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December 22, 1997 - #14

Hello. My name is The Real A and I'm a Diet Coke-aholic (Hi, Real A). When did it all begin? When did I first realize I had a problem? Oh, there were signs all right. The look of horror on people's faces when I would pop a Diet Coke first thing in the morning (of course, who were they to have such looks on their faces when they were on their third cup of coffee, say I)? The subtle arm gesture of always reaching for the can, even if one wasn't there. The Diet Coke keychain. Oh, I was hooked, there was no question about it. Hooked and hooked bad.

How do you know when you've crossed the line from casual Diet Coke drinker to user? When you open your refrigerator and there is nothing in there but Diet Coke. I've tried to drink other stuff, it's not as if I haven't tried to drink other stuff. Diet Snapple. I've tried Diet Snapple (The Real A will simply not waste calories on non-Diet drinks, even though The Real A is trim and svelte). But Diet Snapple is like drinking air. It lacks kick. Despite it's name, there is simply no snap in the Snapple. Now, Diet Coke has snap. It has kick. Sure, there are other diet drinks. I'll occasionally have a Diet Vernors (a perverse but not unpleasurable drink) or a Diet Dr. Pepper, but they are merely diversions, detours on the Diet Coke highway.

I have tried to cut back, and yes, I have cut back. I can now get through the day on four Diet Cokes. Gone are the days when I was doing eight or nine. But less than four? Unthinkable. Of course the good news is that I have no other addictions. Don't drink coffee. Don't do drugs. Don't drink alcohol. I'm clean. Uh oh. I just reached for my Diet Coke and It isn't there!I I'll be right back.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Much better. The only problem when you drink this many Diet Cokes is that you have to go to the bathroom every ten minutes. That's one of the worst side effects. In fact, I'll be right back.

There. Much better. Well, here we are, in the thick of the Christmas season. Every year I vow to do all my Christmas shopping in June, so I can avoid the Christmas madness. I, of course, have yet to purchase one gift. I, of course, will be purchasing all my gifts on December 24th, just like I do every year.

Oh, well. Some things never change. Like the squirrels that are racing about on my roof. Every morning. Racing about like they had some purpose. But so far as I can tell, the only purpose a squirrel has is to race about. Apparently this is fun for the squirrel. But I can empathize, as that's exactly what I'll be doing come December 24th. Racing about madly, doing all my gift buying, and then having my annual Christmas Eve do. You know what the most annoying things about those squirrels are? As soon as they've awakened me, and they are absolutely sure there is no chance of my falling back asleep, they stop. They are very prescient, these squirrels are. They remind me of The Scarlet Pimpernel: Inane, pointless, and still running But enough about me.

Rumors Redux Ad Nauseum

Both Side Show and Triumph of Love have posted closing notices. Of course, said notices could come down if business picks up. Which is why said notices were posted. Each show will probably eke out a couple of more weeks, but both will probably close shortly thereafter. I say "probably" because I am beyond trying to predict the wacky ways of theatrical producers.

A couple of weeks ago, Rosie gave away CDs and tickets to Side Show (her current flavor of the month). But her show is beginning to get flack for her huckstering of her favorites (as in last season's Titanic). Said flack resulted in her giving away tickets to Triumph of Love last week (a show which she admitted she hasn't seen). In either case, it didn't seem to help.

Both shows have taken to having their stars give curtain speeches to the audience, begging them to tell their friends and get the word out. Has Broadway seemed to have lost any sense of decorum? You decide. While you're deciding, I'm just gonna' have a Diet Coke and use the bathroom.

Ellen Foster

No, this is not the name of a new musical comedy star, it is the name of the television movie that aired last Sunday night. Normally I wouldn't talk about television movies as they don't interest me all that much, but this particular television movie was based on one of my favorite books of recent years (long before Oprah got to it). The book, by the wonderful Kaye Gibbons, is a terrific first novel, beautifully and movingly written, but also with a wonderfully mordant sense of humor. Now, I don't know about you, but I love a mordant sense of humor. In fact, I love a mordant anything. Mordant. That word just says something, doesn't it? I don't know what the hell it means, really, but it "sounds" good and I would not hesitate to use it in any context. I just finished drinking my mordant Diet Coke. I am feeling very mordant this morning. Meaningless, sure. But, I like the way it sounds, so there you are, said the Real A mordantly. What was I talking about? Oh, yes, Ellen Foster, the television movie. Well, they took this wonderful book and pretty much wrecked it. Certainly the mordant sense of humor was totally lacking. It was too gooey, and sweet, and treacly. The young girl who played the title role, while I'm sure a fine actress, was either encouraged or allowed to cry in almost every scene. This alone would mean the adapters had no clue what the book was about.

