2008/Citi Field 2015) and I'll do it again!

The show announced Friday and put on Monday was such a quick turnaround that I didn't think they'd be able to get posters done. Of course, they did! It was such a cool one that I reneged on my previous decision to not get one, and luckily, there was no problem procuring it this time. Also scored a pretty sweet frozen rum concoction in a plastic guitar (Mark's convinced it looks more like a bong.) 

The Foos winged their way back east after a late night at the MTV Music Video Awards, where they received the Global Icon Award. One of the last times I actually recall watching MTV was when the Fighters of Foo were on a show called "FANatic," a show that matched up talents with their alleged best fans. (Side note: I thought it was hilarious that the Natalie Imbruglia fanatic didn't know her biggest hit, "Torn," was a cover.) Just looked it up, and the Foos' ep originally aired on Nov. 3, 1999. So I haven't watched MTV for over two decades. Glad they enjoyed the award and the party.

They professed to be pretty gassed after flying back from the big par-tay. Definitely didn't seem that way to me. The songs from Medicine at Midnight sounded good with the assistance of three female backup singers -- Laura Mace, Samantha Sidley and Barbara Gruska. On more than occasion, Sidley knocked Dave Grohl out by holding notes for an unfathomably long time.

I'm not sure when the downpour started, 'cause like I said, I was rocking out the whole time, but at some point during the band's loving and lively cover of The Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancing," Grohl gestured toward the side entrance of the building. That's when I first saw the heavens raining down. I looked down at my feet and my sneakers were tapping along in a light stream of water. The top of the amphitheater was covered, but the sides were open. The band didn't stop playing, even as the rains got harder and the thunder and lightning became more evident. So we just kept on dancing.

As is their want, the Foos never leave the stage, they just keep playing until they can't play no more. So when they get to their signature song -- "Everlong" -- you know the night's over. It's the most beautiful and sad moment at the same time, because it's a perfect song that gives you all the feels every single time.

Even though I had given up my Friday Foo ticket, there was still more great music in store Thursday with Lindsey Buckingham at a favorite venue of ours for Lindsey -- New York City's Town Hall. Although I grew up as a tried-and-true Stevie Nicks devotee, consider me (and Mark) firmly in the "Team Lindsey" camp when it comes to the ongoing fracas between the elements of the once-mighty Fleetwood Mac. (Also, Christine McVie has supplanted Nicks as shining beacon of womanhood and talent for me as well.)

Lindsey's team -- the tour management one, not the band of unhappy Fleetwood Mac fans -- came up with a good idea for the post-pandemic playing field. We can't "meet and greet" with the susceptible Buckingham, so a special pass was created giving us the opportunity to witness a few songs at soundcheck. There were a few minutes of concern there when my name wasn't found on the VIP list, but Lindsey's tour coordinator Pat made sure we got our goodie bags with signed flats, caps and passes on lanyards. Then I got to add to my bandanna collection with a cool Lindsey scarf -- which reminds me when I was picking up a Foos bandanna during that show, the merch lady said, "We don't have scarves, we only have bandannas, is that OK?" No, sorry, I only want it if it's called a scarf.

Setlist: Not Too Late, In Our Own Time, Soul Drifter, Stars Are Crazy, I Must Go, Doing What I Can, Shut Us Down, Trouble, Never Going Back Again, Big Love, Scream, I Don't Mind, On the Wrong Side, Swan Song, Second Hand News, Tusk, I'm So Afraid, Go Your Own Way. Encore: Love Is Here to Stay, Time.

The songs played at soundcheck were all new songs (including "Stars Are Crazy" and "I Must Go") and sounded really great. The self-titled album didn't come out after the show. Although a few songs were released prior to the show, I was waiting for the complete release to hear it the way Lindsey put it together. It was just the first time that day we marveled at how there was no noticeable difference between pre- and post-op Lindsey. He hasn't missed a single beat. 

The Town Hall setup really messed with Buckingham's sense of order. Drummer Jimmy Paxson's kit wasn't on a riser, it was on the same level as Lindsey and the rest of the crew. "Jimmy, you look like you're in a pit!" Buckingham declared. Lindsey welcomed all of the VIPs and explained a little bit about how they were checking on the acoustics of the room by doing a few songs before going to work.

When I think about how worried we were after his 2019 open-heart surgery, his tour's announcement seemed so remarkable. But all our fears were quickly put to rest. The man literally showed no physical signs that he'd gone through anything that petrifying. And in sharp contrast to the eternally dysfunctional Fleetwood Mac relationships, Buckingham and his band seem to be in complete sync.  

I was particularly thrilled "Soul Drifter" was in the setlist, possibly my all-time favorite solo song of his from the "Out of the Cradle" album. It fit in nicely alongside the new songs from his self-titled album. There was a nice swing back and forth from the up-tempo numbers to the more contemplative ones.

And, of course, there was still an acoustic segment to remind us all of how wonderfully Lindsey plays the guitar. The four songs he played by himself -- "Shut Us Down," "Trouble," "Never Going Back Again" and "Big Love" -- resonate all the more when echoing out over a crowd that either respectfully remains silent or just can't bear to make a sound while he's matching each note on the guitar with emotion-packed syllables. 

