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Jason Momoa revives his 'Game of Thrones' character on 'SNL' for 'Khal Drogo's Ghost Dojo'

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Though “Saturday Night Live” has found tremendous success during the past few seasons as a vehicle of political satire, some of its best sketches take a step away from the goings-on of Washington, D.C.

That was particularly true of Saturday’s episode featuring “Aquaman” actor Jason Momoa. Twitter was alight with chatter about the muscular actor’s revival of his (in)famous “Game of Thrones” character Khal Drogo for an imagined talk show that plays on “Dothraki Public Access” television.

The fake show, titled “Khal Drogo’s Ghost Dojo,” is brought to audiences by both “Little Beard Twisties” (a comedic take on the beard ties that Momoa’s character often wore) and the venue for the “Red Wedding” (if you don’t know what this refers to and plan on watching “Game of Thrones,” maybe don’t Google it). The central conceit is that characters who have died during the first six seasons of the show appear to talk with Drogo – spoofing the fact that George R.R. Martin, who wrote the novels upon which the show is based, seems to enjoy killing off many of his characters.

The show is hosted by Drogo and Kenan Thompson as one of his bloodriders (again, this makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen the HBO show) and they talk to a number of beloved characters.

First up is Beck Bennet’s Hodor, one of the most beloved characters from the series. The interview doesn’t exactly go great, as Hodor basically knows two phrases: “Hodor” and “Hold the door.”

“Hodor,” he says.

“What do you do?” Drogo asks.

“Hodor,” comes the reply. Later he just starts shouting, “Hold the door,” a joke about one of the show’s big reveals.

Next up is Pete Davidson’s High Sparrow, who on the HBO show is a devout and celibate religious leader. He’s curious if he’s gotten into heaven, only to realize he’s on a bad talk show.

“So glad I gave up sex for 50 years,” Davidson’s Sparrow pouts.

“I sex when I want, whenever I want,” Momoa’s Drogo replies. “Many, many partners.”

“And we both ended up in the same heaven,” “SNL’s” Sparrow says. “Cool. Almost makes you question religion.”

Finally, Heidi Gardner comes on as Brienne of Tarth, who isn’t even dead in the show – a question Thompson’s bloodrider quickly raises.

“Are you even dead?” he asks. “I mean, the show’s been on for so long, I’m really asking.”

In the show, the character of Brienne, though female, is often perceived as male since she is a warrior. “SNL” used this to reference Kevin Hart. The comedian stepped down Friday from his gig hosting the Oscars after a number of old homophobic tweets surfaced for which he refused to apologize, despite a request from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“If this man wants to fight, I’ll give him what he wants,” Momoa’s Khal Drogo says about Brienne.

“Man? Wow, you have a lot to learn about identity politics,” she responds.

“You’re right, Khal needs to learn from Khal mistakes or I’ll never win Oscar,” Mamoa as Drago says, nearly breaking into laughter. In a clear reference to Hart, he adds, “I’ll never host Oscar.”

A wide-eyed Thompson just says, “Wow, what a teachable moment.”

Finally, Kate McKinnon appears as the late, young King Joffrey – i.e., “the worst, everybody’s glad he’s dead.”

The show takes a sharp turn into daytime television, bringing to mind “The Jerry Springer Show,” when Thompson’s bloodrider tells Joffrey, “What if I told you that the woman who poisoned you is here tonight?”

Aidy Bryant as Oleanna Tyrell appears, and the two wrestle until Thompson’s character breaks them up.

As the number of odd names in this post suggests, the sketch required some previous knowledge of “Game of Thrones” to fully understand. But it’s a refreshing example of the show taking a break from politics for a silly pop culture spoof.

This was first published in The Washington Post.


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UFC 231: Two Titles on the Line – UFC – Ultimate Fighting Championship

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Two titles are on the line at UFC 231 as Max Holloway takes on Brian Ortega for the featherweight belt and Valentina Shevchenko meets Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the flyweight championship.

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Golden Globes nominations: Dick Cheney biopic 'Vice,' 'The Assassination of Gianni Versace' lead

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Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice” staged an awards-season coup Thursday, landing a leading six nominations from the 76th annual Golden Globe Awards to narrowly edge more expected favorites like Bradley Cooper’s tear-jerking revival “A Star Is Born,” the interracial road-trip drama “Green Book” and the period romp “The Favourite.”

“Vice” topped all contenders in the nominations that were announced at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, including best picture, comedy and best actor nominations for Christian Bale’s nearly unrecognizable performance as the former vice president. It also earned nominations for Amy Adams‘ Lynne Cheney, Sam Rockwell‘s George W. Bush and for the screenplay and direction by McKay, the veteran comedy filmmaker who once skewered politicians as a “Saturday Night Live” writer.

