Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Monday, March 28, 2022

Theater Review: The Bridges of Madison County The Musical at Axelrod PAC

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 01:59

The story of how a musical based on the beloved novel, The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller, came to be is an interesting one. The show got its start in 2013 at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Williamstown, MA. A creative team including the legendary composer Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years) and writer Marsha Norman brought to stage an absolutely gorgeous musical that contained the core elements of the novel (with some amazingly smart alterations) but stripped much of the klutzy components of the film to life. The show would eventually make its way to Broadway in 2014, where powerhouse Kelli O’Hara would star as the female lead (Francesca) and Steven Pasquale its male lead. While the show sadly lived a short run, luckily, it has found itself as a genuine addition to the repertoire of American musical theater and lived on. Brown went on to win the Tony Award for Best Score. While nominated, unfortunately O’Hara would be robbed of the Tony for Best Actress. The American Theater Wing voters would right that wrong the following year when O’Hara won for the 2015 revival of The King & I).

I saw the original Broadway show shortly after it opened. The phenomenal voices of the leads meshed with the lush all-string and percussion orchestral score grabbed ahold of me; and the story of how two humans with similar confinements of their realities found a lifelong love for one another really made an impact. So when the closing notice was posted, I quickly purchased a ticket and flew to NYC so I could be in attendance at the show’s final performance. I also traversed the country with the Equity tour the original production spawned shortly after; and that production came close to rivaling what was seen on Broadway. Needless to say, Bridges has gone on to become one of my all-time favorite musicals. So when I learned that actor/director Hunter Foster, who played Francesca’s husband Bud in the original Broadway cast, was mounting a production of the show at the Axelrod Theater in Deal Park, NJ, there was no way I could miss it. And I’m so glad I didn’t!

While it’s nearly impossible to supplant the voices and talent of O’Hara and Pasquale, Kate Baldwin (Francesca Johnson) and Aaron Lazar (Robert Kincaid), the two leads here, are DAMN close! Baldwin, a two-time Tony Award nominee, has a voice that absolutely soars! She has perfected the nuances of her character with complete mastery. And not only does she blow the roof off with her incredibly angelic singing, she can really act. She personifies the hurt, longing, and subtle desperation of a woman trapped in a life of mundane monotony so well that when her steamy affair with handsome and rugged photographer Robert begins, the audience quickly suspends any judgment. Lazar also brings a sense of vulnerability to his character that has the same equating effect. His voice is incredibly powerful; and he (like Baldwin) has a solid comprehension of the necessity of dynamics to inflect the emotional journey of the characters through song.

The supporting cast is also superb. Bud Johnson is played by Broadway veteran Bart Shatto. He gets the opportunity to display his vocal and acting abilities in several numbers, punctuated by, “Something From A Dream” in Act I. And while Emily Pellecchia’s interpretation of Bud and Francesca’s daughter Carolyn is spot-on, Thomas Cromer’s performance of their son Michael is a little subdued for a masculine teen that is looking to rebel against the confines of rural Iowan life. The Johnson’s neighbor Marge is vital to the portrayal of the bond rural farming communities can have; and while Nikki Yarnell plays the role with a little less empathy than I’ve seen in previous productions of the show, she and Mark Megill (who plays her husband Charlie), are great. Perhaps the real standout among those playing supporting roles is Giuliano Augello, who brings down the house in her portrayal of Robert’s ex-wife Marian. Her performance of, “Another Life” was shockingly brilliant! Her light shines bright; and she fits in perfectly with the Broadway actors that make up this cast.

The scenic designs by Anna Louizos are simple (not basic) and reminiscent of the original production with some smart, albeit subtle, differences. They’re also used in a highly effective manner as they’re manipulated on stage throughout the scenes by the cast. This was one of the first shows I ever saw on Broadway that employed that technique. And it adds to the ambiance of the scenes incredibly wel. Interestingly, I learned that because cast members were involved in setting props and moving set pieces manually, they had to becoming card-carrying members of the respective union for such stagehands. Director Hunter Foster, who I’m sure has some strong emotional ties to the show since he has been involved with it since its inception, has made some absolutely wonderful staging decisions that incredibly enhance the story. 