By the time Buckingham got back to the Fleetwood Mac hits, anyone who was on the fence about #teamlindsey probably had swung wildly to his side, not to be moved. I didn't see the Mac's last tour with Mike Campbell and Neil Finn jointly trying to fill Lindsey's shoes, but I have seen Stevie Nicks' solo show, and I'm here to tell you, the juice in that band comes from Buckingham. Mark deems "I'm So Afraid" the best blues rock song that doesn't have the audience it deserves, and I just have to agree. It's always a set highlight.

Lindsey closed with two songs -- the first, "Love Is Here to Stay," was from his album with former Mac bandmate Christine McVie, and the second, the brand-new "Time." After pumping us up so vehemently with his most famous tunes, those brought us back down to earth in the most calming way. It was like a bow on a wonderful evening and the capper on my return to live music.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Justice, at any cost

Today marked the first of two Record Store Day drops this year. As always, I had a list categorizing records as "must-haves," "want" and "if all else fails." At the very tippy top of the list were the two RSD releases for Maria McKee -- High Dive and Live in Hamburg. Only problem was, a mere 500 copies were pressed for each of those releases, so I figured they would be tough gets.

Off I went to Princeton Record Exchange (thanks, Mark!) to give the ol' college try -- because it is in Princeton. I got there at about 7:30 a.m. with the store scheduled to open at 10. And I'd say I was about in the spot I've previously been in with an 8 a.m. arrival. With the pandemic becoming a distant memory for almost everyone in line (very few masks), the vinyl lovers queued up.

Sometime after the storefront started taking three customers at a time, a helpful PREX staffer started coming down the line with a list of the 1,000-or-so RSD records being sold. That included the number of records they had received for each item. I asked about the McKees first and was told they got one of each release. One of the ... I'll guess 50 ... people in front of me had told him that he/she only planned to buy High Tide. So if no one browsing through the stacks wanted Live in Hamburg, I would have a shot at it. 

And that's exactly how it played out. When I got to enter the sanctum, I made a beeline for the M's, grabbed it. If I hadn't gotten anything else, I still would have been happy. Yeah, like that would happen.

The Live in Hamburg release originated from a concert recorded Oct. 5, 2003 at Kampnagel in Germany by NDR Radio. It was the first of the RSD records I spun after getting -- natch -- and upon listening, I had to wonder what the other customer (who obviously had taste enough to pick up a Maria McKee record in the first place) had been thinking. Definitely my gain.

So I'm running through the tracks -- "This Perfect Dress," "Scarlover," "High Dive," "T.V. Teens," "Be My Joy" and "I'm Awake" on the first LP of the double set and "Absolutely Barking Stars," "Breathe," "Something Similar" and "Life Is Sweet" on the second. And besides being knocked out by that voice and visualizing the images crafted by the words, something I noted was Maria saying "danke schön" after many of the tracks.

That reminded me of attending Lone Justice's concert at the long-lost Button South in Hallandale, Florida, on Oct. 13, 1985, with my bestie Cheryl. After each of the songs, McKee said "thank you" almost the same way. And that, in turn, brought back memories of two major things that happened to me in conjunction with that show.

The big one was that I was grounded as soon as I got home that night. See, I had told my mom that I was working at a baseball card store that night. And I clearly wasn't. I don't recall whether the boss had called Mom or she tried to get me through him, I just know that she found out I wasn't working and had no idea where I was at all. 

So the one time I was punished was because I just had to go to that show to see Lone Justice. Not sure this many years later why I felt I had to lie about it, maybe the other major memory had something to do with it.

Cheryl and I went to the mall to get tickets for the show -- yeah, we used to have to go in person to pick up tickets because there was no internet to hop on to get the job done. After we paid and I had them in my hands, I looked them over and it clearly stated "No one under 21 admitted." We were still underage, so that seemed like a problem, but the ticket seller assured us we wouldn't have any issue getting in.

Wrong! It was a problem. The night of the show when we tried to go in, the Button South wanted to turn us away. I wasn't satisfied with that, so I asked to speak with the manager. I explained what happened when we bought the tickets and assured him that we would not have anything to drink -- not even water -- we just wanted to see the show.

Thankfully, the manager realized we weren't there to try and score liquor. He told us to sit at the bar (probably so he could monitor us) and drink Cokes. So crisis averted. Well, initial crisis averted, as I said, when I got home later it was a completely different story.

We loved the show. A look at shows the rundown was largely from the self-titled Lone Justice album that we were listening to in high rotation before that night with a side order of choice  Lou Reed/Velvet Underground. Setlist: Sweet, Sweet Baby (I'm Falling); Wait 'Til We Get Home; Working Late; Sweet Jane; Walk on the Wild Side; Ways to Be Wicked; Soap, Soup and Salvation; When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder; After the Flood; East of Eden.

A few weeks later, I reviewed the show for the Palm Beach Junior College Beachcomber, and green journalistic tendencies aside, I think it holds up rather well and includes that reference to the thank-yous that sparked an afternoon of remembrances.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

'The Guiding Light' shines through

Sometimes you find something on YouTube that sends you down the proverbial rabbit hole. That just happened to me last night when I ran across Alan Locher's Zoom of the Shayne family reunion with five favorites from my time watching Guiding Light.

