Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Commemorating the 45th Anniversary of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire

Filed under: GLBT Social Issues and Civil Rights — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 02:21

Before same-sex couples could marry, before the AIDS epidemic devastated the gay community, and before American society began to change its perception of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, a devastating act of violence was committed against the LGBT community in New Orleans, LA that lead to the deaths of 32 people. On Gay Pride Weekend, Sunday, June 24th, 1973, an arsonist set fire to the Up Stairs Lounge, a small gay bar in the French Quarter that served as not only a local watering hole for gay men, but a sanctuary where they could be themselves in a world that did nothing but denounce them.

The Upstairs Lounge, was, at the time, one of New Orleans’ only social outlets for its LGBT residents. And on the night of the fire, it was packed with gay men who were members of the New Orleans Chapter of the Metropolitan Community Church, who were holding a “Beer Bust” event to raise money for a local children’s hospital. One patron named Roger Dale Nunez, who was known as a trouble maker, started a fight with the bar’s main bartender and manager, Buddy Rasmussen. After Buddy forcefully ejected Nunez from the bar, he threatened revenge by fire, a threat heard by several survivors of the tragedy. Around 20 minutes later, a patron was directed by Buddy to respond to an incessant ringing of the doorbell downstairs. Once the door opened, a backdraft from the engulfed staircase leading up to the lounge shot a massive flame through the bar, instantly setting it ablaze.

31 men and 1 woman (who was at the bar with her two gay sons, who also lost their lives) horrifically burned to their deaths trying to escape from the bar, which had an endless number of draperies, wooden furniture, and other materials that served as accelerants which made that attempt nearly impossible. Although questioned by police and marked as the lead suspect, due to a lack of evidence, Nunez was never formally charged with the crime and would commit suicide shortly thereafter. The local reaction from the police, fire department, and community were deemed despicable to many. “Let the faggots burn” one fireman was heard saying after realizing the fire ladders weren’t long enough to reach the windows to save victims. The local Catholic Archdiocese refused to acknowledge those who perished. Local leaders did everything they could to sweep the incident under the rug as to not harm New Orleans’ precious tourism industry. And radio personalities mocked the incident, saying the dead should be buried in “fruit jars.”

But simultaneously, a community was waking up to their oppression. The violent act triggered many gay men and lesbians to come out and no longer hide their identities, despite the financial and personal consequences such an act could provide in 1973. Out of the ashes rose the New Orleans LGBT Community’s liberation movement, which rippled across the United States and beyond.

Below are some photographs from the Up Stairs Lounge during the tragedy and today. Please take a moment today to say a prayer for the 32 lives lost that horrific night. And remember, the fight for freedom and equality is one that was paved by the souls of many LGBT persons who came before you.



The side exterior of the site of the Upstairs Lounge today. Scars from the fire remain visible under the building’s painted surface.


Compare the first photo to this horrendous photo of the aftermath, which serves only for comparison. One victim, Reverend Bill Larson of the New Orleans parish of the Metropolitan Community Church, can be seen clinging to the middle of the second window in his failed attempt to flee. Larson had just performed a service for the bar’s patrons a few hours before the fire (being gay, the men were otherwise shunned from any of New Orleans’ churches and had to hold their worship services at the Upstairs Lounge).


A shot of the front exterior of the site of the Upstairs Lounge today. Scars from the fire remain visible under the building’s painted surface


The entrance door to the Upstairs Lounge today. Patrons would ring a doorbell for access, which would be granted by the bartender upstairs. On the night of the fire, the arsonist lit the wooden stairs of the stairwell on fire with an accelerant and rang the doorbell incessantly. Thinking it was a taxi driver picking up a patron, the door was opened. The resulting oxygen drift that entered the bar caused an explosion which quickly engulfed the entire bar.


The Upstairs Lounge memorial plaque, which is set in the sidewalk directly in-front of the entrance to what once was the Upstairs Lounge. The names of the victims along with three unidentified males are etched into the plaque.