One of the more powerful numbers is, “Get Closer,” sung by neighbor Marge in a comedic fashion while the romance between Francesca and Robert are played out towards the end of Act I. In the original production, the character sings the number stage left, somewhat distracting from the main character development. Here, the number is sung off stage with a filter designed to alter Yarnell’s voice to mimic a radio broadcast. This allows the audience to focus solely on the fiery love and connection that’s occurring between Francesca and Robert. Other notable elemental changes include deletion of a brief reunion scene fantasized by Francesca when her family encounters Robert in town and a completely different conclusion to the final scene of the show. In the original production, Francesca and Robert embrace on the bridge where they first kindled their love. In this production, Francesca relives the moment where she posed for a photograph for Robert on the bridge, invoking an even more powerful emotional reaction from the audience that imparts a slightly different, yet equally impactful, impression. 

In conclusion, I just can’t say enough good things about this production of Bridges. I saw the show two days in a row and can conclude that it is one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. When I have amazing theatrical experiences such as this, I take a moment to thank God. I thank God for blessing the performers with their immeasurable talents and abilities; and I thank God for the skill and wisdom of the composers, musicians, writers, directors, and everyone else involved in bringing something as truly magical as this to life. There’s no doubt this production was truly blessed by the almighty. Thank you to everyone for making this production of The Bridges of Madison County one I will never forget!

While the run has ended, you can check out a behind the scenes video on the production below:

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Kelly Clarkson Knocks Waitress’ “She Used to Be Mine” Out of the Park

Filed under: Performing Arts,Popular Music — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 00:23

On January 7th, Kelly Clarkson paid tribute to the phenomenal musical Waitress by giving a knockout performance of the show’s anthem, “She Used to Be Mine.” Waitress closed on Broadway on January 5th after a 2-month post-COVID run. Check out Clarkson’s show stopping performance below. BRAVO Kelly!


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

UCF Knights Knock Off Gators in Gasparilla Bowl, Have Record Recruiting Class, Look to Big 12

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 19:56

The UCF Knights (9-4; 5-3 AAC) took care of business last Thursday against the Florida Gators (6-7; 2-6 SEC), winning the Gasparilla Bowl 29-17 in Tampa. As reported by the AAC (via AP):

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Isaiah Bowser ran for 155 yards and two touchdowns, Ryan O’Keefe had 85 yards on seven receptions, and UCF earned Sunshine State bragging rights by beating Florida 29-17 in the Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday night.

UCF (9-4) took a 26-17 lead late in the third when Daniel Obarski made a 21-yard field goal and Mikey Keene threw a 54-yard scoring strike to O’Keefe in the span of about two minutes. Obarski then made it 29-17 on a 33-yarder with 2:41 to play.

Florida quarterback Emory Jones, playing in his final game with the Gators before entering the transfer portal, completed 14 of 36 passes for 171 yards. He also ran for 62 yards on 10 carries.

Florida was led by interim coach Greg Knox, who took over when Dan Mullen was fired before the regular-season finale against Florida State. Former Louisiana coach Billy Napier will take over for the 2022 season. Florida (6-7) finished with its first losing record since 2017.

UCF outgained Florida 436-376. O’Keefe also put up 110 rushing yards, including a 74-yard run in third quarter after which Bowser put UCF up 16-10 with a TD run 4 yards out.

Florida regained the lead, 17-16, on its next possession when Malik Davis had a 19-yard rushing TD.

Florida led 10-9 at halftime thanks to Chris Howard’s 26-yard field goal with 1:36 left in the second quarter.

Keene replaced starting QB Dillon Gabriel, who broke his left collarbone against Louisville in September. The true freshman went 14 of 22 for 144 yards on Thursday.

It was the first time the time the two teams played since Florida won 42-0 during its 2006 national championship season. The Gators also won 58-27 in 1999.

The announced crowd at Raymond James Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a Gasparilla Bowl record of 63,669.

The Knights also pulled in one of the program’s best recruiting classes ever, ranking 41 nationally. With a 9-4 2021 record (especially given the team’s adversity), a win against Florida, and a move to the Big 12 Conference (probable in 2023), the future has never been brighter for the UCF Knights.

Check out video highlights of the Knights’ win over the Gators in the Gasparilla Bowl, courtesy of ESPN, below:

Monday, December 6, 2021

UCF Knights Best S. Florida, Accept Bowl Bid to Play UF in 2021 Gasparilla Bowl

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 02:07

The UCF Knights finished their regular season with an 8-4 record on Black Friday after beating rival S. Florida 17-13. UCF ended with a 5-3 record in the American Athletic Conference and finished at #3 in the conference standings behind #2 Houston and #1 Cincinnati. Cincy clenched the #4 national ranking on Sunday, making history as being the first G5 team to ever make the College Football Playoffs. They will face #1 Alabama on New Year’s Eve.

