Author: Michael Cook

A theatre kid dabbling in the art of reviewing the things he reads, watches, listens to, and sees.

REVIEW: “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant” (or “Damn Yankees”) by Douglass Wallop

damn yankeesI adore the musical Damn Yankees. I love it so much that it’s hilariously surprising that I had no idea it was based on a novel. The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, written by Douglass Wallop (who’d go onto co-write the musical’s script), is the novel Damn Yankees is based on. And it’s a novel that nobody seems to know much about these days. There’s no ebook of it available, so I had to actually obtain a hard copy of it to read. Why go to all of this trouble? Well, I really wanted to see how similar to the musical this novel was. And so, I gave it a read. And it’s definitely the same story as Damn Yankees. But how does it hold up against its more famous stage adaptation? Well, both versions of the story have their pros and their cons – it ultimately depends on what you’re looking for from the story. If you want to really explore Joe’s mindset during all of this, then The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant is the book for you. It’s well-written, engaging, and a quick read. (Spoilers for both Damn Yankees and The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant follow.)

The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant (aka: Damn Yankees) by Douglass Wallop
Decades before Field of Dreams there was The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, the classic baseball fable that became the hit movie and musical Damn Yankees. Baseball lovers everywhere can identify with Joe Boyd, a die-hard Washington Senators fan who puts his soul in hock to help them wrest the pennant away from the hated, all-conquering Yankees. Transformed by the sulfurous Mr. Applegate’s satanic magic into twenty-two-year-old phenom Joe Hardy, he leads the hapless Senators in a torrid late-season pursuit of the men in pinstripes. Joe has until September 21st before the deal becomes final—and eternal. With the luscious temptress Lola to distract him, he’ll have a hell of a time wriggling out of the bargain…

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Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Should Get; or How to Update the Women of “Damn Yankees” – An Editorial

gwen1955’s Damn Yankees, with a libretto by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music by Richard Adler, and lyrics by Jerry Ross, is iconic in its own right. It is a retelling of the classic Faust story, with Joe Boyd selling his soul to Mr. Applegate in order to play for his favorite baseball team – the Washington Senators. It marked the first collaboration between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, leading to their multi-decade relationship and partnership. It ran for 1,019 performances on Broadway and spawned a reasonably successful film adaptation in 1958. So, why is Damn Yankees revived so rarely? Aside from a short, but successful, run in 2008 as part of the City Center Encores! Series, the last major American production of the show was its 1994 revival – a revival that ran for over two years, itself. If the show is as popular as it seems, why is it so rarely done outside of schools and other smaller theatres? Perhaps it has something to do with its subject matter and how well it has stood the test of time? That is certainly true for other Golden Age musicals. But is it true for Damn Yankees? Maybe not. In fact, Damn Yankees is one of the rare Golden Age musicals that holds up relatively well. However, there are certainly things that can be done to make it more appealing for a modern audience – most notably an update in its depiction of women. (more…)

REVIEW: “Scoob!” (The New Scooby-Doo Movie)

scoobI love Scooby-Doo. I’m way out of the age range for the show these days and I haven’t regularly watched anything from the series since the mid-2000s, but it still holds a special place in my heart. I grew up on those direct-to-VHS movies and re-runs of the old series (especially A Pup Named Scooby-Doo) on Cartoon Network. So, it’s one of those things that will always be special to me. However, I tend not to be one of those fans who get upset by changes made to the franchise. I really enjoyed the live-action Scooby-Doo films from the early 2000s and when I first saw the trailer for Scoob!, the latest theatrical reboot of the series, I was intrigued. The animation style was neat, it seemed to be teasing a pretty enjoyable story, and I was interested to see what some new talent could bring to the material. Thankfully, even with most movie theaters around the country closed, Scoob! was able to make its initial release date – just on PVOD instead of in theaters. So, having seen Scoob!, how is it? In short: it’s surprisingly solid. It’s a decent-if-predictable story with some good jokes, some beautiful animation, and a lot of heart. (Mild spoilers follow!)