For even the often-quirky selections of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a collection of 88 mostly lesser-known freelance film journalists, the strong support for “Vice” (which arrives in theaters on Dec. 25) was a surprise. Even its categorization of the film — a highly critical portrait of Cheney as a power-hungry, behind-the-scenes tyrant — as a comedy raised some eyebrows, as did Globes recent comedy selections “Get Out” and “The Martian.”

“It’s a movie that’s a lot like the times we live in. There’s part of it that’s absurdist and comedic and then there’s another part of it that’s darkly tragic and dramatic,” McKay said Thursday by phone from London. “But I do know I’m glad we’re in that category because we will take ‘Mary Poppins’ out. I’m not competitive with the other movies but I am competitive with ‘Mary Poppins.’ Dick Cheney is going for her.”

But it was far from a runaway win for “Vice” since the press association typically spreads its awards around. Oscar front-runners “A Star Is Born,” ”Green Book” and “The Favourite” trailed close behind with five nominations each.

READ MORE: Yes, ‘A Star Is Born’ is competing as a drama and not a musical at the Golden Globes — here’s why

On the television side, awards were even more widely dispersed among the likes of the spy thriller “The Americans,” Bill Hader’s hit-man comedy “Barry,” the Julia Roberts-led conspiracy thriller “Homecoming,” Chuck Lorre‘s acting coach series “The Kominsky Method” and last year’s champ, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Leading all small-screen nominees with four nods was “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” the FX anthology series about the Italian fashion designer’s murder.

For the first time, FX bested heavyweights like HBO, Netflix and Amazon with a network-best 10 nods, even though the exalted second season of its “Atlanta” received only a single nod for Donald Glover’s acting.

Curiously, the Hollywood Foreign Press doesn’t consider foreign-language films for best film, so Alfonso Cuaron’s acclaimed family drama “Roma” was left out of the Globes’ top category. “Roma,” which is expected to earn Netflix its first best picture nomination at the Oscars, was still nominated for best screenplay, best director and best foreign language film.

For the first time, the Globes nominated three films directed by African-American filmmakers for best picture, drama: Ryan Coogler’s superhero sensation “Black Panther,” Spike Lee‘s urgent white nationalist drama “BlacKkKlansman” and Barry Jenkins’ lyrical James Baldwin adaption “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The other nominees are “A Star Is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Freddie Mercury biopic.

All earned nods in other categories, too, including Rami Malek’s prosthetic tooth-aided performance as Mercury and the leading turn by John David Washington in “BlacKkKlansman,” who said his father, Denzel, woke him up for the nominations announcement.

“I had flashbacks when I was watching the (NFL) draft when they never called my name,” said Washington, a former football player. “When I heard them say my name, it happened in slow motion.”

While Sam Elliott’s supporting performance in “A Star Is Born” was unexpectedly overlooked , the Warner Bros. hit (which elected to compete on the more hefty drama side of the Globes despite its many songs) earned the expected nods for Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper (as both actor and director) and the song “Shallow.”

Up for best picture comedy alongside “Vice” are Yorgos Lanthimos’ wild palace power struggle “The Favourite,” Peter Farrelly’s divisive crowd-pleaser “Green Book,” the upcoming Disney sequel “Mary Poppins Returns” and the rom-com hit “Crazy Rich Asians.”

The Oscar path for both “Green Book” and “The Favourite” appeared to be solidified, with nods for all of their leads, some of whom are running in supporting categories: Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali for “Green Book” and Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone for “The Favourite.”

While some critics have taken issue with “Green Book” for relying on outdated racial tropes, the uplifting drama’s once flagging Oscar campaign has lately received a boost with both better ticket sales and accruing awards-seasonaccolades . Farrelly, best known for broader comedies with his brother, Bobby, like “Dumb and Dumber,” also received a best-director nod for his first dramatic film, edging out filmmakers like Lanthimos and Jenkins.

Nominees such as Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”), Regina King (“Beale Street”), Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Mary Poppins Returns”), Ali and Washington insured a diverse field of nominees. Three decades after last being included in the category for “Do the Right Thing,” Spike Lee was nominated for directing “BlacKkKlansman.” ”The first word that came to mind was ‘BOOM SHAKALAKA,'” Lee said in a statement.

But the Globes also failed to nominate any of the year’s acclaimed female filmmakers (among them Chloe Zhao, Tamara Jenkins, Marielle Heller) for best director, and none of the 10 best-picture nominees were helmed by a woman. At the previous Globes, presenter Natalie Portman pointedly introduced the “all-male” directing nominees.

Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man,” which has seen its awards hopes wane in recent weeks, failed to lift off, scoring neither a best-film nod, nor one for Ryan Gosling’s leading performance. (It did land nominations for Claire Foy and its score.) The morning was worse for Steve McQueen’s heist thriller “Widows,” which was shut out entirely.