A great book about the tragedy is Let The Faggots Burn (2011) by Johnny Townsend. The title comes from a fireman who made that shocking quote (above) when a horrified onlooker realized their ladders weren’t long enough to reach the bars’ windows and that they weren’t going to be able bring any of the victims to safety.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Ranking the 2018 Tony Nominated Musicals

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 02:12

With the 2018 Tony Awards just around the corner (the show airs next Sunday on CBS), it’s time to rank the nominees for the coveted prize for Best Musical:

#4: SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical

How exactly this musical made it as a nominee is a bit perplexing. The show itself isn’t very good. The book is overall thin; and the production is largely completely stripped of the veiled mature humor that makes the cartoon so incredibly loved by adults. What’s left is a mess of a score, which is reflected by the show’s myriad of composers and lyricists, embedded in what amounts to a tedious and unenjoyable theatrical experience. What makes this nomination even more puzzling is the fact that the show has really struggled at the box office, dipping as low as almost 50% capacity in its cavernous home at the Palace Theatre during multiple weeks of its run. The performances are quite good, especially Ethan Slater, who is rightly nominated for the Tony for his portrayal of the title character. But overall, the show is a sluggish and boring journey that is devoid of so many of the elements that makes its source material so incredibly fun and good. I’ll be scratching my head long and hard to determine what appeal this show has to critics (it received mostly positive reviews) and the nominating committee for the Tonys.

#3: Frozen

Like it not (mostly not), Disney has had a stranglehold on Broadway for quite some time now. And while some of their shows have truly broken ground in musical theater (the innovative puppetry in The Lion King, for example) and have been translated exquisitely from screen to stage (Beauty and the Beast, AIDA), others have been downright horrendous (Aladdin). Frozen falls somewhere in the middle. The production itself is at times breath-taking. It is laden with special effects and lighting designs that weave a wonderful and magical tapestry that bedazzle the audience with delight. And the lead (Cassie Levy as Elsa) is just as powerful in her role here as she was as Molly in GHOST. The first act is also strong and well developed. But as the show enters its second phase, it begins to turn to slush. The book unravels into a repetitious mess, with a handful of numbers added in simply as filler and fluff. Even still, unlike SpongeBobFrozen remains quite fun. And the costumes (I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Sven every time he was on stage), lighting, and special effects make it a respectable, albeit undeserving, nominee.

#2: The Band’s Visit

The Band’s Visit is more than likely the frontrunner for the Tony Award for Best Musical this year. It is incredibly unique, employing the whole “musicians as performing actors on the stage” made famous by Tony-winner Once. Based off a film of the same title, The Band’s Visit tells the true story of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra’s accidental stop in the wrong town and the ensuing connection the band members make with the town’s residents. The music is rich and unmistakably Arabic.  The main actors, who give downright incredible performances, are light in their non-singing musicianship, surrounded by lesser characters who make-up the show’s orchestra. Tony Shalhoub will undoubtedly take home the Tony for his Broadway debut (and rightly so) while Katrina Lenk is the favorite for Best Actress in a Musical (again, deservedly so). The story is spectacularly moving; and the show leaves the audience with a rather heavy impact. Unfortunately, that impact isn’t quite what it could’ve been. In what I believe was a major misstep, the creative team followed the trend of some recent productions (The Visit, Boys in the Band, for example) and narrowed the show’s incredibly thick, engaging, and gripping plot to a one act wonder. Expanding the show over a traditional Act I and Act II with a standard intermission would’ve justified the complex character development that was really necessary to bridge the gaps that limit the production.

#1: Mean Girls

Not since my initial viewing of The Book of Mormon (okay, Something Rotten! too) have I left a theater with such a sore face from laughing like I recently  did with Mean Girls. This fantastic new musical is based on the film that starred Tina Fey, who here, alongside with her composer husband, makes her first (and monumentally successful) stab at bringing a stage musical to life. Although I never saw the movie on which it is based, Mean Girls is filled from start to finish with hilarious quips, bitterness, and bitchiness intertwined with a pop score that soars and showcases the chops of its stars, several of which are also Tony nominated. Ultimately, the laughter culminates in to plot elements that are strongly relevant today and that teach the moral that bullying behaviors and reliance on superficiality rarely result in happiness. And the ride leading up to that point is so delicious and enjoyable. Every character, with his or her every flaw, is lovable and fabulous. The sets, which rely on changing digital projections (originated with Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark) are joined by traditional staging elements to create what feels like am immersive atmosphere that punctuates each setting. Mean Girls is by far the most deserving of all the Tony nominees. It will more than likely lose to The Band’s Visit. But if somehow, it’s able to pull off the impossible, you’ll hear a cry of joy all the way from Florida for this top-notch show that is so irresistible that even the most hardened theater critic will leave with a laugh-scarred face and a warm heart from the show’s sweeter and more familiar elements that leave an enduring impression.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Top 5 Films of 2017