Scoob! (written by Kelly Fremon Craig; directed by Tony Cervone)
“SCOOB!” reveals how lifelong friends Scooby and Shaggy first met and how they joined with young detectives Fred, Velma and Daphne to form the famous Mystery Inc. Now, with hundreds of cases solved and adventures shared, Scooby and the gang face their biggest, most challenging mystery ever: a plot to unleash the ghost dog Cerberus upon the world. As they race to stop this global “dogpocalypse,” the gang discovers that Scooby has a secret legacy and an epic destiny greater than anyone imagined.

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REVIEW: “Ghost Hunters Adventure Club and the Secret of the Grande Chateau” by Cecil H.H. Mills

ghost adventures cllubI’ve been watching the Game Grumps since 2015, or so, and I enjoy their content quite a bit. In a way, they remind me of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but instead of riffing on films, they’re riffing on video games. Arin Hanson and Dan Avidan have a great rapport together and it’s a joy to watch their videos. Why do I bring this up? Because Ghost Hunters Adventure Club and the Secret of the Grande Chateau is the “first official novel from Game Grumps.” Yes, it seems after branching into video games, the duo are branching into the literature world. So, as a fan of Game Grumps, I knew I wanted to give this book a read. But everything about its promotion felt really… strange. It seems pretty obvious that the novel is actually authored by Arin Hanson, yet it’s credited to a Cecil H.H. Mills, a man whom Arin claims is his uncle (but is obviously just Hanson in a wig and some makeup). Everything about the book’s promotion felt like one of Game Grump’s extended bits and, as a lover of books, it made it kind of difficult to get excited for this novel as I could never tell if it was something serious or just a joke. And, having now read the novel, I’m still not sure if it’s meant to be taken seriously. If it’s supposed to just be a bit of fun that satirizes Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys books and does a bit of fun character work with Cecil H.H. Mills, it’s pretty solid. But if it’s meant to be taken even a little bit seriously, it’s a really rough read. (Mild spoilers follow).)

Ghost Hunters Adventure Club and the Secret of the Grande Chateau by Cecil H.H. Mills
Listen up, kid. My name is Dr. Cecil H.H. Mills. I’m the author of this book and many other ones that you might not have heard of. This book is about two idiot wannabe detective-types. Their names are J.J. and Valentine Watts, but I’m not sure if they’re actually brothers or not.

They make a friend; her name is Trudi de la Rosa. She’s a wannabe detective-type too, but honestly, she’s less of an idiot than the brothers.

The three of them team up to solve a mystery that takes place in a snowy chateau up in the mountains. It gets more complicated around chapter 11, but now you’ve got the main gist of it. The story’s full of intrigue and adventure and puzzles and light violence and some swear words. It’s really entertaining.

Just buy the book and start reading. You’ll understand everything about the Ghost Hunters Adventure Club very soon.

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REVIEW: “The Dreaming, Vol. 3 – One Magic Movement” by Simon Spurrier

dreaming vol 3I have consistently loved Simon Spurrier’s run on The Dreaming. Of all the Sandman Universe titles, it’s the one that feels the most similar in tone to Neil Gaiman’s original Sandman run. Much like Gaiman, Spurrier has been using his run on the title to muse on the very nature of storytelling. His run has been as much about the art of storytelling as it has been about the Dreaming, and its inhabitants. It’s routinely been one of my favorite titles to return to and when I heard that this volume would be the final one in his run, I was a mixture of sad and excited. It would be sad to see him go, but I was excited to see how he’d wrap up this story he’s been telling since the very first issue. And here we are, at the end. And how is that ending? Well, it’s everything I could’ve hoped for. Spurrier has taken all the threads he’d left dangling and woven them into a wholly satisfying conclusion, ending this story while leaving the door wide open for future creative teams to tell new stories. It’s simply superb. (Mild spoilers follow.)

The Dreaming, Vol. 3: One Magic Moment (written by Simon Spurrier, illustrated by Bilquis Evely (issues 15, 17, 19-20), Marguerite Sauvage (Issues 16, 18) Dani Strips (Issue 13), and Matias Bergara (Issue 14)) 
As the second year of the Sandman Universe begins, the sentient algorithm known as Wan is now the acknowledged lord of Dream’s realm, and unquestioned ruler of all his subjects. It’s a huge problem that Wan is completely insane, and more than capable of wiping out all life in the Dreaming. What can Abel, the only one who knows Wan’s secret, do about it? And what must he do to poor Matthew the Raven to put his plan into action? Collects The Dreaming #13-20.