The heroine of the book is plucky and strong and does not cry at the drop of a hat. And just where did that one come from? The drop of a hat. I suppose it means that you would do something very quickly, but then why not just say that? Why drag a hat into it? I mean, what was the scenario? Did some guy drop his hat, and then someone did something immediately, and then the hat dropper said my God you did that at the drop of a hat? And then he said, wait! that would make a great saying. I just don't get it, but what else is new? It's all too mordant.

What was I talking about? Oh, yes, Ellen Foster, the lousy TV movie, but brilliant book. They totally ruined the revelation of why her last name is what it is. It brought me to tears in the book, whereas in the tv movie it made me throw my shoe at the television. It's not as if they were dealing with an epic book that they had to telescope into a two-hour time slot. It's a very short novel, and all they had to do was be true to it, something that apparently was beyond the writers of the teleplay. For an example of a wonderful adaptation of a book (in fact, The Real A's favorite book of all time) watch the movie of To Kill A Mockingbird. Beautifully done, it manages to capture the spirit and feel of the book in a two-hour movie. Of course, that adaptation was done by a wonderful writer, Mr. Horton Foote. However, for the most perfect adaptation of a book ever, read and then watch Rosemary's Baby. The film IS the book. Ninety percent of the dialogue is taken directly from the book. And little touches that you would naturally attribute to the director (Roman Polanski), the costumer and the set designer, are also right from the book. Ira Levin, the author of the novel, has said that Polanski (who's first American film it was) didn't know he could change anything; he thought it was a requirement that he be absolutely faithful to the book. And, of course, that's as it should be. Wow, that was a diatribe! And this is a Diet Coke. (sound of drinking here.)

The Real A Discovers eBay

Hello. My name is The Real A and I'm a collect-aholic (Hello, Real A). I love to collect. Movie posters, CDs, laserdiscs, first editions (my true passion), sheet music, things I used to have when I was a child, anything and everything. There is simply no stopping me. I get worse and worse.

So, what I did not need was to discover the on-line auction site called eBay. More addicting than chat rooms (yes, even The Hot Tub room pales in comparison to eBay). At this site, there are daily auctions for books, toys, magazines, posters, art, you name it, there's an auction. They will auction anything at the drop of a hat. In fact, they will auction the hat. So, now every night when I get home, I go visit eBay and bid on totally useless things. Usually there are bargains to be found, and I have won some totally useless things at really good prices! Like a cap pistol from the 50s TV program Tightrope, which starred Michael "Touch" Connors (of Mannix fame). Did I need this cap pistol? Sure, like I need a hernia. But the thrill of winning is always exhilarating. I also won a 1950 Viewmaster (with reels). What I will do with a 1950 Viewmaster (with reels) is another story. I also won a set of Pez machines, which are apparently hard to find (these are five machines with M-G-M cartoon heads). I don't really collect Pez machines (I'm amused by them, but I don't have to have them), but, there they were, I bid on them, and I won. You'd be surprised how many people bid on Pez machines. There is a whole Pez machine subculture, which is way more than I need to know. Can you imagine being a Pez-aholic? I can't, and yet here I am with five hard to find Pez machines. Perhaps I'll auction them. I can't tell you what else I've won yet, as the other things I've bid on have not closed yet. But I can assure you that they are just as stupid and useless as the items that I have won. If you'd like to sample eBay, you may go directly to their website (after finishing this column, of course). Please keep me apprised if you win anything. And never bid on anything I'm bidding on. Their URL is: www.ebay.com.

As Good As It Gets

Oh, boy. Oh, joy. Finally, The Real A gets to write positively about something. Just got back from seeing James Brooks' new movie As Good As It Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Thank the Lord, an adult film. With real characters. Terrific dialogue. Simply, but effectively directed. A performance by Nicholson that reminds you of what real movie stars are like. Helen Hunt is just wonderful. Even Greg Kinnear is good. And the dog gives one of the best performances of the year. It's so nice to see a movie that doesn't grandstand, doesn't go for the easy buttons, isn't loud or bombastic, but that's just filled with wonderful small moments and good, well-deserved laughs. Minor quibble (I know you expect this of me): It's a little long at two hours and ten minutes. I'll say no more other than see it.

Men In War

Apparently there will be a brief respite (better than a non-brief respite, one supposes), a brief truce as it were, if one is to believe the e-mails I received. Here they are.

Date: Sun, 21 Dec 1997 18:06:56
To: The Real A (real@sondheim.com)
From: Stephen Sondheim (ssondheim@sondheim.com)

Dear Fabulous Real A:

Even though I am a well known curmudgeon, I'm going to take a breather from this damnable war. It is Christmas after all, and even though to me, Christmas is like a root canal, I'll let sleeping dogs lie. But once the holiday season is over, there'll be no sleeping dogs. I hope you and your readers will have a swell Christmas. I've written this little ditty for you:

Not a sleigh goes by,
Not a single sleigh...
Santa passes right over my house,
He does not come to stay...