UCF also learned its bowl fate Sunday as well. The Knights will square off against the Florida Gators (6-6; 2-6 SEC) in the Gasparilla Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on December 23rd. That game will be nationally-televised on ESPN. Kickoff is set for 7pm. The game is also expected to be the Bowl’s first-ever sell-out, with Knights fans posted to fill more than half the stadium. Check-out highlights of UCF’s Black Friday win over USF below, courtesy of ESPN College Football:

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Knights Destroy UCONN, Look to Black Friday Rivalry Showdown with usf

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 02:50

Mikey Keene threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns as UCF raced to an early 28-0 lead on its way to a 49-17 win against UConn Saturday at the Bounce House.

Johnny Richardson rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, while Brandon Johnson had seven catches for 125 yards and his American Athletic Conference-leading 10th touchdown of the season.

The UCF defense registered five sacks and forced three turnovers, all on interceptions.

Richardson staked the Knights to an early lead on a 9-yard touchdown run, and Keene followed with a 30-yard keeper for a TD to give UCF a 14-0 cushion only 5:23 into the game.

Mark-Antony Richards made it 21-0 with a touchdown run late in the first quarter, and Keene and Richardson connected for a 17-yard touchdown to start the second period, giving UCF (7-4; 4-3 AAC) a four-touchdown advantage.

Tatum Bethune led the UCF defense with 14 tackles.

UConn quarterback Steven Krajewski went 18-for-42 for 174 yards with three interceptions as the struggling Huskies fell to 1-10.

The Knights now take on their rivals, the usf bulls (2-9; 1-6 AAC), on Black Friday. The game will be nationally-broadcasted on ESPN. Kickoff is at 3:30pm. Check out video highlights of UCF’s win over UCONN, courtesy of the AAC, below:

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

UCF Knights Secure Bowl Eligibility with Homecoming Win Against Tulane, Face Big Challenge at SMU Saturday

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 00:43

As reported by the AAC:

Brandon Johnson’s 23-yard touchdown reception from Mikey Keene with 5:55 left gave UCF its first lead of the second half and the Knights’ defense came up with a late stop to preserve a 14-10 win against Tulane Saturday afternoon at the Bounce House.

The win was UCF’s third straight victory and kept the Knights unbeaten at their home stadium this season (5-0). 

UCF took a 7-0 lead into halftime, but Tulane added 10 third-quarter points to build a 10-7 advantage on Tyjae Spears’ 8-yard run and a 25-yard field goal by Merek Glover. 

The UCF defense forced Tulane to punt on its next three drives, and the Green Wave ran out of time on its final possession after a 10-play possession stalled at the UCF 39-yard line. 

Keene went 19-for-25 for 229 yards and two touchdowns for UCF, while Ryan O’Keefe had 11 catches for 94 yards and a TD. 

Tulane was led by quarterback Michael Pratt, who went 17-for-28 for 147 yards, while Spears finished with 77 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. 

The Knights (6-3; 4-2 AAC) face a formidable foe in SMU (7-2; 3-2 AAC) in Dallas on Saturday. Kickoff is set for Noon and the game will be nationally televised on ESPNU.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

After Dismantling Temple, Knights Return Saturday for Homecoming

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 01:19

The UCF Knights (5-3; 3-2 AAC) destroyed the Owls of Temple (3-5; 1-3 AAC) last Saturday 49-7 and will return to campus to face the Tulane Green Wave (1-7; 0-4 AAC) for Homecoming on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 4pm and the game will be nationally-televised on ESPNU. Below is a recap of Saturday’s win against Temple along with video highlights courtesy of the AAC:

Mikey Keene threw a career-best five touchdown passes and UCF rolled to a 49-7 win over Temple on Saturday.

Keene was 15 of 21 for 229 yards. He threw touchdown passes that covered 13 yards to Alec Holler and 18 to Brandon Johnson in the second quarter for a 21-0 lead at the half. In the the third quarter the scoring plays covered 33 yards with Holler and 12 and 46 yards with Ryan O’Keefe.

Isaiah Bowser, who rushed for 89 yards, ran 11 yards for a score in the first quarter and Johnny Richardson had a 1-yard plunge for a fourth-quarter score.

