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The Honeymooners Meet The Boys of Summer
Ralph Kramden / Jackie Gleason Statue
 at the Port Authority reminds me...

June 22, 2012:
On our recent trip to New York, we several times passed by
 the Ralph Kramden statue outside the Port Authority.
I resisted the urge to lecture the heathens who had no idea what it represented
 and often used its base as a park bench.

Yes, I'm a Honeymooners maven, have seen the "Classic 39" many times and
 quote such terms as, "Helloooo ball!", "string of poloponies" and "Can it core
 a apple?" Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph
 are among my icons.

And this gives me an excuse to share here the Honeymooners "script" I wrote
 to honor Gleason when he died in 1987.  

It's also included in Playing Piano in a Brothel.
Mighty Ralph at the Bat

Fatigued after driving the Madison Avenue bus in Manhattan,
 RALPH KRAMDEN enters the Chauncey Street apartment in
 Brooklyn. At the table are neighbor ED NORTON and TOMMY
 MANICOTTI, a member of the Norton-coached stickball team,
 plus ALICE KRAMDEN and her mother, MRS. GIBSON. Nobody
 notices Ralph’s entrance. All are listening intently to the radio on
 the kitchen table.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Mantle hits a bouncer to the mound! Labine
 throws to Hodges! The Dodgers have beaten the Yankees 8–5
 and the 1955 World Series is tied at two games apiece with Game
 5 coming up tomorrow at Ebbets Field!
(All cheer.)
TOMMY: The Dodgers are going to murder ’em, huh, Mr. Norton?
NORTON: Like we say in the sewer, the Yankees are goin’ right
 down the drain. Too bad you won’t be able to see it.
MRS. GIBSON: If my Alice had only married that rich Howard
 Morgan, getting tickets would be a snap.
ALICE: Now, mother . . . 
RALPH: Leo Durocher was wrong! (He slams his lunch bucket on
 the table.) Nice guys don’t finish last, they get stuck with mothers-
in-law who look like Sal Maglie!
MRS. GIBSON: My son-in-law, the heavy hitter!
NORTON: The heaviest! If he could hit his weight, he could beat
Roy Campanella behind the plate! 
ALICE: What do you mean, Ed? The Dodgers do want him behind
 the plate. They need a new backstop.
RALPH: Haaaar-dee-har-har-har. (Smiling smugly, he walks slowly
 toward the table.) Now, normally, if you were talking about tickets to
 a game like this, you’d say, “Fat chance.”
NORTON: Then if anybody has a chance, you do!
RALPH: The Yankees’ clubhouse man rides my bus. I’ve told him
 about that uranium field I’m going to buy and that the first thing I’m
 going to do after I make my millions is to buy a ballclub. He wants
 to get on my good side. All I gotta do is go down to the gas station
 and call him. Two tickets.
Like that!  

(Snaps fingers.)

TOMMY: You mean it, Mr. Kramden?
RALPH: You play hooky and I’ll do the rest. (He glares at his
 mother-in-law.) I’ll show you who has pull.
TOMMY: Gee, thanks, Mr. Kramden! (An hour later, Alice is alone
 with Ralph, who holds his head in his hands.)
RALPH: Alice, I’ve got a biiiiiig mouth. I’ll have to tell Tommy he
 has to go to school, after all. Some big shot I am, huh?
ALICE: Why don’t you just wait until the morning? Something will
 come up.

(It’s now the next morning. After a knock, Tommy rushes in
Alice puts her hands on Tommy’s shoulders.)
RALPH: (Looking away.) Tommy, there’s something I have to tell
ALICE: (Smiling.) Yes, Tommy, Mr. Kramden will let you use the
 tickets only if you promise to tell your teacher the truth about why
 you’re missing school.
TOMMY: Are you kiddin’? She’ll be the first one I tell! She loves
Snider. (Alice pulls two tickets out of her apron pocket and
 hands them to
Tommy. He runs out. Ralph is flabbergasted.)
ALICE: Now, you, Mr. Pull Hitter, don’t you ever promise Tommy
 anything like that again.
RALPH: But how? 
ALICE: I used to babysit. You don’t even know this, but one of the
 kids was named Sandy. Well, I went over to Sandy’s mother’s
 house last night and explained the situation and she said I could
 have two of their tickets. Besides, Mrs. Koufax said, Sandy’s only
 nineteen and he almost never pitches and he’ll have other World
 Series—if he ever can learn how to control that fastball of his.
RALPH: (Hugging Alice.) Baby, you’re the greatest!