I was an unhappy General Hospital/Edge of Night fan at the time I started watching GL. I was intrigued by a storyline I read about in Soap Opera Digest, namely The Four Musketeers -- Phillip, Beth, Rick and Mindy. I took to Mindy quickest, she was sort of a wheelhouse character in the mold of my favorites Tiffany Hill on General Hospital and Raven Whitney on Edge of Night. Krista Tesreau-Strauss quickly captured my interest and imagination as Melinda Sue. She was kind of a spoiled brat, but Krista imbued her with a ton of heart and spirit.

So while I had a lot of favorites on the show (like Kim Zimmer's indomitable Reva Shayne), I raced home from school every day to see what Mindy got herself into. At the start, I thought she was a perfect match for Michael O'Leary's Rick. (I could not stop watching his B-movie Lovely but Deadly, which was on cable a lot.)

Because I loved Mindy, it took me a reallllllly long time to appreciate Roxie Shayne. Kristi Ferrell came on the show with so much spunk, but Roxanne was taking Rick away from Mindy so I didn't care for that much. But as the enmity between the two dissipated, I really started appreciating Kristi. Mark Lewis was introduced as Kurt Corday and formed a triangle with Rick and Roxie. Then Kurt started falling for Mindy (and how could he resist) and that culminated in a fairy-tale wedding that's one of the few shows from their storyline that can be found on YouTube.

Then a year or so later, Mindy's perfect match came on the show in the form of Terrell Anthony as Roxie's brother Rusty. Krista and Terrell had so much chemistry that they didn't even have to have dialogue, they just smoldered. Rusty and Mindy had a lot of stops and starts storywise due to vacations and a writers' strike, but I loved every minute they were on camera together.

The difference between being a soap fan and an aficionado of someone in the movies or on records was access. At the time, I lived in Florida. Soap mall appearances were huge at that time, it seemed like every weekend daytime drama stars were coming to our state. So when I found out Krista Tesreau was coming to Boynton Beach, I arranged an interview through the mall office for my college newspaper.

I learned so much that day. Krista was the one who told me Kurt wouldn't be returning to the canvas. At that time, I didn't really know about sweeping changes on soaps. If a new executive producer came in or the writing team changed, they inevitably -- and understandably -- would want to do things their way. Before that, I didn't comprehend characters being written into corners or understand that actors might want to do something else. It opened my eyes and was a turning point for me in terms of understanding the dynamics behind all of it.

Soon after that, I started going to fan gatherings as well. I was going to school at the University of South Florida, but jetted up to New York for the weekend to get to see the actors in person. At the first one, I literally had one hour during the autograph session to meet everyone I wanted to before heading back to Florida.

My first stop was Terrell's table. I remember introducing myself to him and being shocked that he knew my name from fan letters I sent. (He always responded to his mail, writing a few sentences that meant so much on a page ripped out from his script. Ingenious.) Having that kind of moment just deepened my appreciation for him.

Terrell did a lot of the Florida mall appearances. And I have stories from each one of them. A couple of times I arranged an interview as I was penning a soap column for my college newspaper at the time. And Terrell was the sweetest, he introduced me in glowing terms to the other actor who was appearing with him at the event each time.

Sometimes I just went to enjoy it. At an Orlando event, I made friends with two lovely ladies, mother and daughter Sandra and Lori. Another time I went to a Miami event with my sister and my best friend, Cheryl. You can imagine what the receptionist at the mall office thought when I told her that I knew Terrell and just wanted to say hello. But from somewhere in the back room, I heard his distinctive drawl help me out. "Is that Paige? Get on back here, girl!" Cue the stunned looks on the faces of Cheryl and the receptionist.

Another time I was in Orlando and I had set up an interview with Kristi and Jerry Ver Dorn (Ross Marler). Let's just say the security was lax, though, and as I headed to a previously determined office at the end of their question-and-answer session, I saw Kristi had gotten separated from the event's organizers. With fans closing in on her from every direction, I grabbed her arm and bolted to the designated meeting spot. Someone in a wheelchair rolled over my boot, but I got Kristi out of harm's way. When we settled in, she thanked me profusely and told me if I ever wanted a tour of the Guiding Light set, I should just show up at the studio in New York and she would make sure I got in. I never got to do that, but the offer meant so much to me.

The last major event I went to during this era happened right before Terrell left the show. I think it was at a car dealership and took place outside. I went with Lamar, my friend and castmate from a local production of Alone Together. Thinking it might be my last chance to see Terrell, I worked my way through the throng. Lamar's plan was to take pictures of me saying goodbye. It didn't quite work out that way. I did get through the crowd with Lamar behind me. I reached out for Terrell just as he got to his getaway limo. He swung around, saw me and wrapped me in a bear hug. It was an emotional moment for me when he turned to leave. Later when I looked at the pictures, there was one of me getting to Terrell and then one of him pulling back. I remember Lamar's quote very distinctly -- "I couldn't stop watching. It was like a scene from Casablanca." Frankly, that might be better than having the actual hug.