As the sleigh goes by,
I keep thinking why does it pass?
I've been good...Yes, I know Santa's busy,
But I sit here and think, well, where is he?
Yes, somehow he missed me,
So please tell me why Santa's mean and he
Dissed me...

And oh,
Not a sleigh goes by.
Not a blessed sleigh...
And I sit here alone in my room
As it's flying away...

And I have to say,
That's the reason why...
I hate Santa and Christmas and Rudolph and
And snowballs and presents and joy!
As the sleigh goes by!
As the sleigh goes by!
As the sleigh goes by!

As you know, that is just a song. It has no meaning to my life whatsoever. I use a rhyming dictionary you know. It's craft, nothing personal, so don't read more into it than that.

Happy Christmas to all,
And to all a good night.
Your close personal friend

If I didn't know better, I'd say Steve was cynical about Christmas. Santa may not have stopped at his house, but he has a present waiting from The Real A, so we know his Christmas will be Merry. And what about those sleeping dogs? Why shouldn't a sleeping dog lie? What should he do, sleep standing up? Anyway, here's Lord Webber's e-mail:

Date: Sun, 21 Dec 1997 23:45:19
To: The Real A (real@sondheim.com)
From: Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber (lord@reallyuseful.com)

My adorable Real A:

I sit before my hearth, with a lovely warm English fire, eating a Christmas pudding (it's my fifth tonight - Christmas pudding is to me what Diet Coke is to you). I have decided to take a brief respite from the war (by the way, "brief respite" is my line and Mr. Sondheim has copied it). But the next installment of my oratorio Andrew Lloyd Webber's How I Won The War with lyrics by the pungent Leslie Bricusse (Talk To The Animals) will be worth the wait. I can say no more at this time, as I have a mouthful of Christmas pudding. I have sent off a present for you. It's a personally autographed picture of me eating Christmas pudding. I know you will treasure this until the day you perish. In any case, I must poke the fire, lest it go out. A Lord must have his fire. It must never go out. It must be poked. And since I'm the Lord, I am the pokee. Have a beautiful holiday, and the same to your readers, who I'm sure will be playing all their favorite Lloyd Webber hits for the Christmas season.

Warmest regards and pudding,
Lord Andrew

So, now we know. Lord Andrew is a pokee. Well, I for one look forward to this temporary truce being over. It is no fun whatsoever and is not to be encouraged.

Letters... We Get Letters...

Oops. We got no letters. That's write, no letters to answer. I don't want to say you people have been slacking off, but you people have been slacking off. The only e-mail The Real A got this week were answers to the trivia question. Now, you know The Real A gets sad when you don't write and want to know things. I love your questions. Keep them coming and keep The Real A happy and contented. Because, as you know, The Real A can turn vicious at the drop of a hat.

Keep those cards and letters coming...

Trivia and Useless Knowledge Department

I warned you all that the question was somewhat of a trick question. You should have known The Real A was going in an unexpected direction. Yes, you all guessed an answer that could be correct IF it's what I had been thinking of, which it wasn't. But I'll give you all points for The Golden Apple, music by Jerome Moross (a wonderful film composer, too, who will forever be remembered for his brilliant score for The Big Country), Lyrics by John Latouche, direction by Norman Lloyd. But you don't think The Real A would ask a question that Ken Mandelbaum had just talked about in his review of The Golden Apple. Nooooooo. Not this A.

Only Jon, who apparently is right on The Real A's warped wavelength (he also got the Flora Roberts answer) knew the answer that I was seeking. And that answer was not for a musical theater piece at all, it was for a musical film. Completely sung. Every line. The film: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The composer: Michel Legrand. Lyrics (or libretto) by Jacques Demy, and direction by Messr. Demy. A wonderful, wonderful, bittersweet romantic musical. If you haven't seen it, do so posthaste. You'll see how "through-sung" can really work, when it's done as artistically as Umbrellas is.

This weeks question is: In what position does my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim do most of his writing?

Send all guesses to me at real@sondheim.com or use the form below...

Send The Real A Some Email:



Trivia answers, questions, comments...

Well, no one seemed to care one way or the other whether I should do a column next week, so of course I will do one. I have to really. There's so much to talk about. What we're all doing for New Year's Eve. And I know you're all dying to know how I will spend mine, and I will share that information with you at the drop of a hat. Also, I'll have my "best of the year" lists all ready for your perusal. So, I leave you with the Merriest of Merry Christmas wishes. Have a wonderfully mordant holiday (the Real A raises his Diet Coke in a toast).

Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...

Yours, yours, yours, yours, yours.

The Real A

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