Also left out was Ethan Hawke’s performance as an anguished pastor in “First Reformed” and Pawel Pawlikowski’s Polish stunner “Cold War,” his follow-up to the Oscar-winning “Ida.” (The nominees for best foreign language film alongside “Roma” were “Capernaum,” ”Girl,” ”Never Look Away” and “Shoplifters.”) Some of the TV snubs — “Atlanta,” ”This Is Us,” ”Better Call Saul” — were even more surprising.

But the Globes also handed out nominations to some up-and-comers, including Lucas Hedges (“Boy Erased”), Timothee Chalamet (“Beautiful Boy”) and Elsie Fisher, the 15-year-old star of the coming-of-age tale “Eighth Grade.” ”WHAT,” said Fisher on Twitter . When reached by phone Thursday morning and told she was trending, Fisher — whose character is a little-liked YouTuber — replied “Hell yeah!”

The press association honored one old favorite: Robert Redford, who received his 10th Globe nomination for what he has said may (or may not ) be his final acting performance in “The Old Man & the Gun.” Redford was given the group’s Cecil B. DeMille achievement award in 1994.

Glenn Close likewise notched her 14th Globe nomination for her leading performance as a celebrated author in “The Wife.” Reached Thursday morning, Close said her voice was “gone” after two performances of the off-Broadway play “Mother of the Maid” the day before. But she hoped to celebrate.

“Maybe today it’ll be tequila,” said Close before thinking better of it. “I have a show tonight. And I’ll probably have to go back to sleep at some point today.”

In film and television, the nominations guaranteed the Globes will boast what it most craves for its famously frothy broadcast: stars. Among them: Julia Roberts (“Homecoming”), Amy Adams (“Sharp Objects”), Nicole Kidman (“Destroyer”), Hugh Grant (“A Very English Scandal”), Melissa McCarthy (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“Patrick Melrose”), Emily Blunt (“Mary Poppins Returns”), Jim Carrey (“Kidding”) and Charlize Theron (“Tully”).

Though the major studios like Disney (“Black Panther,” ”Mary Poppins Returns,” ”Incredibles 2″), Warner Bros. (“A Star Is Born”) and Universal (“Green Book,” ”First Man”) are more in the thick of this year’s awards season than usual, indie outfits carried the day. Annapurna Pictures (“Vice,” ”Beale Street”) and Fox Searchlight (“The Favourite,” ”Can You Ever Forgive Me?) led with 10 nods apiece — especially welcome news for billionaire heiress Megan Ellison’s Annapurna, which struggled through upheaval and reported financial woes this fall.

Still, Disney could claim a kind of supremacy. Its soon-to-be-finalized acquisition of Fox would make its movie nominations tally 21 — a number that climbs higher still when you throw in Fox’s FX. The nod for its “Black Panther” also marked Marvel Studios’ first best-picture nomination at the Globes, a feat it’s hoping to repeat at the Academy Awards.

The ratings for last January’s broadcast, hosted by Seth Meyers and graced with an impassioned speech by Oprah Winfrey, dipped 5 percent with approximately 19 million viewers. As the first major awards show following the Harvey Weinstein revelations, the usually more frivolous ceremony had an atypical edge of seriousness. In a demonstration organized by the then-just-founded Time’s Up, women wore black on the red carpet .

Whether this year will return the Globes to their more lighthearted celebrations will rest partly with its unexpected pairing of Andy Samberg and “Killing Eve” star Sandra Oh, who’s also a nominee for best actress in a TV series drama. They were announced Wednesday as hosts of the Jan. 6 ceremony, to be broadcast live on NBC.

MORE COVERAGE: No Sam Elliott and more Golden Globes nomination shockers »

Golden Globes nominations preview: 5 things to watch for, including ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ vs. ‘Roma’ »

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What Netflix’s release of ‘Roma’ says about its movie business strategy »

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Manchester United v Arsenal: Premier League – live! – The Guardian

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United 1-1 Arsenal (Martial 31)



GOAL! United 0-1 Arsenal (Mustafi 26)






Mourinho speaks




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'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' is back, making the world safe again for obnoxious personalities 

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Oh goody, she’s back.

Midge Maisel, I mean, the sharpest wit and fastest mouth in Manhattan, who flat-out charmed viewers last year in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Amy Sherman-Palladino’s rollicking (and deservedly Emmy-winning) comedy series about a 1950s housewife who channels her boundless energy and proto-feminist frustrations into a stand-up comedy routine.

Season 2, which streams Wednesday on Amazon.com, picks up from the first season’s walk-off, with Midge (played to hyper perfection by Rachel Brosnahan, who also won an Emmy for the role) spinning the plates of her precariously compartmentalized life.