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A Review of Season 7 of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” by Someone Who Has Only Seen Season 7 (Mostly)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Season 7I love Parks and Recreation. I love The Good Place. You would think I’d have been all over Brooklyn Nine-Nine as it’s cocreated by Michael Schur, the creator of both Parks and Recreation and The Good Place. And yet, I’m not. Well, that’s not true. It’s not that I’m not a fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it’s that I’d literally never seen an episode before this year. I love Michael Schur and I love Andy Samberg and I’ve somehow never seen Brooklyn Nine-Nine. So, what would possess me to start watching the show with its seventh season? Honestly, sheer curiosity. The screeners for the premiere came out right as The Good Place was ending and I was curious to see how someone who’d never seen an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine might fair tuning into the seventh season? So, that’s exactly what I did. I watched the entire seventh season as it aired. I had a friend who was a Brooklyn Nine-Nine fanatic fill in background info or recommend previous episodes that would be of vital importance to understanding the context of one of the new episodes (I have no seen the first seven episodes of season one, the first three Halloween episodes, the episode with Bill Hader, and the first Jimmy Jabs Games episode). So, in that context, how was the seventh season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine? In short: it was great. It’s turned me into a fan of the show and I eagerly look forward to binging the entirety of the first six seasons as soon as possible. (Spoilers for the entirety of season seven of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.)

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” follows the exploits of hilarious Det. Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and his diverse, lovable colleagues as they police the NYPD’s 99th Precinct. After Capt. Raymond Holt’s (Andre Braugher) demotion to patrolman at the end of season six, the squad’s world is turned upside down.

Rounding out the ensemble is the newly promoted Lt. Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), a muscle-bound human mountain who loves nothing more than his three little daughters, except for a fresh carton of full-fat yogurt. The man loves yogurt. Reporting to him is Sgt. Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), a consummate rule follower with a weak spot for dork dancing and her husband, Jake.

The other detectives in the squad include Jake’s best friend and human puppy dog, Det. Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), and the incredibly secretive, tough-as-nails Det. Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz). Also part of the Nine-Nine are veteran officers Det. Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller) and Det. Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker), whose only skill as police officers are their ability to make a passable pot of coffee.

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REVIEW: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

world war zI imagine a lot of people are going to be reading zombie books during this COVID-19 crisis. Just like the Contagion film has seen a spike in popularity, so too, I feel, will many zombie stories. I can’t blame people for turning to fiction during this time of crisis; it can be cathartic to view a disaster movie in a time of disaster. But that’s not why I finally picked up World War ZWorld War Z is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years. It’s frequently touted as one of the best zombie novels. I read an early screenplay for the film – back when it still tried to adhere to the book’s structure – and loved that, but I just never got around to reading the book. And then I heard that the novel’s author, Max Brooks, was publishing a new novel this year – Devolution – and I thought now was the time to finally give World War Z a read. At the end of the day, I totally see why World War Z is as beloved as it is. It’s a really unique take on the zombie genre, combining it with a traditional oral history of a real-world war is a stroke of genius. But I don’t know that I loved this book. It’s good, but the hype might have killed it for me. (Mild spoilers may follow.)

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks 
We survived the zombie apocalypse, but how many of us are still haunted by that terrible time? We have (temporarily?) defeated the living dead, but at what cost? Told in the haunting and riveting voices of the men and women who witnessed the horror firsthand, World War Z is the only record of the pandemic.