Happy 80th birthday to the Orange Crush architect

Friends, family, former players, and
 coaching comrades salute Joe Collier

June 17, 2012:
Last night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, former
 Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Collier -- the muse behind the famed
 "Orange Crush" defense -- was feted in honor of his recent 80th birthday.

It was a private event, organized by his daughters and son Joel, the assistant
 general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, so I'm not going to go into much
 detail here. But it was fun to touch bases with several members of the
 "Orange Crush" and that coaching staff. I will disclose that among the stories
 told were several about how Joel served as a ballboy and air-horn
 reveille sounder at the Broncos' training camps.

I made it clear in '77 that I consider Collier -- who served under three head
 coaches -- the top defensive coordinator of all time in the NFL, both because
 of his cerebral innovation and his savviness in adapting to his personnel.

My amateur cell-phone picture is of the former Broncos players and coaches
 at the gathering, and the coaches are Collier (brown coat, light shirt, middle
 of the back row), plus Paul Roach, Red Miller and Myrel Moore.   

On a personal level, Collier and his wife, Shirley, were good friends with my
 late parents, and I know how much they loved Joe as much more than a

Excerpt from '77: Brain Trust: Joe Collier and Company


They say the neon lights are bright
Back from New York: Broadway and Baseball

June 9, 2012: Helen and I are back from a quick trip to New York. I
 touched bases in the book world and we also went to two Broadway
 musicals -- Nice Work If You Can Get It, starring Kelli O'Hara and Matthew
 Broderick; and Evita, with Ricky Martin and Elena Roger -- and the
 Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays game. And I also visited with my New York
 resident brother, David, of Westminster Kennel Club renown

My interests in theater and music -- mostly rock 'n roll -- are among the many
 I have outside of sports. This previous journal entry about Chess gives
 additional background about that.
 Earlier this year, in fact, I sought to switch
 departments at the Denver Post to become John Moore's successor as
 theater critic. He accepted a buyout the Post offered to veteran staffers late
 last year. I hoped to step over to the features department and take John's

I'm from a family with a mix of sports and music genes -- my father was an
 athlete and coach, my mother was a musician and teacher -- and my interests
 reflect that mix. While several of us Frei children were good athletes in the
 conventional sense, the best athlete arguably was the one who didn't go into
 sports -- Susan, the ballet star. In contrast, I can't carry a tune, can't dance a
 step, and can't even play "Chopsticks" on the piano or anything at all on the

Becoming a newspaper theater critic/writer seemed a natural change-of-pace
 switch. It didn't work out. Film critic Lisa Kennedy took on the added
 responsibility of covering theater, too. She's doing terrific work.

The positive is that I'm being allowed to remain a theater fan in my private
 life, rather than taking on the responsibility of serving as a "critic." Frankly,
 though, what I was especially looking forward to was writing about the
 theater scene and the people in it. I wonder things like: How do understudy
 rehearsals work? How did understudy Cassie Okenka learn the role of Glinda
 in "Wicked" after joining the first national company in Portland, while being
 part of the ensemble, and then be able to go on as Glinda for a few nights
 here in Denver? How does a "swing" learn all those roles -- and keep them

When I reviewed the Bill Cain play 9 Circles at the Curious Theatre in
 Denver, I realized I much rather would have caught up with the show's
 impressive young lead, recent Southern Mississippi master's program grad
 Sean Scrutchins, and told his story. Who was he? How'd he come to play
 this role for Curious? Where was he hoping to go from there? In my sports
 career, that's what I've done best, whether the pieces were for The Sporting
or a newspaper about future Hall of Fame players, or about obscure
 "hard-boot" horse trainers. Exploring, asking, watching, listening.  