Separated though not yet divorced from her ego-bruised husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), Midge now toils, if you want to call it that, in the subterranean phone banks of the swanky B. Altman department store. It’s a demotion from the cosmetics counter, which she nevertheless masters, answering a battery of incoming phone calls all day with the gusto of someone who won’t have to see or hear the letters ADHD together for a good 30 years at least.

As other operators beg Midge to rescue them from the tangle of wires and call transfers (to the backdrop tune of Barbra Streisand’s 1969 rendition of “Just Leave Everything to Me,” never mind the technical anachronism), Sherman-Palladino executes one of the first of many sweeping, lusciously transporting camera perspectives across Midge’s pristine, vividly hued midcentury paradise, where even the shabby parts of town practically sing and zing with charm.

The beauty seen in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — the costumes, the sets, the lipstick, the vintage New York and, this season, equally dazzling side trips to Paris and then to the Catskill Mountains — is a necessary counterbalance to what can only be described as the show’s dependence on obnoxiousness as a heroic trait.

Yes, I said, it: “Mrs. Maisel” is an almost scientific study of the ups and downs of living one’s life loudly, boisterously, hurriedly — and obnoxiously, which isn’t always a bad thing. Those who have admired Sherman-Palladino’s razor wit in award-acceptance speeches and followed her work (including the classic “Gilmore Girls” and the underappreciated “Bunheads”) take a particular comfort in her ability to represent and bring to life the sort of female characters who cannot, will not shut up. And why should they? Part of the fun of watching “Mrs. Maisel” is to applaud its singularly sublime message, which is simply: I won’t shut up. You shut up.

It’s a valentine to women who fearlessly wield their command of language and humor. Women who, when faced with the equally obnoxious rules of a society that tells them to be quiet and tone it down, will instead respond with more words at more speed. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is a lesson in the artful uses of obnoxiousness, especially for those of us living in the brutishly obnoxious present.

By night, Midge is lured back to the comedy game by her sour-tempered yet relentless agent, Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein, another of the show’s Emmy winners), who tries to capitalize on the buzz Midge gained when she brought the house down at a Village nightclub and won a seal of approval from none other than Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), arguably the most obnoxious (and bravest) comic in town.

Bound to live by an almost smothering degree of convention, however, Midge and her two increasingly (almost laughably) ignored children still reside in yesteryear’s opulence — a huge prewar apartment with her parents, Abe and Rose Weissman (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle). Midge still keeps them in the dark about her blue and bracingly honest comedy gigs.

Much of Season 2 hangs on how much longer her secret will keep. Things go round and round a tad too often in the first five episodes, and a viewer may occasionally sense that Sherman-Palladino is favoring freneticism over story structure. It’s such fun to watch, however, that one may not even notice instances of disorganization.

For it is the pure fantasy of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” that we’ve all come to see: Visually, it’s a splendid swirl of an imaginary New York, practically vibrating with the desire to return back to a place most of us never experienced firsthand. So intense is its nostalgia and so backward are some of its worldviews that you could almost mistake it for a Make America Great Again rally, were it not for the show’s intellectual underpinnings. Almost achingly, the show tries to make a case for this lost world, while also indicting it. Just about any character who isn’t part of Midge’s immediate realm (upper class and Jewish, mainly) never gets more than a bit part.

That in itself can be seen as the show’s tacit recognition of its own insular obnoxiousness, and it’s a relief that “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” seeks to remind us — at least once per episode — that the 1950s were not as glorious as they appear. The same obnoxiousness can carry through triumphantly, as when Midge takes the microphone and dresses down a group of male-chauvinist comedians leering and sneering at her from the bar. In other scenes, it becomes a personality defect, when Midge pushes things too far, humiliating herself and others.

In old movies and TV shows, when a loud and forthright woman ends up in hubristic social disasters, the “me and my big mouth” lesson was implied: She should put a lid on it and be more ladylike. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” isn’t having any of that, suggesting instead that the funniest (and most obnoxious) person in the room also possesses the sort of courage to fix her own problems, make her own apologies and choose her own outcome.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (10 episodes) returns Wednesday on Amazon Prime. (Disclosure: Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Originally appeared in the Washington Post

MORE COVERAGE: Rachel Brosnahan on finding Mrs. Maisel and her ‘Marvelous’ Emmys night »

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Chicago rapper is an engineer and scientist by day, and brings the same logic to his rhymes

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“I feel like what I want is for people to do what they want to do. Walk in whatever lane they want to walk in and just be comfortable and confident,” said Jordan Holmes, who raps under the moniker DXTR Spits.

An engineer and scientist by day, Holmes claims he takes a scientific approach to his music. “Being an engineer and having that systematic approach to things helps with my songwriting because I’m able to think in structure, arrangement, and composing. They are more tied together then people think,“ he offered. “That’s what makes song construction. I apply the same logic from my engineering field to my work in the arts.”

