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Yes, 'Mamma Mia!' is back and yes, it's still a hit, especially at the Drury Lane

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“‘Mamma Mia!’ You’re Showing Your Age,’” read the headline on one of my past, ever-wearying reviews of an ABBA-fueled show that is to jukebox cash-cows what eukaryotic single-celled microorganisms are to human life.

That was in 2012.

Since then, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire has produced the musical (2017). So has the Paramount Theatre in 2016 (the Paramount forgot it was supposed to be funny, but we’ll let that sleeping dog lie). That really only leaves the Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace — and, well, as of Thursday night under the crystal chandeliers, there we all went again.

Why, wonders the intelligent reader? People love it. One of my great sources of information is the long-serving doorman out at the old-school Drury Lane, a fine and discreet fellow who has seen previews of every show back to when Tony DeSantis was cleaning the bathrooms every hour, on the hour. I can pretty much write my review based on the expression on his face as I pull up. Thursday night he was sporting a huge grin. Business, he knew, was about to boom.

I walked into the bar. It was five people deep.

Me, last night? I was preoccupied with how to sound vaguely fresh on a show I’ve now reviewed about 20 times. I’ve done the song title puns — facing my Waterloo, how can I resist you, money, money, money, knowing me, knowing you, yadda yadda. I’ve strutted my ABBA bonafides, recalling the interview with Benny (or was it Bjorn?) from his private island somewhere by Stockholm. I’ve done the nostalgic trip like Anton Ego of “Ratatouille,” whisking readers back to the first time I saw “Mamma Mia!” right before it opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in London, back when the songs were huge hits and the material surrounding them was a complete unknown.

“Hamilton” in Puerto Rico enjoyed a bigger audience response. But my list ends there.

That state of affairs, by the way, now has completely reversed. Far more people know “Mamma Mia!” than could name 10 ABBA hits. The vehicle now has eclipsed the fuel.

And — now I’ve seen “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” on the big screen, I have Lily James in my head, here the still-unborn child of Sophie and Sky. Weird! Plus Donna is dead! That adds a whole new level of emotional oomph. And I betcha’ good money you’ll soon be reading a review of the stage version of that sequel, replete with the most outre ABBA song of all, “When I Kissed the Teacher.”

Enough, critic. You know “Mamma Mia!” or you stopped reading three paragraphs ago. You are inquiring whether this one is any good? Yes siree, absolutely — it has Susie McMonagle played Donna. McMonagle did the national tour of this show in 2008 — I can still recall, as the ABBA song goes. She was fabulous then and we all get better with age.

Other notable matters: Director William Osetek’s production actually features an all-Chicago cast. Rebecca Hurd, a vocally terrific Sophie, comes with that crucial nerd quotient. No boring ingenue, she. Elizabeth Ledo’s smile (she’s an unusual Rosie) hits the back of the house all night. Jane Lanier’s flipper-loving choreography actually manages to be funny, and the universe of genuinely amusing choreography is small. And the fabulous Greek Isle costumes, by Marianne Custer, come with the life-affirming pleasures of fashion week in the spring. When you’ve seen a show so many times, you’re always going to have issue with one thing or another, here and there. But you need those paragraphs about as much as you need a lamentation that the Drury Lane is not doing existential nihilism.

And when you have McMonagle leading a charming company and open hearts all over the stage, you won’t care much. Just as the Emcee sings in “Cabaret.”

For the record, “Mamma Mia!” stacked its creative team with women long before it became fashionable to crow about stacking your creative team with women. Longevity has been its reward.

Guess we need a rewrite on that old headline. Let’s just not go as far as “Now and Forever.” Death comes to us all, even if “Mamma Mia!” points toward eternity.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.