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

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REVIEW: “Bandstand: The Broadway Musical”

bandstandAmong the artistic industries suffering the hardest during the COVID-19 crisis is the Broadway community. Unlike with film and TV, Broadway has nearly nothing “in the can” that they can roll out to fill the time all of their theatres are shut down. No shows can be performed while all the theatres are closed and nobody can gather to see them. So, what is Broadway to do? Answer: release some of the musicals they’ve professionally filmed over the years. Which is where Bandstand enters. Directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler and featuring a book and lyrics by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor and music by Richard Oberacker, Bandstand tells the story of a group of PTSD-suffering World War II veterans who, after returning home from the war, form a band and compete in a nationwide songwriting competition. The show opened on April 26, 2017, and closed on September 17, 2017, playing only 166 performances. The musical was filmed towards the end of its run and shown in movie theaters in November 2018. Yet most of the public, even the theatre-going public, probably haven’t heard of it. With its early closure, its mixed reviews, and its lack of any major Tony nominations, Bandstand would seem to the definition of a flop destined to rot in obscurity. But does it deserve that reputation? From a financial standpoint, sure. But from a creative one? I’d argue the opposite. I’d argue that Bandstand is one of those forgotten treasures that hit Broadway at exactly the wrong time. It’s a show filled with captivating characterizations and excellent music and is well worth a watch. (Spoilers for Bandstand follow.)

Bandstand (directed by Andy Blankenbuehler, lyrics by  Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor and music by Richard Oberacker)
1945; as America’s soldiers come home to ticker-tape parades and overjoyed families, Private First Class Donny Novitski, singer and songwriter, returns to rebuild his life with only the shirt on his back and a dream in his heart. When NBC announces a national competition to find the nation’s next great musical superstars, inspiration strikes! Donny joins forces with a motley group of fellow veterans, forming a band unlike any the nation has ever seen. Along the way, they discover the power of music to face the impossible, find their voice and finally feel like they have a place to call home.

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REVIEW: “The Prince of Egypt – Original Cast Recording”

prince of egyptAs I say every time I review an album, I don’t consider myself a music reviewer. I know the basics of what makes a song work, but I do know what I like and I mostly know why I like it. I do consider myself someone who can review musicals, though, which is why I’ll occasionally review the cast album for a musical. A good cast album should be able to stand on its own as a wholly complete piece of music but should also be a good representation of the musical and its plot. This is where The Prince of Egypt enters. I grew up watching the film and absolutely adore it. It’s once of my favorite animated musicals of all time and I’ve long wanted it to be adapted for the stage, much like Disney does with their animated films. And it’s finally happened. A big, grande adaptation opened in London’s West End earlier this year, and its cast album dropped today. Featuring all-but-one of the film’s songs and a whole host of new songs by original lyricist and composer, Stephen Schwartz, can this new musical hold a candle to its iconic source material? In short: more or less.

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REVIEW: “The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home” (A Welcome to Night Vale Novel) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

fowI love Night Vale. A lot. It’s one of those ideas that is eternally malleable. There’s so much that can be done with these characters and the setting and novels are a really good way for the authors to push the boundaries of the world. It’s what they did with the first two novels, Welcome to Night Vale and It Devours! and it’s obviously what they’re seeking to do here with their third, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home. The Faceless Old Woman is the perfect character for a book devoted to her, much like the Man in the Tan Jacket was a perfect character to explore in the first novel, and the promise of finally learning her story was one that immensely interested me and got me really pumped to give this book a read. Having read it, I can safely say that it does not disappoint. For long time fans of the podcast and previous books, this one might take some getting used to, but the story it tells does complete justice to the character while still spinning a story that’s full of surprise and pathos. (Mild spoilers may follow.)

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
In the town of Night Vale, there’s a faceless old woman who secretly lives in everyone’s home, but no one knows how she got there or where she came from…until now. Told in a series of eerie flashbacks, the story of The Faceless Old Woman goes back centuries to reveal an initially blissful and then tragic childhood on a Mediterranean Estate in the early nineteenth century, her rise in the criminal underworld of Europe, a nautical adventure with a mysterious organization of smugglers, her plot for revenge on the ones who betrayed her, and ultimately her death and its aftermath, as her spirit travels the world for decades until settling in modern-day Night Vale.

Interspersed throughout is a present-day story in Night Vale, as The Faceless Old Woman guides, haunts, and sabotages a man named Craig. In the end, her current day dealings with Craig and her swashbuckling history in nineteenth century Europe will come together in the most unexpected and horrifying way.

Part The Haunting of Hill House, part The Count of Monte Cristo, and 100% about a faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home.

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