Holmes said he brainstorms and maps the story he wants to tell with each album, track by track. Then, he starts to search for beats already created or have producers make music for the record which aligns with that initial vision. Later, he begins writing the lyrics. “I kind of weave (science and the arts) together and they’ve kind of grown together as part of my image now,” he said.

After growing up in the DMV area and graduating from Virginia Tech in 2014, Holmes relocated to Chicago to grow his music from solo experiments previously reserved for his ears only. Finding a balance between his daytime work and his creative pursuits has not been difficult for Holmes, who said coming to Chicago helped him maintain the motivation it takes to pursue one’s art. He describes the city as resilient. “Chicago doesn’t back down. If anything, it faces things heads on,” he said. “It goes beyond the arts community. It’s part of the culture of the city to grind it out.”

For Holmes, staying resilient means maintaining internally coaching himself to stay motivated and utilizing self-care tools. Pursuing anything in the arts, he said, requires keeping an eye on your Northstar. “You have to pick your Northstar and consistently remind yourself what that Northstar is,” Holmes offered. “So when things crash and burn, which they often do, you’ll at least have an answer for it and keep moving forward.”

His upcoming projects include a collaborative release with local artist Chai Tulani and a solo album, scheduled for release in early 2019. But before that, fans old and new can catch Holmes at one of his “Mad Scientist” shows. “My motto is to live life like an experiment,” Holmes began. “These shows are a full embodiment of that.”

The highly curated performances operate like a lab experiment gone wrong in the best possible way. Holmes takes over a venue with his own unique lighting and props to transform the environment into a place where people can “be weird,” aka just be themselves. “I want people to come into the space of a Mad Scientist show and not worry about somebody looking at how you dance or somebody looking at your clothes or something else,” he offered. “I want you to turn up and not worry.”

Britt Julious is a freelance writer.


Twitter @chitribent

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Where: Cole’s Bar, 2338 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Tickets: Free (21+); www.eventbrite.com

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Lyric Opera review: A magical, mystical view of 'Cendrillon'

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The story of Cinderella courses through the arts, but rarely more bewitchingly than in Jules Massenet’s opera “Cendrillon.”

Its elves, sprites and Fairy Godmother weave their spells through the magic of Massenet’s score, its vocal flourishes and glistening orchestration easily persuading us to believe that poor Cinderella’s dreams of happiness really can come true.

All of which has been made that much more enchanting by the production Lyric Opera opened Saturday evening. For this “Cendrillon” delights the eye as much as the ear, reminding us that great opera doesn’t necessarily have to be packed with blood and guts. It also can be light as air, fanciful to the core and — yes — very, very funny.

Lyric Opera had never staged Massenet’s “Cendrillon,” but it chose well in presenting a production first performed at Santa Fe Opera and subsequently staged internationally.

Its humor emerged immediately, maids and servants running frantically about the stage in mock terror of Madame de la Haltiere, the imperious taskmaster (and Cinderella stepmother) loathed by them all. When she stepped forth in a costume that, shall we say, exaggerated certain anatomical features, the audience erupted with laughter, right on cue. Funnier still were the ridiculously proportioned gowns worn by Madame’s two daughters, the absurd outfits rendering these characters quite farcical before they uttered a single, ear-piercing note.

But this wickedly amusing costume design, by director Laurent Pelly, would mean little if the performers trapped inside them didn’t express in sound and gesture the satiric nature of this production. Listen to mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop, in her Lyric debut as Madame, instruct her nitwit daughters to make themselves irresistible via “Faites-vous tres belles,” and you’re hearing a lovely instrument given a sharp, comedic edge. When soprano Emily Pogorelc and mezzo Kayleigh Decker – as Madame’s befuddled daughters – chimed in on the art of being gracious, in “Prenez un maintien gracieux,” their dumbstruck grimaces hilariously accentuated the comical leaps and bounds of their vocal lines.

How effective soprano Siobhan Stagg, making her American debut, was as Cendrillon depended in part on one’s tolerance for unrelenting vibrato. There was no denying Stagg’s sweetly fetching vocal timbre, nor her affecting – sometimes disarming – acting as the mistreated stepchild. But Stagg refused to give listeners anything remotely resembling a straight tone, all that warbling making her art an acquired taste not easy to acquire.

That flaw aside, however, everything else in this production matched or exceeded high expectations established at the outset. Best of all was mezzo-soprano Alice Coote in the trouser role of Prince Charming. Gloom never has sounded more radiantly beautiful than when Coote’s Prince longed for love in “Allez, laissez-moi seul.” Though the message was dour, the deep-amber color of Coote’s low notes and the ardently yearning nature of her phrasing could make even the most stone-hearted listener feel this protagonist’s pain.

When the Prince laid eyes on Cendrillon – dressed now not in rags but in a gown that sparkled like the stars above – we heard the sound of unalloyed infatuation. Their inevitable duet became one high point among many, Coote’s immense, all-encompassing instrument a welcome complement to Stagg’s chirping.