Review: “Mamma Mia!” (3 stars)

When: Through April 14

Where: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

Tickets: $55-$70; 630-530-0111 and www.drurylane.com

From 2012: Oh ‘Mamma Mia,’ you’re showing your age »

From 2017: Super troupers! This ‘Mamma Mia’ has the look and the fun »

From 2016: Hey Paramount, ‘Mamma Mia!’ is ABBA, not Greek tragedy »

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Bryce Harper Rumors: Thursday – MLB Trade Rumors

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Now that Manny Machado’s 10-year, $300MM deal with the Padres has been announced, Bryce Harper and agent Scott Boras have a definitive bar to attempt to clear as they seek a record-setting contract of their own. Yesterday’s slate of rumors on Harper had a series of updates on how the Phillies, Nats, White Sox and Giants view the former NL MVP now that Machado is off the board. Here’s a look at the latest chatter on “Harper’s Bazaar” as the long, drawn-out saga inches toward a resolution…

  • MLB.com’s Jon Morosi joined Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area for Pavlovic’s latest Giants Insider podcast (audio link; Harper talk beginning around 12:45), wherein Morosi called an 11-year contract for Harper “very possible.” As others have done before him, Morosi suggested that Harper is expected to receive a larger contract than the one Machado received in San Diego.
  • Coming away from their pursuit of Machado empty-handed has “heightened” the Phillies’ pursuit of Harper, writes Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Breen writes that the organization is confident it’ll be able to sign the six-time All-Star, adding that the Phils “will be much more reluctant to walk away this time.” General manager Matt Klentak spoke candidly this week about the fact that Machado’s price point simply got to a point that exceeded the team’s valuation of Machado. It’s not clear whether the organization will take a similarly practical approach to Harper in the end, but Breen notes that the front office and ownership are keenly aware of how the public would perceive a scenario in which the Phillies fail to sign either Harper or Machado.
  • Padres ownership will meet tomorrow to determine if it is feasible to make a run at signing Harper in addition to signing Machado, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. As one would expect, Heyman notes that such a scenario is not at all considered likely, but it seems that the organization’s partners will at least perform due diligence and see if such a strategy can be pieced together. Heyman further tweets that for the Nationals, the ultimate call on Harper will come down to Ted Lerner (despite the fact that in 2018, Lerner ceded control of the organization to his son, Mark). The elder Lerner’s relationship with Boras is well-documented, though virtually every report out of D.C. over the past several weeks has suggested that the Nationals won’t be a top bidder for Harper.
  • Bruce Levine of 670 The Score / CBS Chicago reports that the White Sox will not bid on Harper, echoing similar sentiments reported by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale yesterday. Levine notes that the organization is quite high on some of its outfield prospects, noting that the ChiSox could make a short-term pickup in the outfield to help bridge the gap to that young talent.

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Duke loses Zion Williamson to knee injury when shoe blows out – ESPN

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DURHAM, N.C. — Duke freshman sensation Zion Williamson left the court and left the home crowd stunned only 36 seconds into the biggest game of the season, a visit from rival North Carolina on Wednesday night.

Williamson grabbed his right knee in pain after slipping awkwardly and falling when his left Nike basketball shoe fell apart as he planted hard while dribbling near the free throw line. The blue rubber sole ripped loose from the white shoe from the heel to the toes along the outside edge, with Williamson’s foot coming all the way through the large gap.

He walked off with a slight limp but under his own power before heading back to the locker room with no shoes on his feet.

Former President Barack Obama, sitting along the baseline near the Duke bench, shouted out encouragement to Williamson as he left the court.

In the closing minutes of the first half, Duke officials announced that Williamson would not return to the game, describing the injury only as to his “knee.”

Williamson was wearing the Nike PG 2.5, Thunder star Paul George‘s signature shoe from the fall, in a Duke exclusive colorway.

Duke is four years into a 12-year deal with Nike as the exclusive supplier of uniforms, shoes and apparel. The private school didn’t disclose terms of the 2015 contract extension. Nike has had an exclusive deal with the university since 1992.

Messages to Nike were not immediately returned.

Duke struggled initially in Williamson’s absence, falling behind UNC by double digits and rallying briefly before trailing 42-32 at intermission. The Blue Devils would go on to lose 88-72.

Williamson, the ACC’s second-leading scorer at 22.4 points per game, has established himself as arguably the most exciting player in college basketball with his array of dunks and once-in-a-generation athleticism.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The sublime poetry of Michel Legrand's film music

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In 1964, a French television interviewer asked composer Michel Legrand if writing for film is “sort of like selling your soul.”

The occasion was the release that year of director Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” with Legrand’s impeccably crafted, poignantly moving score.

At first, Legrand deflected the insulting question, responding – either out of politeness or chagrin – that he couldn’t discern what the interviewer was getting at.

“What do you mean?” said Legrand. “I don’t understand.”