I've been able to see various GL cast members over the years at Daytime Stars and Strikes, a fun event that supports a great cause while providing memories you can't get from just approaching an actor at a signing table and telling him or her how much you love them. I think I've hit Michael with Lovely but Deadly references a couple of times, but I hadn't seen Terrell or Kristi in a couple of decades.

The Locher Room just brought all of these memories flooding back. And I'm just one person that this probably happened to. So much thanks to Alan for that. And biggest hugs for Krista, Terrell, Kristi, Michael and Kim. It was amazing to see all of you again. From the bottom of my heart, I love and miss you. I wish I still had the VHS edits I had of the show so I could upload them for posterity, scenes that I haven't found on YouTube yet remember so distinctly. Much thanks to you all for the memories, on and off camera.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Leaning into the touchy-feely con

The biannual Chiller convention is great for meeting people we developed affection for in movies and TV shows we started loving at a young age. At the latest Chiller, it was repaid in kind in a very tangible way.

It started off with the first addition of the day to The X-Files Yearbook Project -- Don Gibb. He's probably known best to the world at large for Revenge of the Nerds, but to me, he's the crispy-eared Kip from the fourth episode of The X-Files.

Gibb was super-friendly from the get-go, he remembered flying into Vancouver to film his part of the episode in one day. He deemed it "super fun" to play the bartender with one ear. He joked about his photo not being part of The Complete X-Files book that I've been toting around for signatures for about five years. And I got a peck on the cheek after the photo op.

Right next to Gibb was Larry B. Scott, also from Revenge of the Nerds. I know him best as Rudy Tyler from SpaceCamp. I was really glad I stopped to talk with him, because it turns out he's as big a space geek as I am. I asked if they got to use the "Vomit Comet" to film without gravity, and he said the movie's budget wasn't big enough for that so they faked it with body movements. But they did get to watch a shuttle launch, visit NASA and meet some astronauts.

I recalled watching SpaceCamp a lot the summer I worked at a movie theater and bemoaned the fact that the Challenger disaster meant a lot of people who otherwise might have seen it that year didn't. They've been missing out on a nice family-friendly flick.  

When signing a picture from the movie, Scott had a technical malfunction with the silver marker. Instead of trying to make the best of it, he just discarded the photo and started over again. And then we started chatting about SpaceX, particularly how they land the booster back on the pad and how astonishing that is to see every single time there's a launch. "It's crazy!!" he said. We got so into it that I don't think either of us noticed the line for him developing behind us. 

Sis' big draw for the event was Robert Wuhl, first and foremost for Batman, but also for Bull Durham. Although Sestra knows not to ask the actors yes or no questions lest she get yes or no answers, she inquired whether he had any input into his lines as wisecracking reporter Alexander Knox in the 1989 film. Wuhl simply said yes. But she got a more playful affirmative after offering up his taxes quip -- "Commissioner Gordon, is there a 6-foot bat operating in Gotham City, and is he on the police payroll, and if so ... what's he pulling down ... after taxes?" and Robert added the wicker people line -- when looking at of Bruce Wayne's odd sculptures, Knox said, "Check this out! He must have been King of the Wicker People." 

As we took our photo, I mentioned running the social media channels for John Reilly, who played a competing sports agent in nine episodes of Wuhl's series Arli$$. Robert quickly brightened up and asked about him. "He's a good man ... I loved him," he said.

After Sestra met the equally photogenic Lochlyn Munro (Freddy vs. Jason) for her Nightmare on Elm Street collection, we went off to the Fame room and I met four of the actors I enjoyed so much from the TV series. Valerie Landsburg was sitting next to Carlo Imperato, and they were just chatting away and teasing each other. Valerie quipped, "I've had the same relationship with Carlo all these years." Then she whispered something I couldn't hear in the bustling room, so I leaned in, and she said, "He just might be the best person in the world."

I got some of the love too. When Landsburg came out from behind the table for our photo, I told her what an inspiration her portrayal of Doris had been to me and she gave me an impromptu "thank you so much" hug. (Props to Sestra for getting pictures of that, I thought she was looking elsewhere at the time.) 

I always try to find something different to tell the actor that he/she might not hear all weekend, but I had to admit The Wizard of Oz-inspired episode -- basically Doris' fantasy -- was my favorite. She said it was hers too. Before we moved on, she told me about her directorial effort, Love & Debt,  which stars Tom Cavanagh, Bellamy Young and Brynn Thayer. (It's on Amazon, Spectrum, Comcast and Cox Broadcasting platforms, so check it out!)

Then I talked with Imperato, delivering a similar spiel about my love for the show. But the signals might have gotten crossed somewhere between the part in which I had a crush on Carlo's character, Danny, and how uplifting Doris was to me. "Your first crush was Valerie?" Imperato said in good humor. That's when we discovered a fresh and exciting way of getting additional photos, Sestra showing us the photo she took while we still had our arms around each other. Bonus hugs!