Of course, in my sportswriting career, I've often been an acerbic critic, but I
 know I would have found it hard to reconcile saying exactly what I thought
 of especially smaller local productions, if I found them to be flawed. These
 would be people doing what they loved, certainly without financial reward in
 mind. The answer, of course, is that expectations, resources and even
 audiences have to be taken into consideraton during the evaluations.

While I was pondering the switch, I did a lot of reading. I went through Frank
 Rich's collection of his New York Times reviews during his 1980-93 tenure as
 the paper's theater critic. Mostly, I flipped through the book until I came to a
 show I had seen -- in New York or elsewhere. Often, we had seen the same
 New York production, and I paid especially close attention to those reviews.
 They were longer and more detailed than than most you'll see in a paper,
 even the Times, nowadays, so that was the first asterisk.   

I often agreed with most of what he said about those shows, but disagreed
 with his conclusions. Case in point: I knew that Chess had all those problems,
 I nodded when he pointed them out, but I shook my head when he said they
 essentially ruined the show. One example of an underappreciated, smart
 show we both liked was the wickedly funny Larry Gelbart-Cy Coleman
 musical, City of Angels. 

Near the end of the book, he mused that he wondered if he should lower his
 standards, pander to the "tourist" mentality, and approach reviewing with a
 different mindset. I understood what he was getting at. Yet I believe there's
 room for applying high standards while at least loosening the tie, maybe even
 having a beer before the show, and conceding that theater doesn't have to be
 a work of art to be successful.
Rich championed Sunday in the Park with George and even conceded he
 took grief for doing so. We saw it, too, and while I'm a huge fan of both
 stars, Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, I am not at all embarrassed to
 say I found it sleep-inducing.
When I saw the acclaimed drama Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, with
 Robin Williams, last year in New York, I left the theater thinking it was
 the kind of show many critics raved about because smart and influential
 critics are supposed to like this kind of play. I thought of that later when I
 reviewed 9 Circles last year; I asked myself if I was following that lead in
 proclaiming it a strong play and production. I convinced myself my
 admiration and praise were earned and genuine.             
Yes, I've been accused of arrogance and elitism when discussing my own
 writing and offering my views on sports. Here, I'm admitting as a theater
 "critic," I would have been what some in that world might have considered

It's a matter of expectations, resources and standards. In the 2012 Broadway
 of $145 (give or take) ticket prices, you have every right to high
 expectations, but what makes me laugh about that is that a lower bowl ticket
 at the Pepsi Center for the Colorado Avalanche-Columbus Blue Jackets
 hockey game (in November) is about the same price. But there's nothing
 wrong with conceding that theater is both entertainment and art, and if a
 show works as the former, while falling short of deserving to be considered
 the latter, who the hell are we to say it's a failure? I've seen many, many
 shows I neither "liked" nor admired, but couldn't resist enjoying. (Rock of
is one of the many examples.)    

On to the two shows we saw on this trip. 

Nice Work if You Can Get It, with Joe DiPietro's book built around Gershwin
 songs, received 10 Tony nominations, but has gotten so-so mainstream
 media reviews. 

We had seen Kelli O'Hara four times previously -- in Denver in Jekyll and
, and in New York in Sweet Smell of Success, Pajama Game, and
South Pacific. And we'd caught Matthew Broderick in Brighton Beach
 Memoirs, The Producers
and The Odd Couple.
O'Hara again was great, and we were more than willing to overlook the
 complete implausibility of her character and the story. Broderick was fine,
 even holding his own in an extended ballroom-type dance sequence across
 furniture with O'Hara, and I respect his continuing loyalty to the theater,
 which despite his family background and deep roots in the craft, he really
no longer "needs."     

mammamia.jpgVeterans Michael McGrath and
 Judy Kaye were hilarious, and
 they're both up for Tonys this
 weekend as featured performers
 in musicals. (Update: They both
 won. That's Kaye at the right in
 the picture of me with the
 Original Broadway Production
 leads of Mamma Mia. I'm
 between Karen Mason and
 Louise Pitre.)
If McGrath and
 Kaye didn't steal the show, they
 at least kidnapped it for significant
 stretches. Estelle Parsons doesn't make an appearance until late in the
show -- so late, she probably could be having dinner at Bricco at the opening
 curtain and still comfortably make her entrance as scheduled to serve to tie
 up the loose ends in the formulaic, by-the-numbers but fun, plot.          