The interviewer, who would go on to ask even more condescending questions as the TV program progressed, complained that writing music for film “takes away from the time you could be writing a symphony, for example.”

No longer would Legrand hold his fire.

“I don’t think one lowers oneself in any way by composing for film,” he responded forthrightly, his speaking voice as delicate as his music, notwithstanding the power of his words.

“For one thing, it’s a lot of fun if the film is interesting. It’s fun because it’s difficult. You mistakenly believe you have carte blanche. There are always constraints, and it’s within those constraints, once they’re discovered, that you must find your freedom. And that’s much more difficult than it appears, but that very difficulty makes it fascinating.”

No film composer ever finessed those challenges more elegantly or poetically than Legrand, who died last month in his native France at age 86. If you’ve been haunted by “The Summer Knows” (the main theme from “The Summer of ’42”) or “The Windmills of Your Mind” (from “The Thomas Crown Affair”) or any of Legrand’s multiple film and TV scores, you already perceive the man’s ability to evoke emotion through a few well-chosen notes.

But what the anonymous French TV interviewer didn’t realize was that Legrand’s score for “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” – the very film under discussion – itself disproved the notion that film music was innately inferior to other kinds of writing. For although Legrand would go on to create some of the most ingeniously crafted songs ever penned, including “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” and “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” (both with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman), Legrand’s writing for “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” represented an artistic pinnacle for himself and for film music.

For this was much more than just a collection of memorable tunes. In “Umbrellas,” Legrand created a score in which every word of dialogue is sung, from first scene to last. Not even the greatest film musicals – including “An American in Paris,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “All That Jazz” and “A Star Is Born” (Judy Garland version) – attempted such a feat. With his through-composed score and alternation of recitative-like lines and aria-like songs, Legrand in effect created a jazz opera that had more in common with Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” than with classic Hollywood song-and-dance musicals.

Though contemporary viewers might be startled at first to encounter lovers Catherine Deneuve (as Genevieve) and Nino Castelnuovo (as Guy) softly singing – rather than rapturously whispering – to each other, the naturalness of Legrand’s phrases quickly makes one forget this conceit. In a film in which the music never stops playing, melody and rhythm become the story’s driving force. Take away Legrand’s score, and “Umbrellas” becomes a conventional tale of a 17-year-old (Deneuve) who becomes pregnant and, after much anguish, soul-searching and self-delusion, ultimately marries the wrong man.

It’s Legrand’s music that lifts “Umbrellas” into the realm of high art (in tandem, of course, with Demy’s coolly understated direction and Jean Rabier’s gently flowing cinematography).

True, observers tend to focus on the one musical theme that recurs frequently and is best known today as the song “I Will Wait for You.” And, indeed, that yearning melody embodies the film’s bittersweet tone. But it’s critical to remember that this famous tune never really is delivered as a stand-alone song, its melody instead expanding and contracting, appearing in full form here, in snippets there. Like the great symphonist that the TV interviewer wished Legrand to be, the master molded and developed his exquisite theme as dramatic scenes required.

Ditto the tune that we now know as “Watch What Happens,” this indelible melody also bubbling up, disappearing and resurfacing as the story evolves.

And those are only two of the motifs that color this film. Others surface periodically to comment on the story’s emotional progress. As if this weren’t enough, Legrand’s instrumentation shifts restlessly from roaring big band to intimate small-group jazz to lonely solo piano to terrifying church-organ music, as the mood demands. Whenever actor Marc Michel appears as Roland Cassard, a diamond merchant pursuing Deneuve’s Genevieve, the music becomes sly and slinky. When actress Anne Vernon, as Genevieve’s mother, pushes her daughter into marrying for money, her vocals become high-pitched and tense. And when actress Mireille Perrey, as Guy’s Aunt Elise, advises her nephew from her sick bed, we hear some of the most tender, introspective music Legrand ever wrote.

Even the copious lines of conversation, which were designed to facilitate dialogue and not stand out as memorable melodies, tell us a great deal about these characters. The sensuous dipping and swooning of Deneuve’s phrases, the plaintive lines of the lovelorn diamond merchant and the agitated riffs of Deneuve’s ex-lover Guy (after returning from war) attest to the specificity of Legrand’s writing. Every measure, every tempo, every detail of instrumentation illuminates the inner life of these people. That this music is characteristically, elegantly French in its orchestral transparency and lightness of tone only enhances its appeal.

