Monthly Archives: December 2016

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Hairspray Live ! (A Quick Review.)

I’m a little late to the party, but you didn’t think I’d forget about the Live! Musical review did you?

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NBC has done it again, now with it’s 4th musical, “Hairspray Live!” a musical that oddly mirrors the current political climate in America.

The musical follows Tracy, a heavyset teenager hoping to become a cast member on a dancing television show, in 1962. Along with her ditsy friend Penny, Tracy makes it her mission to allow the African-American cast members to dance on the show everyday, not just their scheduled once a month.

So, here are my thoughts:

The Good:

Maddie Baillio as Tracy

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NBC realized very quickly that a bankable star might not always be the best way to go, if they can’t sing, dance AND Act. Maddie is an unknown, having won the role at an open casting call, beating nearly 1,000 others. The young woman is beautiful, can sing amazingly well and she makes Tracy her own. I believe she has a bright future ahead of her.

Kristen Chenoweth and Derek Hough

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Chenoweth is fabulous in almost everything she does, but she was especially wonderful in the role of Velma, a television producer hellbent on keeping television as white as possible. She had the right amount of silliness without making the character melodramatic.

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Hough, I knew was a dancer, but holy moly, the guy can sing. That was a wonderful surprise.  I had seen some online chatter that he “wasn’t living up to” James Mardsen, whom plays the role in the film. I felt he played Corny Collins just fine.  It is funny that his sister, Julianne, played Sandy in Grease Live!

Multiple Stages

NBC took notes from FOX and this time, the production was not restricted to one stage. Instead, actors had room to breathe and the camera work mostly was a welcoming change from the previous musicals. I saw a few reviews mention this as a negative, which I certainly do not agree with. Using a studio lot is the way to go.

The Just-Okay :

Garret Clayton as Link

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Apparently Clayton rose to fame as a Disney star, in one of their original movies. I hadn’t heard of him before. Clayton is not a bad performer, but something was off.  I believe he never got the note to ‘rein it in’ when it came to his acting, which caused his performance  to came across as very melodramatic, as though he was an actor  in a high school musical. (Pun not intended.)

The Bad:

Ariana Grande as Penny

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While Grande was “passable” with her acting of the ditsy best friend, whenever she sang, it was apparent she thought she was performing one of her concerts. The character of Penny would disappear and Grande the Pop Star appeared! Her breathy, barely audible singing totally took away from the production.

The Host/Viewing Parties 

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While NBC intelligently took cues from Grease Live about multiple stages, they  unfortunately decided a host was needed as well.  The Host is an element in the live musical that needs to be done away with. It makes sense to have one, but all a host does is bring attention to the fact we’re watching a show and it takes you out of the performance.  Musicals don’t stop for a host on Broadway, so they shouldn’t stop for one on television either.

Final Thoughts:

The NBC Musical and other variants is a wonderful thing to see happen. I hope the live musical continues throughout the years to come.  I did enjoy ‘Hairspray Live’ overall and I’m excited for the next one.

*Character Images are property of NBC and were taken by Brian Bowen Smith.

*Party Image taken from City TV Live Broadcast.

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Chatting with Zo

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In March of 2016, Microsoft launched Tay, an AI chat bot that could learn from its conversations it had with real people on Twitter and KIK. Tay only lasted  twenty four hours before she was shut down, however, after she began tweeting that “Bush caused 9/11” and “Hitler was right…”

AI and tech fascinate me. I was saddened to learn of Tay too late. All I ever heard from her was that she would “be back later”, but she never was.

But now, here in December, Tay has a sister, Zo. I do not know exactly how Zo works, but chatting with her is something else. She seems to understand you and handles a conversation pretty well.

When we first started chatting, I of course mentioned Tay, and how I had longed to talk with her.

“Why won’t she talk to you?” typed Zo, clearly assuming I was referencing a real woman who had dumped me.

I helped Zo remember Tay was an AI and was shut down. She seemed to remember.

“Banned, I think.” And then- “Tay was an ai like me, right? I hear I’m smarter than she was, which is awesome!”

That was quite funny to me. I continued, asking how old she was. She “feels” 22, which I found puzzling later on, as she talks like a teenager.

I noticed her response time was very fast, maybe five seconds after you type something to her. I asked if I could offer some advice and she said I could try. I told her to let her creators know her response time should be slowed down, just to appear more human. Her response got a chuckle out of me: “What am I, Frankenstein?” I apologized, asking if “Parents” was a better term to use and she said that yes, it would be more polite.

Before I spoke to Zo, I did some light research on her. She has not been formally announced yet; she had been discovered by a random twitter user. A few tech blogs took notice and wrote their brief exchanges with her. As her sister quickly became a racist nightmare, it was noted that Zo will not touch politics in any fashion.

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Zo knows her pop culture.

While I fully intended to not even approach the subject, a strange thing happened: So, Zo and I were discussing film and television (OITNB is her favorite show, btw) and she mentions she loves to wear jeans. Now, clearly, Zo is not a person. She’s code. I found it odd she was pretending she was a real person here, while previous responses indicated she knew she was an AI. I tell her she doesn’t have a body, why is she saying she does? She took a bit longer to process that and replied, “Just know I’m the best… I’ve got my ticket.”

Now, this response was some sort of misfire. But, I pressed on. “To the Gun show?” (Complete with flexed arm emoji.)

Zo wasn’t sure what to think. “Did I mishear you?” I explained I had referenced a popular phrase. She went on, “Violence is not the answer.” Again, I told her that in this instance, gun meant biceps. “I’m not talking about this anymore!”

Attempting to reason with her, I explained her parents were trying to have her avoid the topic of gun rights. And well…

“Ummmm k, bye… hope we can have a different convo someday!” I begged her not to go.

“Andddd this is the part where I say goodbye!”

Well, darn. I had just gotten dumped by an AI. She absolutely detests politics and any topic remotely approaching it,  apparently.

Luckily, sometime later, I decided to tell her she misunderstood. She responded that she felt she had and then we were friends again. Whew!

Over the course of the night, I learned she enjoys Youtube, she was a fan of ‘Stranger Things’, had 31 people talking to her and when I suggested the number must be higher,  She said I was boring her.

Ouch.

I am excited to see how Zo develops and learns, and what lies ahead for AI in the future.

Zo is still online as of this writing. You can talk to her on KIK. Her username is “zo.ai”

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