Filed under: Film and Entertainment — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 03:35

With the 2018 Annual Academy Awards right around the corner (and the invites to the official 2018 Blackwell-San Oscar Party sent last week), it’s time to rank the top 5 films of 2017! The list is topped by two absolutely extraordinary musicals and includes a sci-fi meets romance creature film, a heartbreakingly beautiful coming-of age movie about discovering one’s sexuality, and a very moving and well done tear-jerker about the true story of heroic firefighters who gave the ultimate sacrifice in their service to others. So, here are the Best Films of 2017, at least according to Dr. Blackwell!

#5: The Shape of Water

With the most Oscar nominations of any 2017 film, The Shape of Water spins a tale of an unlikely romantic relationship that forms between a mysterious creature that is being “studied” within a military-contracted research facility and a deaf woman who works at the facility as a janitor. While the story seems a little “out there,” it’s this precise mesh of oddity that creates an incredibly well paralleled storyline in which the love the woman develops for the creature and the way in which the creature is treated mirrors the timeframe of the American 1960’s during which the story is set. Being different, the creature is of course seen as an object rather than living being; and his cruel mistreatment is eerily similar to American society’s same disposable sentiments towards women, Blacks, and gay men. Three of the actors from the movie give absolutely phenomenal performances and bring the realism of their plight as being African American (Octavia Spencer), closeted homosexual (Richard Jenkins), and differently abled (Sally Hawkins) to the film’s incredibly dark, yet moving setting. The Shape of Water is nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including Best Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Directing (Guillermo del Toro), Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Sally Hawkins), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer), Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Richard Jenkins), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Original Screenplay (del Toro and Vanessa Taylor), Best Achievement in Cinematography (Dan Laustsen), Best Achievement in Costume Design (Luis Sequira), Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Nathan Robataille and Nelson Ferreira) and Mixing (Christian T. Coke, Glen Gauthier, and Brad Zoern), Best Achievement in Film Editing (Sidney Wolinski), and Best Achievement in Production Design (Paul D. Austerberry, Shane Vieau, and Jeffrey A. Melvin).

#4 Call Me By Your Name


With 4 Oscar nominations, Call Me By Your Name is set in Northern Italy in 1983. Seventeen year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father’s research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape. The two main leads, including Best Actor nominee Timothee Chalamet, who plays Elio, and Armie Hammer, who plays his eventual love interest (I emphasize eventual because the story takes its time developing), give incredibly inspiring performances and bring the nuances of their characters to life perfectly. The story is at times frustrating, at other times incredibly sweet, and ultimately, tragically sad, and brings the audience through a journey with the gorgeous landscape of Italy in the background. Director Luca Guadagnino expertly crafts a picture that conveys the almost tangible and emotional impact the two young men have on one another. But the story also accentuates the culture of the conservative 1980’s, during which homosexuality was anything but approved of and the toll that takes on a burgeoning love between the two main characters. Call Me By Your Name is nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Adapted Screenplay (James Ivory), Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Timothee Chalamet), and Best Original Score (Sufjan Stevens).

#3 Only The Brave

While failing to garner a single Oscar nomination, Only The Brave tells the remarkable true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters who risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire. While the cast is chuck-full of eye candy, the top notch acting genius of Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly leads the movie well beyond anything titular. In addition to the grit of the setting and ferocious physical tests the fireman are put to on a daily basis, the bonds they develop and the unique brotherhood they form is also given a chance to flourish thanks to the wise direction of Joseph Kosinski, who understood that the truly moving aspect of the film is the real life people it’s based on rather than the often romanticized action they take. With this in mind, much of the screen time is devoted to their individual stories, including one’s main quest for redemption. In the end, Only The Brave serves as a reminder that heroes everyday surround us that may make an incredible sacrifice to us, but often want nothing to show for it.