Jesse Borrego got me to do something I never would have done under normal circumstances. After joking that our "I Want to Believe" shirts should say "I want to live forever," he started singing the title song ... and I actually picked up where he left off. That had to have offended his eardrums. Jesse also has a new movie -- Phoenix, Oregon -- with James Le Gros and Lisa Edelstein. 

After saying hello to Carol Mayo Jenkins, the last Fame cast member I met was Lee Curreri. I recognized those soulful eyes before I saw anything else. The only one of the foursome who also was in the original movie was really enjoying himself, remarking he had spent more time with Billy Hufsey the previous night than he ever got to on the set. Lee came out from behind the table for the photo and kept talking to us after it was taken. When we mentioned Sibling Cinema's 10-word movie reviews, he sheepishly brought up the 1986 film, Crystal Heart, with Tawny Kitaen. Neither Sestra nor I knew of it, but mark our words, we will hunt that one down and give it the 10-word treatment.

Next we made our way to Nancy Allen, who not only still is completely gorgeous (and blessed me for telling her so), but was also really sweet and accommodating. (Notch another one in the Blockbuster/X-Files t-shirt fan club.) We joked about how harsh the lighting is in the Hilton Parsippany -- "interrogation lighting" I do believe Sestra deemed it. 

After Sis pointed out that Allen's Robocop character, Anne Lewis, was a great role model of the time, Nancy told us a story about a fan from Mexico who had only seen Robocop 2. Lewis was her hero, and Allen was grateful to have been able to play a part like that.

I mentioned I had met Piper Laurie, Nancy's Carrie co-star, at the last Chiller. Allen said Laurie is so lovely, but she never really got to know her until after the movie wrapped and became a cult favorite. "We just had no idea it would be so big, and then it got even bigger," Nancy said.

Very happy to have gotten so much accomplished during the pre-show portion of the program, I got on the Richard Dean Anderson line so I could finally meet Dr. Jeff Webber/MacGyver. It probably helped that neighboring Tori Spelling took a break after an hour, which cut down the line a bit. Knowing he's a dog aficionado, I wanted to share with him a picture of our husky, Lady Cayenne. 

After Richard declared her to be beautiful, I mentioned we'd been fans since General Hospital -- "Oh, that goes way back" -- and that I run Sharon Wyatt's YouTube channel. He really just melted -- "She's so great, I adored her." He asked after Sharon, and I spent the rest of the minute or so we got with him talking about his GH co-star, which I really didn't mind all that much. Sestra made him jump, because she had been so quiet while I was rambling on and he didn't know she was there.

Sometime during dinner, a lightbulb went off and I realized that Krista Allen -- whose setup was adjoining the Anderson line -- had been on The X-Files. She was needed for the yearbook! Didn't really relish the idea of getting back on that long line that swings around again, but there was only one person at Krista's table, and so I was able to slip into that queue without offending anyone.

Allen recalled she was psyched to be on the show -- "Are you kidding, it was phenomenal!" was the exact quote. Then she told me how she pranked David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson by doing an NC-17 take on Sharon Stone's Basic Instinct leg crossing during their scene together. She even included that as part of her signature in the book, which she scrolled through to see all the signatures. Her memorable character(s) from "First Person Shooter" (Season 7, Episode 13) somehow also wasn't pictured in it.

Then we got on the line for Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield. Although, even though it looked like one line, it was actually two, so you went through past Busfield to get to Gilbert, and then we had to get back on it again to meet him. Fair enough, we did that (and Wuhl crossed our path sometime during the process), and I met another of my childhood favorites from Little House on the Prairie. That went pretty quickly. Basically I told her we had been fans forever and that their dog, Josephine -- in tow complete with little puppy bed -- was adorable and she thanked us while the camera clicked.

It was adorable to see Melissa and Timothy together. When Josephine wandered over to his table, Gilbert exclaimed, "Timmy!!" And then Busfield called her over to look at an unusual movie poster a fan had brought for him to sign. 

Meeting him went almost perfectly. "Hi, I'm Tim!" he said brightly when I introduced myself and Sestra. The fan before me picked out a photo from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip to be signed, but admitted he didn't know the show. So I said I did and I loved it. "Well, ya know, Sorkin," Busfield said. Then I asked him about his role in Field of Dreams, which starts as the bad guy and then becomes someone the audience laughs with at the end. He loved the question and even said as much. "I knew there was a turn, so I could work with it. I could be as big a dick as I wanted," he laughed, adding that he had another part locked up and turned it down to be in the movie. This would have been the perfect point for Sestra to chime in with her question about Tim's character walking right through the scene as one of the pitchers threw to home plate, but she couldn't hear what we'd been talking about at all. So we'll save that particular one for another con.

Smart man he is, Busfield recognized that our Blockbuster shirts were of The X-Files nature. And he started telling us a story about running into David Duchovny while he was with thirtysomething co-star Ken Olin at an audition. He tried to psych Duchovny out as the doors closed by calling the people he'd be meeting with assholes. At that moment, we were interrupted by a Soprano. And if there's one thing any self-respecting fan at Chiller in New Jersey knows, it's best not to interrupt someone from that show. It's all right, we were mostly done.