So as Legrand’s annoying interviewer on the French TV show continued his attempts to demean the man and his profession, Legrand offered yet another pungent, inarguable response.

“A composer who writes music – if the music is inside him, he creates music everywhere, regardless of the form or style,” said Legrand. “All that matters is that it be good music.”

With “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” Legrand created something more than good music: a cohesive, meticulously engineered score that belongs not only on the theatrical stage (where it has been adapted in London, Paris and elsewhere) but, ultimately, in the opera house, just as “Porgy and Bess” ultimately found a home there.

Or at least an opera house where jazz is welcomed and music for film embraced.

Howard Reich is a Tribune critic.


Twitter @howardreich

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Amy Klobuchar takes questions at CNN town hall: Live updates – CNN

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In an emotional moment, Sen. Amy Klobuchar described how her relationship with her father, a prominent journalist who dealt with alcoholism for much of his life, shaped her view of fighting addiction and helping people find redemption.

Klobuchar’s history dealing with alcoholism featured prominently in her questioning of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — a contentious moment that numerous voters in Iowa and New Hampshire said is when they first took note of the Minnesota senator.

“For me, like a lot of people, I grew up in a family with alcoholism and addiction,” Klobuchar said, adding that she hoped her questioning of Kavanaugh showed she “knew what it was like to live in a household with drinking, but that I also knew what it was like to see someone find redemption.”

Klobuchar’s father, Jim, was a prominent columnist to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and has been public about his fight with alcoholism. Klobuchar said Monday that her father has been sober for years.

“He continues to go to AA and is still friends with his AA group at age 90. True story,” she said. “And so I was literally able to see him climb to the highest mountains. He’s an adventurer, and really sink to the lowest valleys because of his alcoholism.”

Klobuchar said she and her father were “very close” and that his struggle taught her “was that I want to have other people have that kind of redemption in their lives.”

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UFC on ESPN 1 results — Cain Velasquez vs. Francis Ngannou: Live updates, highlights, fight card – CBS Sports

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In the 31 months since former two-time champion Cain Velasquez last stepped foot inside the Octagon, a lot has changed within the UFC heavyweight division.

The 36-year-old Velasquez makes his return Sunday in the main event opposite dangerous slugger Francis Ngannou in the first UFC Fight Night card on ESPN, which takes pace at the Talking Stick Resort in Phoenix, Arizona.

Can’t get enough UFC? Subscribe to my podcast State of Combat with Brian Campbell where we break down everything you need to know in the Octagon.

Velasquez will continue his pursuit to prove that the injuries and multiple layoffs that have come to define his career are truly behind him. He will also headline a fairly deep card which also features exciting lightweights James Vick and Paul Felder in the co-main event.

CBS Sports will be with you for every punch, kick and submission attempt from Phoenix with our live blog below. If you are having trouble viewing the blog, please click here.

UFC on ESPN 1 results

Cain Velasquez vs. Francis Ngannou — Heavyweight
James Vick vs. Paul Felder — Lightweight
Cynthia Calvillo def. Cortney Casey via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Kron Gracie def. Alex Caceres via first-round submission (rear-naked choke)
Vincente Luque def. Bryan Barberena via third-round TKO (strikes)
Andre Fili def. Myles Jury via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Aljamain Sterling def. Jimmie Rivera via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

UFC on ESPN 1 live coverage

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Ken Nordine, Chicago creator of 'word jazz' who had a voice that 'could give you the chills,' dies at 98

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Before you read the words written below about the life and times and accomplishments of a man named Ken Nordine, who died Saturday at his North Side home at the age of 98, it would be a good idea for you to listen to whatever you can find at www.wordjazz.com.

What you will discover is the one-and-only voice of Ken Nordine, one of the few people in the history of radio to use the medium to its fullest potential, rather than as a forum for blather, confrontation, inanities and noisy nonsense. He made a kind of vocal music as the voice of thousands of commercials and as the force behind a new art form he created and called “word jazz.”

You may never have heard the Ken Nordine name, but there is no doubt you have heard him. He was often referred to simply as “The Voice,” and you will read elsewhere that he possessed “the voice of God.” As complimentary as that may be, it is hyperbole. Nordine’s voice was as distinctive as any, but it also carried a palpable and unforgettable humanity. For the Chicago Blackhawks, he gave voice to these four unforgettable words — “Cold steel on ice” — that remain firmly embedded in local minds.