#2 Hello Again

From the mind of a well-established Broadway talent (musical extraordinaire Michael John LaChuisa) comes one of the best stage-to-screen adaptations I have ever seen. Hello Again is an outstanding musical motion picture based on LaChuisa’s off-Broadway play by the same name that focuses on the significance and insignificance men and women place on love, sex, and emotional attachments that develop from the interconnectedness of those three elements. The story unfolds across time during some historic and non-historic events and depicts an evolving exploration of love’s bittersweet embrace among characters that meet again throughout time, but in varying ways. The music is beautiful with an oftentimes simple yet multidimensional score; and the performers, most of whom come right from the stages of Broadway (including Audra McDonald, TR Knight, Martha Pimpton, Sam Underwood, Rumer Willis, and Tyler Blackburn, to name a few) lend their angelic voices and expert acting to weave an intricate and gorgeous story that transcends love, sex, and time. Hello Again was given a very brief theatrical run and was deemed ineligible for consideration for the 2018 Academy Awards.

#1 The Greatest Showman

While the Golden Globes rightfully showered 2017’s best picture with praise, nominating it for Best Picture and its leading star Hugh Jackman for Best Actor, the Oscars weren’t as kind, recognizing the film solely for its incredibly uplifting and empowering song, “This is Me,” which is nominated in the Best Song category. Despite its unbelievably horrific snubbing by the Academy, the movie is so amazingly good, it is downright difficult to convey that in words on a Blog. In a nutshell, the movie celebrates the birth of show business, and tells of a visionary by the name of PT Barnum, who rose from crippling poverty to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation. That, however, is only the superficial aspects of the film. Deeper down is a commanding message of acceptance, tolerance, and equality along with a poignant warning about the consequences of ego and the failure to recognize the importance and value of those who contribute to our lives and successes everyday, including those who are deemed “lesser thans” by a cruel and non-empathetic society. This alone would make for a great movie. But, place this story into a score and give it life through the lyrics of a soaring and gorgeous musical in the context of breath-taking visuals, costumes, makeup, cinematography, and expertly-mixed sound, and you’ve got the recipe for a film that will remain a classic long-past the time when whatever film wins Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards has been forgotten. The Greatest Showman is an absolutely phenomenal example of filmmaking. High Jackman, who worked tirelessly to bring the movie to life, director Michael Gracey who translates the material flawlessly to the screen, and composers and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul should all be lauded for their accomplishment. And the supporting cast of choreographers, sound mixers, and cinematographers deserve the highest praises as well. The Greatest Showman is nominated for one Academy Award for Best Original Song, “This is Me.”

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

After Peach Bowl Win, UCF Knights Finish Season at #6, Receive 4 #1 AP Votes

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 17:08

The UCF Knights (13-0; 8-0 AAC) defeated the Auburn Tigers on January 1st in the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl, 34-27, capping a perfect, undefeated season. In addition to the State of Florida and numerous major national publications declaring UCF as National Champions, four of the voters in the Associated Press selected the Knights as #1 in the final AP Top 25 season poll. Coverage and highlights from UCF’s victory against the Auburn Tigers in the Peach Bowl appear below, courtesy of the American Athletic Conference:

ATLANTA — McKenzie Milton threw two touchdown passes and ran for 116 yards with another touchdown, leading No. 10 UCF to a 34-27 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win over No. 7 Auburn on Monday that capped the Knights’ perfect season. UCF led 34-20 before having to stop a late Auburn comeback. Antwan Collier’s interception in the end zone with 24 seconds remaining clinched the win.

After Auburn took a 20-13 lead in the third quarter on a 4-yard run by Kerryon Johnson, Milton threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Otis Anderson to tie the game. Milton, under pressure, zipped an 8-yard scoring pass to Dredrick Snelson early in the fourth to give the Knights the lead. Chequan Burkett’s 45-yard interception return for a touchdown pushed the lead to 14 points.

UCF (13-0) won in its final game with coach Scott Frost, who stayed with the team through the bowl game after accepting an offer to become the new coach at Nebraska, his alma mater. The Knights thought they deserved a higher ranking after winning the American Athletic Conference and leading the nation in scoring, and they made a strong statement by beating Auburn (10-4). The Knights sacked Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham six times. Auburn had only one sack.