The last person I wanted to meet was Danielle Brisebois, who most might know from Archie Bunker's Place. But she's even better known to me as singer/keyboardist/percussionist for The New Radicals', who released one of my all-time favorite records -- Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too -- in 1998. I told her how much I loved it and that it was such a complete effort from the first song to the last. She thanked me profusely and belted out the first line on the album, "Make my nipples hard, let's go!" to liven up our photo op. I was so tickled that it gave me an incredible case of the giggles. She helped me deal with the "interrogation lighting" by offering to change sides.

That capped a fun night of huggy-kissy-hang-on-to-the-celeb-while-we-check-the-photo evening at Chiller. Our final image was of Busfield and Scott renewing ties near the former's table. No Soprano in sight.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Two halves of the same NYCC whole

Our New York Comic Con experience this year was basically broken into two parts -- the first half with the dynamic Christopher Eccleston and the second half with the cast of Angel, minus the title character.

We got off to a quick start with Eccleston's panel first thing on Thursday. Both Sestra and I had just finished watching the dazzling series, The Leftovers, and were particularly eager to see him because of it. Oh, and Christopher is "my" Doctor. During the panel, he talked at length about both in enlightening and humorous fashion.

Eccleston wasn't a fan of Doctor Who growing up, but he said he was fascinated by the regeneration episodes, in which The Doctor transforms into another body ... and actor. By the time the revival came around, the lead character had become something of a caricature, and it was Christopher's performance in one season that restored the show's luster. "I didn't feel any pressure, but clearly there was," said Eccleston, who praised successor David Tennant for understanding the enormity of the endeavor.

The Ninth Doctor tended to don a lot of what Christopher himself wears, with a leather jacket. He found himself drawn to the scripts penned by Steven Moffat ("The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances") as well as "Father's Day," which really resonated with Eccleston because his father, who was suffering from dementia, was diagnosed with cancer. And contrary to later rumors, he would have loved to have continued exploring the character. "I left because my relationship with the show runner and producer (Russell T. Davies) broke down," he said. "I loved playing the character and the world. ... Some professional pride was sacrificed not having a second season."

Eccleston said the perception that he was difficult all but blacklisted him after that. It was playing the title characters in Lennon Naked (on film) and Macbeth (on stage for 119 performances) that helped him regain his confidence. And then he signed on to the dynamic HBO project The Leftovers. 

For the uninitiated -- and I couldn't recommend getting initiated any more highly -- Christopher played Reverend Matt Jamison in the 28-episode series about the disappearance of 2 percent of the world's population. (I can be heard shouting how "amaaaazing" it is on the full panel link above.) The show reinvented itself from season and season and was hard to get a handle of from episode to episode. It was designed to keep viewers off balance and Matt was in the middle of all of it -- sometimes questioning his faith and other times holding on to it with everything he had.

Even though considered himself an atheist coming into the role, the reverend has stayed with him, and on occasion, made him rethink his beliefs. "There's so much an acting career can give you if you let it," Eccleston said. "Matt will always be a part of me."

Immediately after the panel ended, we headed off for our photo op with Christopher -- even though we were told it was the line for Christopher Eccle-stine and then for Christopher Eccle-steen. The mock annoyance turned to real glee, though, when we got into the booth. When he saw me and Sestra in our shirts, he yelled "Sibling Cinema" with proper British actor projection. I wish I could get a gif from my brain of that.

Later, we had a couple more photo ops with Billy Dee Williams and Laraine Newman, one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live. Williams' line was well stocked, but I was kind of dismayed that Newman's line was so short while rows and rows of people were queuing up for Paul Rudd beside it. We started calling everyone "punks" for forsaking one of the founding members of the landmark show in favor of Ant-Man. Billy Dee was just cool as a cucumber, he does really emulate Lando Calrissian. And Laraine was soft-spoken and sweet, declaring that "sisters are the best" during our shoot.

After that, we noticed the line for Paul Reubens (aka Pee-Wee Herman) was minimal, so we jumped onto it. I put our newly acquired Newman photo down, and Reubens said, "Oh, you met Laraine. I went to art school with her." They were both at Cal Arts before Newman joined the Groundlings. Sestra talked with him a bit about Batman Returns and I admitted my favorites of his were Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, of course, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. 

Our last event the first day was "A Night with M. Night Shyamalan," which we won a lottery for -- along with it seems like everyone else who applied for it. Promoting his upcoming Apple TV show, Servant, Shyamalan told us about how his fascination with movies started with every PG and PG-13 movie he could see in every genre since in his Indian household he wasn't allowed to see films rated R.

We saw a couple trailers for Servant, the story of which interested M. Night because he felt the tone can scare you one minute and have you laughing the next. The cast -- including Lauren Ambrose, Toby Kebell, Rupert Grint and Nell Tiger Free talked about how every single word or action in the series is by design. Apparently "pass the fork" doesn't mean pass the fork ever. Ambrose said she thrives on all the subtext.

After some fun photo ops with NBC shows Superstore, The Office and The Good Place, Day 2 started in earnest with a Billy Dee Williams panel. He was thrilled to be back in New York, calling Central Park West was his playground as a kid and his first dish is the Russian Tea Room's chicken kiev. He "cried his way into show business" and made his Broadway debut at age 6 in Kurt Weill's The Firebrand of Florence and attended the School of Music and Arts as well as the National Academy of Design for Fine Arts.