Those many hockey commercials were crafted by Chicago’s Coudal Partners advertising/marketing firm through the 1990s and into the next century. Kevin Guilfoile, now a successful novelist and screenwriter (castofshadows.net), was intimately involved in the process.

“Working with Ken was a thrill and an inspiration,” Guilfoile said Saturday. “He was a one-of-a-kind master poet, performer and producer — one of those rare people with a brilliant singular vision and also the creative and technical chops to make that vision a reality all by himself. There was something so pure about his art.

“He was also a pleasure to work with. When I heard the news of his death, the first thing I did was call (firm president) Jim Coudal, and Jim said, ‘There was nothing like answering the phone when Ken called.’ That’s so true. Just hearing your name said by that voice could give you chills.”

Nordine was born on April 13, 1920, in Cherokee, Iowa, the son of Theresia and Nore Nordine. His father was an architect/builder, and some of his work sparkled along the lakefront during our 1933-34 World’s Fair. This is where the family settled and where Ken attended what is now Lane Technical College Preparatory High School and the University of Chicago.

He started work in 1938, making $15 a month running a mimeograph machine at the studios of WBEZ, when that radio station programmed exclusively for the public schools. He then moved on to announcing jobs at stations in Florida and Michigan before returning here to become a staff announcer for WBBM-FM and to start making radio commercials.

One writer described his voice as an instrument that “muses and oozes like molten gold.”

In 1945, he married Beryl Vaughan, also a talented voice artist on such old radio program as the “Lone Ranger” and, for a time, was a Hollywood actress.

They settled into a home on the North Side and raised three sons.

“My father loved Chicago, deeply,” said his eldest son, Ken Jr., who worked for many years as an engineer and producer alongside his dad. “He was ever turning down opportunities to work in New York or Los Angeles.”

As successful as Nordine’s announcing and commercial work was, he was creatively restless and drawn to more adventurous vocal avenues. One night in 1956, he was reciting the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Edgar Allan Poe for musicians Johnny Frigo and Dick Marx at a Wilson Avenue club called the Lei Aloha. He ran out of poems and started to improvise. Thus was born what he called “word jazz,” a concept that would go on to spawn a dozen record albums, a syndicated radio show and make him a legend.

In 1990, Nordine accepted an invitation from Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead to perform with them at a New Year’s Eve concert. He would also collaborate with David Bowie, Tom Waits and many others in a late-life career that compelled one writer to call him “an underground hipster for the ages.”

None of this went to his head. “He was just the loveliest guy,” Guilfoile said. “And surprisingly for someone of his generation, he was fascinated with new processes and technology.”

Shortly after celebrating his 85th birthday with a party at the Chicago Yacht Club in 2005, he sat in his home and excitedly showed off his brand-new DVD, his first. It was titled, “The Eye is Never Filled,” a phrase that he remembers his mother saying to him repeatedly when he was very young. He told me then, “This is word jazz in morphing pictures” and described it as something that “looks like it was done under the influence of LSD.”

Nordine lost his wife in 2016 and 18 months ago suffered a stroke. “That kind of inhibited his ability to create,” said Ken Jr. “He was no longer able to use a computer, but he kept modestly active. He just slowed down a bit.

“You hear so much about my dad’s special voice, but the thing was he knew how to use it. He also had such a special mind that enabled him to deconstruct the world and put it back together in the most compelling ways.”

Those ways are still, and ever, available, at wordjazz.com, and he is also survived by sons Kristan, a musician, and Kevin, a filmmaker; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. A memorial service is being planned.


MORE COVERAGE: ‘Word Jazz’ pioneer Ken Nordine’s career gets a closer look at film festival »

The Voice »


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Aurora Mass Shooting: 6 Dead, Including Gunman, And 6 Officers Injured – CBS Chicago

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CHICAGO (CBS) — A gunman opened fire inside an Aurora manufacturing plant on Friday, killing five people and wounding six police officers. None of the victims names had been released as of Friday night.

The suspect, identified as 45-year-old Gary Martin, exchanged gunfire with police as soon as officers entered the 29,000 square-foot Henry Pratt building around 1:30 p.m. Feb. 15.