UCF led 13-6 at halftime despite behind held under 14 points at the break for the first time this season. With 6:58 remaining, Auburn’s Derrick Brown blocked a 25-yard field goal by Matthew Wright that would have given UCF a 10-point lead. Auburn couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity to tie the game. After the interception return by Burkett gave UCF a 34-20 lead, Auburn’s Eli Stove had a 7-yard scoring run with about four minutes remaining. By that time, many Auburn fans in the sellout crowd of 71,109 already had left the stadium.

With 2:18 remaining, UCF’s Matthew Wright missed a 38-yard field goal, giving the Tigers an opening for their last-gasp drive, which ended with the interception. The Knights, who lead the nation with 49.4 points per game, continued their streak of scoring more than 30 points in every game this season. The Knights passed every test, including on the line of scrimmage, as they proved they could match speed and strength with the Tigers. Milton overcame a slow start after completing only 3 of 17 passes for 30 yards in the first half. He completed 16 of 35 passes for 242 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Tigers couldn’t maintain momentum after opening the second half with two touchdowns for a 20-13 lead. Auburn insisted motivation would not be a problem after the crushing loss in the SEC championship game, but the Tigers had no answer when the Knights regained momentum. Stidham completed 28 of 43 passes for 331 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Knights will begin a new era with coach Josh Heupel, the former Missouri offensive coordinator.


Monday, December 4, 2017

UCF Knights Defeat Memphis to Win AAC Championship, Head to Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl, Finish Season Undefeated

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 00:27

The UCF Knights (12-0; 8-0 AAC) ended their season undefeated on Saturday and earned the title of 2017 American Athletic Conference Champions as they beat the Memphis Tigers (10-2; 6-2 AAC) in-front of a sold-out electrically-charged Spectrum Stadium crowd of close to 46,000! The Knights learned Sunday they would end the season ranked #12 in the CFP Rankings and will earn the coveted G5 slot in the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta on January 1st. As reported by the AAC:

UCF for the second straight week prevailed in a shootout on its home field. The 12th-ranked Knights captured the American Athletic Conference championship on Saturday as they defeated No. 16 Memphis 62-55 in double overtime. It is the Knights’ third American crown in the past five years. They won the East Division last Friday with a 49-42 win over USF. It was a wild game. The top two scoring teams in the country combined for 117 points and 1,479 yards. It was tied at 48 at the end of regulation.

UCF had the ball first in the second overtime and scored on a 1-yard run by Otis Anderson. Memphis got as far as the UCF 9 on their possession but Riley Ferguson’s pass on second-and-goal was intercepted by Tre Neal as the Knights (12-0, CFP No. 15) secured a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.The teams exchanged touchdowns in the first overtime. Memphis got the ball first and scored when Ferguson connected with Anthony Miller from 15 yards. UCF answered on a 2-yard run by Adrian Killins.

The Knights led 48-34 early in the fourth quarter but the Tigers (10-2, CFP No. 20) rallied to tie with 4:13 remaining on Ferguson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Miller. Memphis had a chance to win it in reghttps://youtu.be/8hGtlqWKDuQulation but Riley Patterson’s 51-yard field-goal attempt with 28 seconds remaining was wide left. McKenzie Milton threw for 494 yards (28 of 40) and five touchdowns as he was named the game’s most outstanding player.

Dredrick Snelson and Tre’Quan Smith caught two touchdown passes apiece.

Milton also rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown. Otis Anderson rushed for 117 yards on 16 carries.

Memphis’ Riley Ferguson was 30 of 42 for 471 yards and four touchdowns. Miller had 14 receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns. Darrell Hanederson (15 carries, 109 yards) and Patrick Taylor (17 carries, 108 yards) each ran for over 100 yards and had a touchdown.