I'm convinced 99 percent of those at the Imperial had a blast; I'm guessing
 the other 1 percent were miserable because they'd had tainted oysters at
 dinner...or maybe they were mad that Chess didn't even rate a mention in the
 "At This Theatre" page in the Playbill. (I've told you, that show's devotees
 can be a little wacky.)  
With Nice Work, I again was reminded that reviews can be helpful in making
 choices and provocative afterwards in framing your own
 reaction, but shouldn't be swallowed whole. Again, my experience has been
 that I agree with quibbles or even outright criticisms from reviewers, but than
 catch myself adding, "Yeah ... so?" In this instance, quoth the Times:
 "...artificial froth." To which I'm convinced most at the Imperial would have
 responded: "Yeah ... so?" Or, "And Anything Goes isn't?" You don't need to
 check your intellect at the door to react that way. 

That's where today's abundance of alternative evaluations -- in blogs and
 elsewhere -- can be significant voices, and the dilution of major critics'
make-or-break influence has been a positive. I'd say that even if I made the
 move to the critic's role. Nobody should have that much power. 
Evita was a slightly different story, primarily because of the casting of Elena
 Roger as the lead in the first New York revival since the original production
 ran from 1979-83. I'd seen the show before, but not in New York and not in
 many years, and I had forgotten what a strong double-threat ensemble cast it
 requires to support the handful of major characters.

Ricky Martin more than held his own as Che. (Update: Here, he's featured
 in "And the Money Kept Rolling In" on the Tony Awards telecast

Roger is a tiny Argentinian who drew raves playing the role in London in
 recent years, and casting a woman from Eva and Juan Peron's homeland for
 the role is a brave novelty. Her accent is an intriguing touch, but not
 indispensable, especially in a work in which we know the English dialogue is,
 in essence, a translation. She's an excellent dancer, too.
The problem here was that, at least on the night we attended the show, her
 voice wasn't strong enough for the part and became almost raspy at times as
 she snapped off final notes. I can't help but think that most in the audience
 were wondering the same thing: Is she sick? Is her voice worn out? 

In a production that has an "alternate" Eva, Christina DeCicco, who plays the
 role on Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons, and two ensemble
 members also listed as understudies, there doesn't seem to be much excuse
 for a lead going on with a significant voice issue.

Admire her for going on and note that baseball players go on the DL with
 muscle tightness, but she either needed to step aside -- or, if that's just the
 way she is much of the time, the role in New York deserves better. 

Martin and Michael Cerveris (as Peron) and a stunning ensemble -- including
 such veterans as Timothy Shew, one of Les Miserables' Jean Valjeans; and
 Brad Little, who played the Phantom of the Opera in one of the
 touring productions that passed through Denver -- can't carry this without an
 electric Evita in all eight performances each week.

With that huge stipulation, we enjoyed it, though, and would recommend it. 

And, yes, we went to the new Yankee Stadium. It was my first visit there,
 and what I heard was exactly right -- at times, you still think you're in the old
 place, and that can be both good and bad. It's obvious this was built for the
 private boxes and luxury levels. Why not just build a new stadium -- a real
 new stadium? (Sacrilege, I know.) We were there on the 67th anniversary of
 D-Day and the Yankees indeed honored veterans of the landing. The
 problem was, it was about 15 minutes before the first pitch, there couldn't
 have been more than 5,000 people in their seats, and it seemed almost
 insulting and reduced to the trivial. The Yankees won 4-1, behind pitcher
 Ivan Nova, in front of a crowd announced as over 38,000. I have no doubt
 that many tickets were sold, but in-house attendance was about 25,000 -- no

I also was reminded that for all the Yankees' nods to tradition -- including
 having Bob Sheppard's tape-recorded voice still introduce Derek Jeter, not
 having ridiculous "walk-up" music for each hitter, and having the monuments
 behind the centerfield wall -- even the game's showcase franchise has caved
 in and added much of the usual silly marketing gimmicks so pervasive in
 MLB now. Screeching announcers give trivia quizzes to fans between 
half-innings, for example. Yes, even the Yankees ...

And the beers are $9.

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