No character is more central to conjuring the opera’s wizardry and wonder than the Fairy Godmother, and coloratura soprano Marie-Eve Munger, in her Lyric debut, did just that through vocal gymnastics and saucy body movement. The pyrotechnics of Munger’s singing established the Fairy Godmother’s supernatural powers, while the way she sashayed across the stage – waving that light-tipped wand as if it made the world go ’round – explained why everyone did precisely as the Fairy Godmother instructed.

Bass-baritone Derek Welton, making his American operatic debut as Cinderella’s browbeaten father, Pandolfe, proved a fitting counterpart to Madame, his resonant instrument reflecting his character’s warmth.

And yet this “Cendrillon” amounted to more than its mostly superb cast. Really, it was the thrust and concept of the production – personified, of course, by its nimble voices – that captured attention and would not let go. Director Pelly and choreographer Laura Scozzi, in her Lyric debut, used the opera’s ballet sequences, for instance, not simply to provide entertaining choreography but to extend the spoofery. Thus, when the courtiers danced en masse before royalty, their movements were not the graceful steps of yore but spasmodic jerks and pivots suggesting the ludicrousness of their obsequiousness. When processions of women paraded before the prince hoping to win his affections, and when princesses from far and wide attempted to fit into the coveted glass slipper, Pelly and Scozzi provided enough hilarious stage business to enliven several operas (Karine Girard is the revival choreographer.)

Barbara de Limburg’s set design ingeniously paid homage to storytelling itself, via outsize text that was ubiquitous on backdrops; a collection of chairs carrying letters that came together to form a revelatory word; and the Fairy Godmother gliding onto the set on a tower of larger-than-life books.

Add to this production’s achievements Duane Schuler’s lighting design, in which stars, lamps and a magic wand cast a mystical glow; the aptly buoyant singing of the chorus, prepared by Michael Black; and Lyric Opera music director Andrew Davis’ acute leadership of the orchestra, which brought forth the translucent quality of Massenet’s score.

It all made for a “Cendrillon” that not only crystallized the quicksilver spirit of Massenet’s vision but enhanced it through a production as imaginative as the most enduring fairy tales deserve.

Four stars.

“Cendrillon” plays Lyric Opera on select dates through Jan. 20, at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr.; ticket prices vary; 312-827-5600 or www.lyricopera.org.

Howard Reich is a Tribune critic.


Twitter @howardreich

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'Thank u, next': All the pop culture references, cameos in Ariana Grande's new video

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It’s not Oct. 3, but today is a very important day for fans of the 2004 film “Mean Girls” – especially if they happen to also be fans of Ariana Grande.

On Friday, Grande released the long-awaited video for “Thank u, next,” the airy bop she released on the heels of her split from “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson. In the song, which Grande unveiled minutes before the Nov. 3 episode of SNL, the singer name-checks Davidson and several of her other exes, including Big Sean and the late Mac Miller.

As Grande hinted in sneak peeks this week, the music video features a bevy of pop culture references – including nods to “Mean Girls,” “Legally Blonde,” “Bring It On” and “13 Going on 30.” It also features tongue-in-cheek cameos from some of the stars of those movies, plus members of Grande’s inner-circle and one Kris Jenner.

And like the song, the music video, directed by Hannah Lux Davis, alludes to Grande and Davidson’s broken engagement. Below, we break down the biggest moments, inside jokes, cameos and pop culture references. (See something we didn’t? Let us know in the comments!)

“Mean Girls”

As Grande assumes the role of Regina George, who was played in the film by Rachel McAdams, the music video’s intro parodies the iconic “How do I ever begin to explain Regina George” scene,a montage of North Shore High School students sharing outrageous anecdotes and urban legends about their resident Queen Bee.

Colleen Ballinger, the YouTuber known as Miranda Sings, kicks things off. “One time on Twitter, I heard that Ariana was pregnant, so I got pregant so we could be pregnant at the same time,” says Ballinger, who really is pregnant. “Turns out it was just a rumor.”

Grande also taps Jonathan Bennett, who played Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron Samuels, to reprise his famous role. “Ariana Grande told me I look sexy with my hair pushed back,” he says, referencing a classic line from the movie.

Gabi DeMartino, the YouTube star who “lived like Ariana Grande” in a viral parody, offers a twist on another classic line. “Ariana says ‘honest to God knock me out,’ so I decided to punch myself in the face,” she tells us. “It was awesome.” (Fun fact: Grande really does say that – the phrase was the subject of a matching tattoo she got with Davidson).

And we get our first official Pete Davidson reference when Stefanie Drummond, who played North Shore student Bethany Byrd (the one Regina actually punched in the face), announces that “Ariana broke off an engagement, so I found a guy to propose to me and I broke off an engagement.” The student standing next to her is Scott Nicholson, one of Grande’s backup dancers, in drag.