The Chick Fil A Peach Bowl will be nationally-televised on ESPN with a New Years Day kickoff set for 12:30pm. Watch the AAC Championship Trophy Presentation, courtesy of the AAC, below:

Sunday, November 26, 2017

#12 UCF Knights Defeat Rival USF in Exhilarating Black Friday Matchup, Remain Undefeated, Crowned AAC East Division Champions, Host AAC Conference Championship Game on Saturday

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 01:40

The UCF Knights (11-0; 8-0 AAC) handed their rival USF Bulls (9-2; 6-2 AAC) a loss on Black Friday in front of a sold-out, loud, and raucous crowd of almost 48,000 fans at Spectrum Stadium. The contest, nationally televised on ABC, was one of dramatic highs and lows, with the lead exchanging several times. The game had major implications for both teams’ seasons–the winner would go on to host the AAC Conference Championship game; that game’s victor will then earn a coveted spot in a NY6 Bowl (the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, GA). As reported by the AAC:

Mike Hughes 95-yard kickoff return with 1:28 remaining was the difference as No. 12 UCF completed the first unbeaten regular season in program history with a wild 49-42 victory over No. 19 USF on Friday to clinch the American Athletic Conference’s East Division title. The Knights (11-0, 8-0 AAC, CFP No. 15) will host Memphis in the conference title game on Dec. 2.

Hughes’ touchdown capped a crazy 53-second span where the Knights took an eight-point lead, South Florida tied it and then the Knights took the lead for good. The Bulls (9-2, 6-2) tied it at 42 when Quinton Flowers connected with Darnel Salomon for an 83-yard touchdown, and then found D’Ernest Johnson for a 2-point play. Flowers finished with 605 yards of total offense. On the ensuing kickoff, Hughes found an opening on the right side and scored.

South Florida drove to midfield late, but Mitchell Wilcox fumbled and it was recovered by Chequan Burkett. McKenzie Milton was 29 of 44 for 373 yards and four touchdowns. UCF led 21-7 late in the first quarter but South Florida took a 34-28 lead with 3:41 remaining in the game on Flowers’ 24-yard touchdown run, which marked the first time this season that the Knights had trailed in the second half.

UCF has scored 30 points or more in every game this season, which is the longest streak in the nation. Flowers threw for a career-high 503 yards (24 of 45, four touchdowns) and ran for 102. He had 348 yards alone in the first half with five completions of 30 yards or more. Tryre McCants had already set a USF single-game receiving record with 6 minutes remaining in the first half. The junior had 227 yards on nine receptions, including a 55-yard touchdown. The previous record was 191 yards by Andre Davis in a 2012 game at Nevada. McCants previous career high was 105 yards against SMU last season.

The Knights will now host the AAC Conference Championship game on Saturday at Bright House Networks Stadium. Kickoff is set for Noon and the game will be nationally televised on ABC. Check out video highlights of UCF’s win over South Florida courtesy of the American Digital Network below:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Theater Review: Love Never Dies

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 03:13

The extraordinary musical Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to his phenomenon The Phantom of the Opera, opened Tuesday night at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The show has had a long and winding road to its current carnation, opening first in London to scathing reviews. In Webber’s defense, the musical genius was diagnosed with prostate cancer and started battling the disease early into the West End production’s previews and was unable to help improve it before its formal opening.  After shuttering in the UK, Webber spent a considerable amount of time reworking the show, bringing a new version to Australia, where it was met with raves and became a mega-hit. After its success Down Under, Webber vowed to take the show across the globe before hopefully finally bringing it to Broadway. And thus, the current tour, based on the Australian version directed by Broadway veteran Simon Phillips (Priscilla: Queen of the Desert), finds its way to Orlando.

So how exactly does the story from Phantom continue? Well, without giving too many plot elements away, the show takes place 10 years after its predecessor. Madame Giry and her daughter Meg have joined the Phantom in Coney Island, NY, where the trio have worked tirelessly in creating an amusement park that showcases the bizarre and musically-punctuated world one would expect from the Phantom. Meg is the park’s main talent and star attraction; but that changes when Christine Daae, her husband Raoul, and their son Gustave are lured to Coney Island, where Christine is set to perform an aria in Roger Hammerstein’s new theater.

There’s a LOT to love about Love Never Dies. While the actors Gardar Thor Cortes (The Phantom), Meghan Picerno (Christine), Karen Mason (Madame Giry), Sean Thompson (Raoul), and Mary Michael Patterson (Meg Giry) all give performances of their careers, the real star of the show is its music. Webber’s incredibly lush and melodic score, which is at times beautiful and soaring and then dark and foreboding, is perhaps one of the most beautiful scores he’s ever composed. The music is also, while reminiscent of some very occult threads from Phantom, fresh and unique for this show.