We saw an amazing amalgamation of Williams' career roles -- from his iconic Colt 45 commercials to Brian's Song and Mahogany to that guy Lando in The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and soon The Rise of Skywalker. The latter has stuck with him, and not just because the fans want it that way. Billy Dee helped develop the character, right down to the cape and his last name. So it wasn't so difficult to slip back into the role for writer/director J.J. Abrams. "Lando's never left me," he said. "Lando's been in my life for 40 years. He's a relatively charming guy, charm is relatively easy for me. ... I'm just kidding. I love doing Lando."

What we loved about this panel was that Williams didn't overly cater to the crowd. He answered his questions truthfully. What did he think of Donald Glover in Solo? "When I think of Lando, I don't think of anyone else being Lando," Billy Dee said. "He's a brilliant young man." A follow-up question pondered a buddy movie with the two of them. Nope, Williams not interested in that physical activity at age 82.

Sestra indulged me while I got on Eccleston's autograph line. When I made it to the front, I couldn't decide between the photos he had at his table. I asked, "Which one does Christopher like the most?" He pointed out a lovely posed Doctor Who shot. I responded, "What about for The Leftovers?" "All of them!" he exclaimed. When it was my turn, I told him I'd been a fan since the films Shallow Grave, Jude and Elizabeth and he was my favorite Doctor, but The Leftovers was exceptional. He's rightfully so proud of it and was particularly impressed by Mark's theory that the series is really the reverend's story at heart. We chatted about the stellar cast and crew, and he remarked he'd be visiting Ann Dowd soon and had just seen Watchmen show creator Damon Lindelof.

Our big lottery win this year was for a Robot Chicken cast signing. Only problem was it was at the Hammerstein Ballroom a short time after our Angel cast photo op. We decide to chance it and the most friendly attendant at the photo lines gave us a little bump so we could get in sooner (although it should be noted we should have been at the front of the queue as part of Group 1 and not mashed in with Groups 2 and 3). Despite that rushing around, our Angel meetup photo came out fantastically and we made it in time for the signing as well.

Oh, I wish I had known we could bring our own item to be autographed at the cast signing (you usually can't perform such an egregious act). So I had left my X-Files yearbook at home, even though Seth Green was in the second episode of the series, "Deep Throat." I still got to talk with him about it, though, and he signed my Robot Chicken card with his character's name, Emil (although he deemed the spelling of it to be dumb). I admitted I'd been a fan of Seth's since seeing Radio Days in the theater back in 1987. He admired our "Grr arghhh" Buffy the Vampire Slayer shirts and quite a lively discussion sprung up between Sestra, Green, Donald Faison and Breckin Meyer -- the latter of whom got a little racy while chatting with one of the youngsters in attendance at the panel before the signing. Breckin and Sestra's point was valid, the onus was on the parents who brought their kid to a Robot Chicken discussion in the first place.

We saw part of the new Netflix series Daybreak with Matthew Broderick and Austin Crute -- which played a lot off Ferris Bueller's Day Off sensibilities in an apocalyptic scenario -- before heading to a Batman 30th anniversary discussion. Michael Uslan, the professor of the first accredited course on comic books resurrected the franchise after -- much like Doctor Who -- it had become a caricature of itself. He talked about the controversy the casting of Michael Keaton caused and how that all went away when people loved the 1989 film.

Our last event of the long day was the Upright Citizens Brigade's "George Lucas Talk Show," which killed the audience -- almost literally, but definitely figuratively -- with the best joke of the hour. They opened a bottle of Billy Dee Williams' signature cologne Undeniable from the '90s, and the fumes permeated the room for the rest of the show. We were all given Bingo cards upon arrival, and when the improvisations covered one of the topics on them, attendees checked them off and yelled out "Bingo" in the middle of whatever was going on. We didn't win, but definitely a fun way to cap Day 2.

Day 3 began with an Angel panel at the Hammerstein Ballroom on the 20th anniversary of the show's premiere and it was amazing to see Amy Acker, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof, James Marsters and J. August Richards (with moderator Clare Kramer) enjoying the reunion as much as we were. As Richards put it, "Art imitates life and life imitates art. We've been friends all these years." They laughed about running into one of the volunteers backstage at the con and that person said, "I don't know who you are, but why do you like each other so much?"

Marsters recalled Spike was brought on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which he referred to as "that other show") to be Drusilla's boy toy for five episodes and was supposed to be Angelus' first victim before eventually becoming a mainstay on both programs. Denisof was cast as watcher Wesley Wyndham-Price for only two eps and then transformed into a hero on Angel. "You try to take a small step, and all those small steps added up to an incredible journey," Alexis said. "If each small step works, you get to take the next one."

The cast agreed the key to the show's success was creator Joss Whedon's vision of vampires. "Joss doesn't believe vampires are cool," Marsters said. "He thinks vampires are laughable." By playing them in a completely different manner from how they previously had been portrayed, Whedon struck gold -- twice. And he did so in unconventional manner, Acker and Denisof talked about how they workshopped their characters at Joss' house and how unusual that was for a television series. That was done again with Richards on a three-person Shakespearean saga penned by Whedon.