Fellow pop singer Troye Sivan pokes fun at the fans who misheard one of the song’s much-discussed lyrics. Grande sings of meeting someone new whose “name is Ari,” but some fans thought she said “Aubrey.”

“I heard she’s a lesbian now and dating some chick called Aubrey,” Sivan says.

As the song begins, Grande-as-Regina is adding entries to her Burn Book (another significant reference). When she sings “Even almost got married / And for Pete I’m so thankful,” she glues a photo into the book. Davidson’s face is obscured, but it’s a widely-circulated photo of the pair. Grande shared it to Instagram, after their relationship first went public, with a caption that sent the Internet ablaze: “i am but a pete davidson update acc stay tuned for more (pete follows / comments sumtimes)”

Next, we see her with the Plastics, Regina’s loyal girl squad, which expanded in the film to include Lindsay Lohan‘s Cady Heron. Cady is portrayed by Grande’s former “Victorious” co-star, Elizabeth Gillies. Rounding out The Plastics are Grande’s close friends, Alexa Luria and Courtney Chipolone.

As Grande and her Plastics recreate the movie’s iconic “Jingle Bell Rock” scene, the video’s most apt cameo takes shape. It’s Jenner (!!!!!!) taking on the role of Regina’s mother (Amy Poehler, in the film), a cool mom, not a regular mom, who enthusiastically video tapes the performance, which is sexy to the point of being age-inappropriate. Jenner dances and sings along: “Thank u, next. Next!”

What we almost missed: In “Mean Girls,” Regina wears a shirt that says “a little bit dramatic.” Grande wears one that says “a little bit greedy,” a likely reference to her song “Greedy,” which appeared on her 2016 “Dangerous Woman” album.

“Bring It On”

The next verse takes on some memorable scenes from the 2000 film “Bring It On.”

Grande enlists another “Victorious” co-star – Matt Bennett – to join her in the film’s teeth-brushing scene, which originally featured Kirsten Dunst, as Torrance, and Jesse Bradford, as her love interest, Cliff.

What we almost missed: Many of Grande’s friends appear (or reappear) in the cheerleading scenes. Tayla Parx and Victoria Monet, two of Grande’s frequent collaborators who co-wrote “Thank u, next,” are among the cheerleaders in the Toros’ rival squad, which featured Gabrielle Union in the movie.

“13 Going On 30”

Grande pays homage to Jennifer Garner‘s most famous rom-com in what many have read to be another reference to her broken engagement to Davidson. As Grande sings, “One day I’ll walk down the aisle / holding hands with my mama,” she appears as Garner’s character, wanna-be 30-year-old Jenna Rink, who crashes the wedding of her childhood sweetheart, Matt.

With tears in her eyes, she adjusts the miniature furniture in her dollhouse, which is covered with the wishing dust that got Jenna back to her adolescence so that she could confess her true feelings to Matt.

What we almost missed: The dollhouse features a tiny photo of Grande’s face in a miniature bathtub filled with fake bubbles. Also, Mark Ruffalo, who starred opposite Garner in the 2004 film, is into this video.

“Legally Blonde”

In another sequence, Grande is Elle Woods (the role originated by Reese Witherspoon) in all her Elliptical-training, law studying and bend-and-snapping glory. The video also gives a nod to Bruiser, Elle’s beloved chihuahua, who, Bustle notes, is portrayed here by Grande’s own Beagle-Chihuahua mix, Toulouse.

If you think about it, “Legally Blonde” is an especially fitting reference for Grande. The entire movie is basically Elle Woods saying “Thank u, next” as she picks herself up after a painful breakup, goes to law school and kills it, proving her naysayers wrong in the process.

Jennifer Coolidge, who played the nail technician Elle taught to bend and snap her way to romance with a studly delivery guy, makes a cameo here.

Grande and Coolidge riff on the movie’s “he’s got a package” innuendo while making clear references to all that BDE talk (a NSFW explainer, for the uninitiated). “He was really cute, “Grande says. “And it was really big.”

“Well, I’ve only gone out with one guy that had a big front tooth,” Coolidge says. (Are you screaming? We are screaming.) “And I liked it cuz he never got anything stuck in the front teeth.”

What we almost missed: Ariana’s Elle is studying “immigration and refugee law and policy,” with a book on search and seizure by her side. Also, the delivery guy works for (wink, wink) BDE.

The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi contributed to this report.


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Chicago music venues join ranks to battle plans for Live Nation in Lincoln Yards

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A group of Chicago independent music venues has banded together to ask the city to slow down the $5 billion Lincoln Yards development and its proposed “three to five” concert halls run by Live Nation that the venues deem a threat to their existence.