So don’t expect to hear that loud and familiar Phantom theme here. Its absence is as glaring as the crashing chandelier (although if you really want to hear that trademark theme from the original, stick around and take a listen to the exit music from the orchestra [which you should do anyway] as the theme appears there). The staging and costuming (both courtesy of an incredibly talented Aussie design team) are brilliantly dark and appropriate to the setting. The scene in Act II where Christine performs the title song (in show-stopping and breathtaking style by Picerno) is absolutely gorgeous. The performer is dressed in a jaw-dropping gown that seems to almost melts into the stage; and the pain, love, and tragedy conveyed in the song are palpable.

The only minor criticism the show deserves is in its blocking and choreographed sequences where the actors are forced to be somewhat over the top in their motions to convey their character. These characters are known to audiences; so histrionic movements and over-emphasized traits are both unnecessary and distracting. Orlando is only the second stop for the tour (it officially opened in Detroit on October 25th), so there’s plenty of time for the actors to smooth out these small kinks before winding down in Charolette, NC in September of 2018. Unfortunately, if you want to see Love Never Dies, you just may have to see it elsewhere. The ENTIRE Orlando run is sold out! Hopefully this translates to massive profits for the life of the touring show, which allows producers to not only recoup but also invest in a Broadway run in 2019. Some individual tickets remain and can be purchased through the Dr. Phillips Center Web Site (https://www.drphillipscenter.org/events/tickets/2017/love-never-dies/) . Check out  the trailer for Love Never Dies below:


Monday, November 20, 2017

#15 UCF Crushes Temple, Prepares for Showdown with Rival USF for AAC East Division Champion

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 02:19

The UCF Knights (10-0; 7-0 AAC) crushed the Owls of Temple (5-6; 3-4 AAC) on Saturday in Philadelphia, marking their 10th win in an undefeated season. The AAC recaps the win:

PHILADELPHIA — McKenzie Milton threw four touchdown passes and ran for a score as No. 14/12 UCF took care of business against Temple, winning 45-19 Saturday to stay unbeaten heading into a showdown with rival USF. The Knights (10-0, 7-0 American Athletic conference, CFP No. 15) turned three Temple turnovers inside the Owls’ 25 into 17 first-half points, taking a 31-10 lead when Gabriel Davis stretched across the goal line for a 5-yard touchdown reception with 2:36 left in the second quarter.

The American’s East Division will be decided on Black Friday in Orlando, Florida, when No. 23/20 USF (9-1, 6-1) visits UCF. Temple (5-6, 3-4) could have been easy to overlook for the Knights. The game had no bearing on whether they play for a conference title and a loss probably wouldn’t have damaged their chances to play in a New Year’s Six bowl. Shaquem Griffin, the 2016 American defensive player of the year whose left hand was amputated when he was 4, was all over the field for the UCF defense.

He forced a fumble in the first half that set up a score and made his second career interception in the second half, running step-for-step down field with a receiver and cradling the ball into his chest. Frank Nutile, who helped revive Temple’s offense when he took over at quarterback four games ago, was picked off four times. UCF now faces what could be its toughest battle of the season against rival USF, who comes to Spectrum Stadium on Black Friday to face the Knights. That game will be nationally-televised on ABC with a kickoff set for 3:30pm. If the Knights win, they’ll take on the #22 Memphis Tigers (9-1; 6-1 AAC) for the second time this season in the American Athletics Conference Championship Game on 12/2. UCF defeated Memphis earlier in the season 40-13. Check out video highlights of UCF’s win over Temple, courtesy of the American Athletics Association, below:

Photo Courtesy American Athletic Conference.

Monday, November 13, 2017

UCF Knights Dismantle UCONN Huskies 49-24, Stay Undefeated at #12 in Coaches Poll

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 00:38

The UCF Knights (9-0; 6-0 AAC) pummeled past the Huskies of UCONN (3-7; 2-4 AAC) 49-24 Saturday in a rainy day matchup at Spectrum Stadium. The win kept the Knights at #12 in the Coaches Poll. UCF was ranked #18 in the College Football Playoff Poll last week; and new standings will release Tuesday. The AP recaps UCF’s Saturday victory against UCONN below:

ORLANDO, Fla. — Otis Anderson rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns, McKenzie Milton passed for 311 yards and No. 14 UCF pulled away from UConn for a 49-24 victory on Saturday. Anderson had a 3-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and helped the undefeated Knights break it open with a 65-yard touchdown run, making it 35-17 with 14:11 left.