Carpenter admitted she had been galvanized by fans coming up and sharing stories about how Cordelia has inspired them. Not that everything always ran smoothly, there was the time they were filming in Los Angeles in the wee hours of the morning and some unhappy resident poured urine down on them. So literal "wee." And Acker rued that her character Fred "didn't get the full experience" with either of her love interests on the show -- Richards' Gunn or Denisof's Wesley.

With Sestra back at the Javits Center (unexpectingly meeting Michael Biehn), I went back at the Hammerstein for the For All Mankind panel and caught some of the Devs' discussion. The mini-series revolves on a computer engineer (Sonoya Mizuno) who runs across a secret project. Creator Alex Garland developed a definite beginning, middle and end for the story with cast and crew he's worked with for years, and he hopes to write and direct a different story with the same people in the future like a sort of television repertory company.

For All Mankind is another Apple series about an alternate universe for the space program. What if the Russian beat the United States to the moon? Creators Ronald Moore, Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert that NASA would have gone further and done more as a result -- by losing the moon, we end up winning. The fictional characters developed for the series intermingle with names we known from our actual history (like Neil Armstrong, Deke Slayton and Wernher von Braun).

The cast at the event were comprised of those created for the show -- Joel Kinnaman (Ed Baldwin), Shantel VanSenten (Karen Baldwin), Michael Dorman (Gordo Stevens), Sarah Jones (Tracy Stevens) and Wrenn Schmidt (Margo Madison). And they were high on how precise the Mission Control and other elements had been recreated to really put them in the frame of mind of the era as well as the multifaceted writing of the characters. "Change is the theme of our show," VanSenten said. Judging by the trailer, which implements female astronauts a lot sooner than NASA did, and the assistance of former flight director Gerry Griffin, I can believe it.

I was back at the Javits Center for a photo op with Alexis Denisof and the announcement pronunciations hadn't gotten any better. He was referred to as "Alexi Denisoff," and I was wondering whether we were meeting up with a Russian hockey forward instead of the Buffy/Angel actor. Then again, I can't put that down much when what I managed to say in my five seconds with him was, "Hi, I'm Paige. I'm so nice to meet you." Well, at least he got a nice chuckle out of it.

The Angel love continued on Day 4 with a short and sweet Syfy Wire panel that gave all of us the feels. This one was more laidback than the official discussion the day before with the cast proposing a reboot Three's Company style, but with vampires. Wesley, Gunn and Fred would be the main characters with Spike as Mr. Furley. Carpenter called for a Denisof closeup to show off his hotness, and when it happened, Alexis responded by flipping the bird. Marsters admitted he was a Star Trek fanboy in 1974, dressing in full Spock regalia with pointed ears ... and a blond Afro because he hadn't learned to control at the time. The dearly departed Andy Hallett (Lorne) was mentioned with love and reverence as well.

And there was a quick game of snap judgment. David Boreanaz (Angel) got a few mentions here on categories like "Most likely to get caught napping." Richards and Marsters fessed up to doing that as well and Denisof added that "sleeping on set is a good thing. If you can sleep on set, do it." Who was most like their character. Again David got some votes. Charisma said Alexis, though, because he's also brainy.

There was more laughter to be had at "William Shakespeare's Get Thee Back to the Future," which featured selections from a full audio book of exactly what it sounds like -- Back to the Future done with a Shakespeare bent. Leads Sean Patrick Hopkins (Marty), Lorraine (Patricia Santomasso) and Doc Brown (Sean Kenin) told humorous stories about the production with author Ian Doescher between the vignettes.

Then we decided to call an audible. Rather than go to the Nancy Drew screening and panel, we decided to do a couple more Angel photo ops. (This proved to be a wise situation because I didn't like the rebooted show when it aired -- save the Pamela Sue Martin cameo in the pilot.) We decided to take pictures with Acker and Marsters before meeting Denisof. Amy was completely sweet and we got some extra time with James when the photographer needed to take our shot twice. We called him Captain John after he didn't mention Torchwood during the panel as the character he gets recognized for second-most and he told us that the upcoming audio drama with Captain John would be "even naughtier" than the televised show. He was surprised and appreciative we attended both the Angel panels at the con.

And we capped our day (again) with Denisof. It was kind of sad that we were requested not to take photos of us talking to him or when he was signing our items, but I think he made up for that by asking his handler to let the people coming up to him be separate from the rest of the line so he could talk with us personally. Hashtag #alonetimewithAlexis.

I didn't lose my words in my mouth this time. I wanted to (and did) bring up the production of Rope he did with John Barrowman and Anthony Head, bemoaning that it doesn't seem to be available on YouTube ... or anywhere else. Alexis laughed that he's glad that's the case since the play started with Barrowman and Denisof totally naked. Well, I'm still not going to stop hunting for it and not because of the nudity. Well, not just because of the nudity.

So that wrapped up one of our busier Comic Cons. A lot of running around and a lot of fun. And I haven't stopped watching Angel since. I wonder what series I'll be rewatching next year at this time.