Separately, Live Nation COO for U.S. Concerts Mark Campana sent a letter on Thursday to Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, asserting that “we want to be a great neighbor and always work with independent venues.”

Lincoln Yards, which would include residences, hotels and other businesses on 54.5 acres along the river’s North Branch, raises issues that go far beyond music venues. But the clubs have joined neighborhood groups to stake out a role in asking questions about the Sterling Bay company’s development and its planned financing.

“We should be in those conversations,” said Robert Gomez, owner of Subterranean and Beat Kitchen. “Everything’s happening behind closed doors between the mayor, the alderman and Sterling Bay. Enough.”

“I work with Live Nation,” said Gomez, co-chair of the new group that calls itself CIVL, for Chicago Independent Venue League. “This isn’t an anti-Live Nation movement. This is: If you’re going to alter the cultural music scene of the city, we need to be in the conversation.”

The nightclub group formally announced its formation Thursday evening, just before a contentious community meeting at which Sterling Bay unveiled its revised plan for the massive development. The group rallied hundreds of supporters to the meeting. Not surprisingly for a group of music venues, the organization already had its new logo, a peregrine falcon wrapped with a snake, printed on black tee-shirts.

Analysis: Music clubs to city: ‘Give us a voice,’ but is it too little, too late as Lincoln Yards looms »

“I think all the other aldermen will agree this will crush small venues,” said former 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti, who is running for mayor.

In addition to Gomez’ clubs, CIVL represents a group of mostly North Side venues that include The Hideout, Thalia Hall and the Empty Bottle, Metro, Martyrs’, Schubas and Lincoln Hall, and the new Sleeping Village. It is the first time the city’s leading venues have joined together to form such a group, CIVL leaders said.

Another key stakeholder, Chicago music promoter Jam Productions, is “very much aware of what we’re doing and he (co-owner Jerry Mickelson) supports us,” Metro owner Joe Shanahan said. Mickelson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Echoing earlier concerns raised by Tim and Katie Tuten, owners of The Hideout, the storied venue in the vicinity of the planned development, CIVL wants City Hall to delay implementation of a tax increment financing district that would place property tax revenues from the area into a special fund for 23 years.

“Why don’t we just take our time and do it right?” asked Bruce Finkelman, a CIVL board member whose company runs Thalia Hall, The Empty Bottle and Promontory. “Why are we going so fast?”

Details for Live Nation’s planned new music facilities have not been offered beyond “three to five venues from 200 to 3,000 seats,” Gomez said, plus the potential of the planned soccer stadium that could also host musical events. “It’s hard to answer questions when we don’t have answers ourselves. Are we talking, like, a shopping mall of musical venues?”

A new detail emerged in Thursday’s community meeting, held at Park Community Church, 1001 N. Crosby St.: A plan architect said the Lincoln Yards “entertainment district” would be primarily in two buildings adjacent to the soccer stadium.

Asked by Gomez to clarify what that meant, Dean Marks, Sterling Bay general counsel and principal, said what Live Nation might develop has “yet to be determined.”

But it seems clear that if Live Nation, which runs Ticketmaster and manages leading musical artists, gains such a concentrated presence with a range of seating capacities, it would significantly impact the city’s musical landscape.

“This will put an equal number of venues out of business,” Gomez said, because there is not demand for that many new concert seats here.

CIVL leaders called for a delay in approving the plan and the TIF until after a new mayor and City Council are seated in April. “Let the next mayor and City Council make the final decisions,” Gomez said.

They asked that the process be opened up and their expertise in presenting live music and running entertainment venues be tapped. And they are offering to the city “a set of recommendations about how to protect and build on this city’s treasured and historically significant independent music scene,” Gomez said.

In the community meeting that followed in the nearly full auditorium of the church, Ald. Hopkins said he has not made up his mind on the project and “I will not schedule the next hearing on this TIF proposal until (your) questions are answered.”

Hopkins’ office released the conciliatory letter from Campana, who says he is a “resident of the neighborhood” and as such “I want to see the Hideout successful.”

“At Lincoln Yards,” he wrote, “our goal is to add to the scene and complement the established independent music venues. We have no interest in changing the vibe.”

He suggested the business might work with The Hideout, for instance, on logistics of the club’s annual Hideout Block Party music festival.

But Katie Tuten did not sound mollified. “We’re standing up now to say, ‘Not here. Not in Chicago. Not on my watch,’ ” she said. “Conglomerate corporate giants should look elsewhere.”

Gomez said he hopes the formation of CIVL, which he said welcomes new members, will have an impact beyond Lincoln Yards. He could see the group trying to work with the city on tax and regulation issues, he said, and potentially establishing industry standards in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

“We now see ourselves as a resource for the music scene in Chicago,” he said.


Twitter @StevenKJohnson

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Hideout supporters attend meeting on Lincoln Yards development »

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