A total of 12 people, including the gunman, were shot. The five wounded police officers, all men, were shot within five minutes of arriving on the scene, according to Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman.

All the victims who died were employees. A sixth person employee was being treated in a hospital for non life-threatening injuries.

Gary Martin was identified as the man who shot five people at an Aurora workplace on Friday. (Facebook)

Martin lived in Aurora and was employed at the company, a subsidiary of Mueller Water Products, for 15 years. The Atlanta-based company manufactures water measurement products, according to its website.

The motive of the shooting was still unclear, but Ziman said Martin’s employer planned to fire him Friday.

Records show Martin was sentenced in February 1995 in Mississippi on an aggravated assault offense.

In a statement released Friday night, the company said it was left “shocked and deeply saddened by the horrific tragedy.”

“Our hearts are with the victims and their loved ones, the first responders, the Aurora community and the entire Mueller family during this extremely difficult time,” the statement reads. “Our entire focus is on the health and well-being of our colleagues, and we are committed to providing any and all support to them and their families.”

Ziman said police were notified about the shooting at 1:24 p.m. They arrived on the scene at 1:28 p.m. and were immediately fired upon.

Five officers were shot. A sixth suffered a knee injury.

At a press conference, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said the following:

“I don’t think I can be clearer in saying today is a sad day. We have seen similar situations around our nation. But to experience it first hand is even more painful. A shame these shootings are commonplace, a shame that someone would be so selfish to think he has the right to take an innocent life. We as a society cannot allow the heartless acts to become a spot on the 10 o’clock news.”

Gov. JB Pritzker also attended the press conference.

“There is no way to prepare for the pain of losing innocent people,” Pritzker said. “In the state that you were elected to lead, the state that you were elected to protect, there is no way to prepare. There are no words for the kind of evil that robs our neighbors of their lives.”

Two officers were shot in the leg; another in the hip; one in the neck and a fifth officers was hit in the neck. The injuries are all described an non life-threatening.


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Beto O'Rourke says he 'absolutely' supports destroying existing walls on southern border – Fox News

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Former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Thursday that he would “absolutely” support tearing down existing barriers along the southern border with Mexico, in a full-throated embrace of open-borders rhetoric that has left conservatives wondering where other potential 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls stand on the issue.

O’Rourke’s comments came as the House and Senate passed a compromise spending bill that would partially fund President Trump’s proposed border wall, to the tune of $1.4 billion. Trump, who had been pressing for billions more, has vowed to declare a national state of emergency to fund the remainder of the project.

Amid the congressional debate, Texas GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw wrote on Twitter earlier Thursday that he wanted O’Rourke to answer a simple question: “If you could snap your fingers and make El Paso’s border wall disappear, would you?” He cited Department of Homeland Security (DHS) figures suggesting that illegal border crossings dropped sharply in El Paso following the construction of a wall there.


MSNBC host Chris Hayes posed a version of that question to O’Rourke on-air: “Would you, if you could, would you take the wall down here — knock it down?”

“Yes, absolutely,” answered O’Rourke, who is widely thought to be a potential candidate in 2020 but has not formally announced his intention to run. “I’d take the wall down.”

Asked whether El Paso residents would support that move in a referendum,  O’Rourke replied, “I do.”

He continued: “Here’s what we know. After the Secure Fence Act [of 2006], we have built 600 miles of wall and fencing on a 2,000-mile border. What that has done is not in any demonstrable way made us safer. It’s cost us tens of billions of dollars to build and maintain. And it’s pushed migrants and asylum seekers and refugees to the most inhospitable, the most hostile stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border, ensuring their suffering and death.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other Democrats, including then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, supported the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized the construction of some 700 miles of fencing at the border. As of 2015, virtually all of that fencing had been completed, according to government figures.

“More than 4,000 human beings, little kids, women and children, have died,” O’Rourke continued. “They’re not in cages, they’re not locked up, they’re not separated — they’re dead, over the last 10 years, as we have walled off their opportunity to legally petition for asylum, to cross in urban centers like El Paso, to be with family, to work jobs, to do what any human being should have a right to be able to do, what we would do if faced with the same circumstances they were.”

In response, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, asked on Twitter whether other possible or declared Democratic White House hopefuls agreed.

