Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday Reading

Broadway is Back — The Tony Awards are tonight, and Kevin Fallon at The Atlantic says that this year, we’ve had some real winners.

It’s been years since Broadway made national headlines—probably not since Wicked’s megahit score slowly found its way into the mainstream beginning in 2003. This year, however, two separate stories that started at the Great White Way found their way into the mainstream news cycle. The first, a mammoth, overblown, injury-inducing creative debacle—Julie Taymor’s disastrous Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—made news each time an actor dropped from the rafters during its tumultuous preview period. The second time was when an irreverent, politically incorrect musical about spreading the Mormon gospel pushed the envelope farther than anyone thought it could go, successfully and hilariously satirized religion while celebrating it, and earned some of the best reviews and box-office receipts Broadway has seen in a decade.

Both news events were significant, and both exemplify why the Tony Awards, which air Sunday at 8 pm on CBS, still matter.

It’s easy to write-off an awards show that celebrates such a specific area of the arts;as many critics do annually when the telecast draws less viewers than a repeat of Rules of Engagement. But Spider-Man and Book of Mormon show why Broadway is a medium to be celebrated, and one that deserves our national attention, even if it is once a year.

Both musicals, to different levels of success, took risks in an attempt to bring musical theatre back into the mainstream. Taymor raised an unprecedented amount of money to produce Spider-Man, which given the comic series and film franchise’s massive, masculine popularity, had—and has—the potential to draw a whole new demographic of patrons to the theatre. She even drafted U2’s Bono and the Edge to compose the score. Book of Mormon, by the creators of South Park, provoked and stirred controversy in an attempt to drum up business for a musical that, for all intents and purposes, is a classic Broadway showpiece in every traditional sense.

Yes, Spider-Man didn’t open in time for eligibility;too many, er, hiccups—but Book of Mormon and 13 other productions will compete for the night’s top prizes (not to mention dozens of actors) and be showcased to varying degrees on the show.

Remember that actors ranging from Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury to Lea Michelle and Kristen Bell got their starts on Broadway—the next superstar could be honored Sunday night. Besides, if 13 million people think Glee is worth tuning in to, the chance to see un-autotuned, expertly choreographed professionals—the best in the business—out-jazz hand New Directions should entice countless more people to watch the Tonys. Factor in that the impossible-to-dislike Neil Patrick Harris is hosting the event, and celebrities including Daniel Radcliffe, Chris Rock, and Robin Williams will be presenting, the night should be as star-studded as any major Hollywood awards show—only with more unabashed kick line glory.

More below the fold.

Bringing Home the Bacon… and iPods — Cuban exiles return to Havana with everything from food to body wax.

Alejandrina Hernández packed only light clothes and a makeup bag when she flew here from Miami this spring. As always, she kept her baggage to a minimum.

Her own baggage, that is.

Ms. Hernández also brought more than 100 pounds of food, clothes and medicine for her family and other Cubans whose relatives in the United States paid her $8 a pound to ferry gifts.

“I need to see my family, but these trips are very expensive,” said Ms. Hernández, who has returned eight times to see her husband and mother in the past 18 months. “This way, I more or less break even.”

Ms. Hernández is part of a surge in Cuban and Cuban-American visitors from the United States since President Obama lifted travel restrictions in 2009 for those with family here.

Economists and travel agents estimate that 400,000 passengers will fly to Cuba from the United States this year, nearly four times the number in 2008 — and more than at any time since the United States cut ties with the island some 50 years ago, they say. The visitors bring cash and huge bundles stuffed with goods that the embargo and Cuba’s economic woes have put beyond reach, from basics like milk powder, bouillon cubes and vitamins to luxuries like BlackBerrys and flat-screen televisions. Much of it goes into the living rooms and pantries of relatives, or to retailers who operate Cuba’s voracious informal market.

But the money and goods also feed Cuba’s budding private sector, the frail backbone of President Raúl Castro’s plan to reinvigorate the country’s feeble economy. Many entrepreneurs say they get capital and supplies from relatives abroad — colored beads from Miami for religious trinkets, pepper mills for restaurant tables, beautician’s wax.

Opponents of greater contact with Cuba say such openings simply help to keep the Castro government afloat. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida whose parents are Cuban exiles, has called remittances and travel by Cuban-Americans “perhaps the single largest source of revenue to the most repressive government in the region.”

A State Department official, who requested anonymity because the policy is politically delicate, said that “additional people-to-people contact and enhanced economic independence from the state” helped to “undermine repression.” In an e-mail responding to questions, the official said such benefits outweighed concerns about “the Cuban government profiting indirectly.”

A Matter of Judgment — Leonard Pitts, Jr, on what it is about the men who make the fools of themselves.

Let’s roll out the list.

It includes, in no particular order of “sluttishness:” Kwame Kilpatrick; Jesse Jackson; James McGreevey; Ted Haggard; Gary Condit; Mark Sanford; John Edwards; Bill Clinton; Newt Gingrich; Rudy Giuliani; Eliot Spitzer; Antonio Villaraigosa; Arnold Schwarzenegger; James West; Larry Craig; David Vitter; John Ensign. And now, Anthony Weiner, Democratic representative from New York.

The thing these individuals have in common is as obvious as, well…the erect penis in Weiner’s underwear in that risqué picture he claimed he never tweeted to a young woman and wasn’t even sure was really him, only to confess last week that he was lying on both counts. In case the commonality eludes you: they are all political or social leaders who got caught in sex scandals, having gotten busy, hiked the Appalachian trail, taken a wide stance, or otherwise behaved inappropriately with women, men, and a prostitute or two to whom they were not married. And they are all men.

Can anyone name the last female leader caught in a sex scandal? Me neither.

It is not that women are of a higher moral order than men. Studies confirm that women cheat, too. And yet, you never see that fact reflected in a Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin biting their bottom lip in the glare of TV lights while making some teary-eyed confession of infidelity and “mistakes.”

We must conclude that women are possessed of something rare among men. It is called a “brain.”

Evidently, that organ tells them that when your private life is public record, when you live in a news cycle that is all intrusive, all the time, it might be wise to keep that other organ zipped.

Some may say this is not our business, that while infidelity is awful, it is also between a man — even a public man — and his wife. But see, this is not about marital morality. It is, rather, about judgment.

The ability to weigh one’s options and make the right call is the basis of leadership. Consider that, and then consider: Bill Clinton thought he could get away with being serviced by an intern in the Oval Office. Kwame Kilpatrick thought he could get away with paying $8 million from the city treasury to keep his affair secret. Anthony Weiner thought he could get away with putting suggestive photos of himself online. Repeat: online.

Yet we depend on men like these to make decisions about our money, our healthcare, our children. Not to mention war and peace. What faith can we have that men who show such poor judgment in their marriages will show better judgment in other areas?

Doonesbury — the right to be a moron.