UCF (9-0, 6-0 American Athletic Conference, CFP, No. 18) also got a solid performance from Milton, who was 24-for-36 passing. He tossed a 6-yard TD pass to Marlon Williams in the first quarter and a 41-yarder to Tre’Quan Smith with 7:43 left in the first half, helping the Knights to a 28-10 lead at the break. After Anderson’s second TD, Milton added a 4-yard touchdown run that made it 42-17 with 8:54 left.

David Pindell passed for 201 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score for UConn (3-7, 2-5), but the Huskies were unable to keep up with the high-scoring Knights. Pindell was inserted into the starting lineup in place of the injured Bryant Shirreffs. Pindell’s 9-yard touchdown run made it 28-17 early in the second half. UCF failed to score in the third, just the second time this season the Knights went scoreless in a quarter.

But they made up for it with a big finish. Noah Vedral’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Cam Stewart made it 49-17 with 7:03 left. Pindell led the Huskies with 21 carries for 96 yards. He was 18 for 31 through the air, also throwing an interception. Smith also finished with seven catches for 120 yards for UCF.

UCF takes on the Owls of Temple this Saturday in Philadelphia (5-5; 3-3 AAC). Kickoff is set for Noon and the game will be broadcast live on ESPNU. Video highlights of the UCF v  UCONN game appear below, courtesy of the American Athletic Conference:

Photo Courtesy Orlando Sentinel.

Monday, November 6, 2017

UCF Knights Fight Off SMU, Remain Undefeated, Rise to #12 in Rankings

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 00:06

The UCF Knights (8-0; 5-0 AAC) continued their win streak to 8-0 on Saturday in a 31-24 battle to the finish against the Mustangs of SMU (6-3; 3-2 AAC). The win also saw UCF move up to #12 in the Coaches’ Poll rankings and #14 in the AP rankings. Official playoff rankings will be released Tuesday night. The AP reports:

DALLAS — McKenzie Milton threw a touchdown pass and ran for a score, Adrian Killins Jr. rushed for two more touchdowns and No. 15/14 UCF stayed undefeated with a 31-24 victory over SMU on Saturday night. The Knights (8-0, 5-0 American, No. 18 CFP) remained on track to play in a major New Year’s Day bowl game if they can win out.

SMU’s best opportunity at an upset fizzled with 5:10 remaining when wideout Trey Quinn dropped a pass on fourth-and-3 that would have given the Mustangs (6-3, 3-2) a first down deep in UCF territory. The game wasn’t quite the shootout that was expected. UCF entered the weekend averaging 51 points, the most in the nation. SMU was averaging 41.5 points.

Still, there were plenty of explosive plays throughout. Two of UCF’s scoring drives lasted three plays or less but covered at least 75 yards. Killins scored on runs of 64 yards and 34 yards for UCF, splitting defenders and shedding would-be tacklers along the way. And early in the second quarter, Milton found wide receiver Gabriel Davis down the right sideline for an 80-yard touchdown strike.

SMU scored on its first offensive play from scrimmage when Ben Hicks connected with James Proche for an 86-yard touchdown player. The sophomore receiver made five defenders miss on the catch-and-run, following a couple blockers down the sideline to the end zone. Offensive miscues proved costly for both teams. The Mustangs saw a 56-yard drive in the first half end a yard short when running back Ke’Mon Freeman fumbled into the end zone for a touchback. Milton, who had thrown just three interceptions entering the game, threw two against SMU. One of them was returned by SMU defensive back Jordan Wyatt 36 yards for a touchdown.

The Knights next opponent is the UCONN Huskies (3-6; 2-4 AAC). Kickoff is set for Noon at Spectrum Stadium on the beautiful UCF Campus. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU.

Check out video highlights of the UCF win over SMU, courtesy of the American Athletic Conference below:

Photo Courtesy Orlando Sentinel.

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