Earlier this month, Trump challenged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has called the White House’s proposed southern border wall “an immorality,” to explain why she is not insisting on the removal of existing physical barriers, or opposing ongoing construction of new wall projects near San Diego.

“If Nancy Pelosi thinks that Walls are ‘immoral,’ why isn’t she requesting that we take down all of the existing Walls between the U.S. and Mexico, even the new ones just built in San Diego at their very strong urging,” Trump tweeted. “Let millions of unchecked ‘strangers’ just flow into the U.S.”

Some progressives in Congress, including Democratic Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, insisted this  month that “we know walls don’t work.” Escobar, signaling she may support removing some barriers, called walls “ugly” and “monuments to division.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune has reported that physical barriers, including walling and fencing, encompass some 46 miles of the city’s 60-mile border with Mexico. In February, construction is slated to begin on 14 miles of additional secondary walling, with work to begin on 15 miles of replacement wall this summer.

Earlier this month, in an interview with CNN, Democratic California Rep. Juan Vargas acknowledged that those physical defenses were effective and enhanced security for local residents.


“I mean, you go to the border and you see long lines of people waiting to come in. … So we do have a problem of having huge wait lines to come in,” Vargas told anchor Don Lemon. “You know, there is fencing already there, to be honest with you. There are places where we already have fencing where it made sense for some security.”

O’Rourke’s comments to MSNBC on Thursday, however, were the most stark anti-wall comments yet by a prominent Democrat — and set up another potential confrontation between Trump and the progressive star. On Monday night, Trump held a campaign-style rally in El Paso — just as O’Rourke led a border wall protest roughly a half-mile away.

Fox News’ Nicole Darrah contributed to this report.

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Snow? What snow? 5 balmy things to know about the annual Orchid Show

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Last night, it literally stormed ice. As I write this, there is fresh snow on the ground. A space heater blows warmed air onto me, and my feet are wrapped in thick winter boots.

But switch to a different tab in my browser, and I return to another world: photo after photo of fascinating, lush, colorful flowers. Monday I was at Chicago Botanic Garden, taking in the annual Orchid Show. And I learned at least five things about the exhibit celebrating the flower, abundant in the wild, notoriously difficult to grow at home.


The theme this year is the tropics, appropriate as balm for a particularly wintry stretch of the Midwest’s cold season. The tropics are so named because they exist in that central belt of Earth between the Tropic of Cancer, which starts just south of Florida, and the Tropic of Capricorn, which cuts through Madagascar. And there’s a reason two-thirds of the world’s flowering plants live there: The average temperature ranges from 77 to 82 degrees, and in the region’s rainforests, it can rain 400 inches a year. Do not think about what that would be as snow.


You can be the most aesthetically challenged human you know, and you will still take good photographs at the show. Just get close and fill the frame with those feathery petals in lurid pink, spotted tangerine or white with smears of scarlet and mustard. For more atmosphere, try to get a show with the show’s waterfall as backdrop. And you will not be alone as you shoot; everyone else, it seems, is also trying to capture these exotics, to turn pistils into pixels, as it were. Tuesday mornings from 8:15 to 9:45 a.m. is especially for photographers, who are allowed to bring in tripods and monopods during those 90 minutes.


The botanic garden, on Lake Cook Road near Glencoe, is raising funds to build new facilities on the south end of its campus where, in future years, it will be able to grow some native Midwestern orchids. But for now, the 10,000 or so flowers are brought in, and there is an admission charge of $12 for adult non-members.


Thursday evenings feature “Orchids After Hours,” which is either flowers revealing their innermost fantasies or a kind of tropical-drinks and appetizers set-up designed to let people make seeing the fancy flowers into a night out. And Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10 a.m., musicians are brought in for an hour to serenade visitors and/or the flowers.


The botanic garden encourages you to get muddy, to be more than a passive orchid enjoyer. On weekends there is an orchid marketplace, and on March 9-10 the Illinois Orchid Society will hold its spring show, a judged competition, and sale. Finally, on March 28, many of the plants featured will be part of the traditional Post-Orchid Show Plant Sale. And the tropical interlude will be officially over.


Twitter @StevenKJohnson

‘In the Tropics: The Orchid Show’

When: Through March 24

Where: Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe

Tickets: $12 plus parking; 847-835-5440 and www.chicagobotanic.org

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