The Knights (5-3, 3-2 American Athletic Conference), who have won five straight in the series, piled up 428 yards of total offense while limiting the Owls (3-5, 1-3) to 297.

Temple, which lost three fumbles, scored in the last minute when backup quarterback Justin Lynch hit Jose Barbon with a 27-yard strike. Jadan Blue had four receptions to move into second on Temple’s all-time list with 168.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Strong Defense Propels UCF’s Win over Memphis

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 00:58

In their annual Space Game, the UCF Knights (4-3; 2-2 AAC) soundly defeated the Memphis Tigers (4-4; 1-3 AAC) 24-7 at a packed Bounce House on the beautiful UCF campus Saturday. The game was nationally televised on ESPN2. UCF used a stout defensive approach to force the Tigers to cough up several turnovers. As reported by the AAC:

Ryan O’Keefe rushed for one touchdown, caught a pass for another and UCF defeated Memphis 24-7 on Space Night Friday.

On a night themed to honor UCF’s ties to the nation’s space program — complete with the unveiling of special uniforms — the Knights were somewhat low orbit as Mikey Keene completed 11 of 19 passes for 63 yards — his lowest yardage since the season opener.

Meanwhile, the Knights gained 215 yards on the ground with Isaiah Bowser rushing for 111 yards on 26 carries, his second 100-yard rushing game of the season.

Peter Parrish, starting for Memphis’ injured Seth Henigan (right hand), went 31-for-48 passing for 215 yards but threw three interceptions. His final pick came with less than five minutes remaining. An unnecessary roughness penalty against UCF advanced Memphis to a first down at the 27 and Parrish’ shot to the end zone was intercepted by Dyllon Lester.

Parrish guided the Tigers close to the end zone once more in the closing minutes, advancing to the 12-yard line, but a third-down pass to the end zone was broken up by UCF’s Justin Hodges and a fourth-down run by Parrish was short.

Parrish was also the Tigers leading rusher with 60 yards gained on 22 carries but he was sacked six times for a loss of 39 yards.

UCF takes on the Owls of Temple (3-4; 1-2 AAC) on Saturday at Noon. The game will be streamed live in ESPN+.

Check out video highlights of UCF’s Saturday win over Memphis, courtesy of the AAC, below:

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Knights Get Back to Winning in Thrilling 20-16 Victory over East Carolina

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 00:45

After falling to Louisville and Navy in their last two contests, the UCF Knights (3-2; 1-1 AAC) defeated East Carolina (3-3; 1-1 AAC) in a thrilling game at the Bounce House last Saturday night. The game was televised live on ESPN+. The Knights take on the #3-ranked Bearcats of Cincinnati (5-0; 1-0 AAC) on Saturday. Kickoff is at Noon and the game will be nationally-televised on ABC. See below for the AAC’s summary of UCF’s win over ECU along with video highlights from the game.

ORLANDO, Fla. — — Mark-Antony Richards’ 1-yard touchdown smash with 23 seconds left to play helped carry UCF to a 20-16 win over East Carolina on Saturday.

Richards’ score ended an 11-play, 64-yard drive that lasted just a little more than three minutes.

Johnny Richardson paced UCF (3-2, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) on the ground with 104 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. Mikey Keene threw for 194 yards for the Knights.

Holton Ahlers threw for 208 yards, a touchdown and an interception for the Pirates (3-3, 1-1).

With its sixth-straight win over the Pirates, UCF leads the cumulative series 11-10.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Dr. Blackwell’s Work to be Published in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners

Filed under: Nursing Science — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 11:56

Dr. Blackwell’s original article, “COVID-19 Vaccination in Adults Living with HIV” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, considered the premier academic journal for the nurse practitioner profession. The article is co-authored by Blackwell’s frequent collaborator and physician Dr. Humberto Lopez-Castillo and provides crucial information for NPs and other clinical providers on the implications of prescribing the COVID-19 vaccination in the population of adults with HV. The abstract appears below:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended use of vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen to prevent COVID-19 infection in the United States. While these vaccines are safe and have been administered to millions of persons nationwide, special populations warrant closer focus. Adults living with HIV may have specific clinical considerations that should be acknowledged when making COVID-19 vaccination prescribing decisions. This article discusses these practice considerations and provides clinical and additional guidance for nurse practitioners and other clinicians responsible for prescribing COVID-19 vaccines in adults living with HIV.

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