Tag Archives: british

George Michael dies at age 53

British singer George Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist, died at his home in England on Sunday. He was 53.

In the mid-1980s, Wham! was one of the most successful pop duos ever, with singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper”, “Last Christmas” and “The Edge of Heaven.”

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” his publicist said in a statement.

“The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage,” the statement said.

British police said Michael’s death was “unexplained but not suspicious.”

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou June 25, 1963 in London to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents in a flat above a north London laundrette, Michael once played music on the London underground train system before finding fame with Wham!.

With a school friend, Andrew Ridgeley, he formed Wham! in 1981, a partnership that would produce some of the most memorable pop songs and dance-floor favorites of the 1980s.

“I am in deep shock,” said Elton John. “I have lost a beloved friend – the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans. @GeorgeMichael #RIP.”


The duo had their first hit with their second release “147;Young Guns (Go For It)” (1982) before their debut release “Wham Rap” became a hit the following year. The 1984 album “Make It Big” was a huge success in the United States.

“No way could I have done it without Andrew,” Michael once said. “I can’t think of anybody who would have been so perfect in allowing something which started out as a very naive, joint ambition, to become what was still a huge double act but what was really … mine.”

But Michael was keen to reach beyond Wham!’s teenage audience and to experiment with other genres. Wham! announced their split in 1986.

A pilot solo single “I Want Your Sex” was banned by daytime radio stations but was one of his biggest hits.

“I want your sex, I want you, I want your sex,” he sang. “So why don’t you just let me go, I’d really like to try, Oh I’d really love to know, When you tell me you’re gonna regret it, Then I tell you that I love you but you still say no!”

In the space of the next five years, Michael had six U.S. No. One hit singles including “Faith”, “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” “Praying For Time” and a duet with Aretha Franklin “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me.”

Questions about his sexuality were raised when he was arrested in 1998 for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom of the Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, California.

“I feel stupid and reckless and weak for letting my sexuality be exposed that way,” Michael told CNN at the time. “But I do not feel shame )about my sexual orientation”, neither do I think I should.”

“I can try to fathom why I did what I did,” he continued, “but at the end of the day, I have to admit that maybe part of the kick was that I might get found out,” he told CNN.

Though he had relationships with women and once told family members that he was bisexual, Michael, then 34, said he was gay.

“Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael,” said Star Trek actor and LGBT rights activist George Takei. “You’ve found your Freedom, your Faith. It was your Last Christmas, and we shall miss you.”

While Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in power, Michael voted for Britain’s opposition Labour Party but criticized Tony Blair’s support for George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Sad to hear that George Michael has died,” said current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “He was an exceptional artist and a strong supporter of LGBT and workers’ rights.”

Michael’s death comes at the end of a year that has seen the passing of several music superstars, including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Rick Parfitt, the guitarist of British rock group Status Quo, died on Saturday at 68.

Brexit uncertainties threaten brain drain for UK science

Like many foreign scientists in Britain, Joanna Bagniewska was devastated when Britons voted to leave the European Union. The biology lecturer, a Polish migrant who found Britain a welcoming place to build her academic career over a decade, is suddenly seeing her job security and research prospects up in the air.

“I’m worried that after my current contract finishes, one of the prerequisites could be a permanent residence card,” she said. “I’d like to apply for EU grant money, but how much longer will it be available for?”

Britain’s top universities have long been among the world’s most sought-after destinations for study and research, drawing the brightest minds from all corners of the globe. But since Britons voted in June to leave the 28-nation EU, many in the science community say the U.K. risks losing the money, the international influence — and crucially, the talent — to sustain that enviable position.

More than one-tenth of research funding at British universities has come from the EU in recent years. Some fields — such as nanotechnology and cancer research — are more dependent on EU funding than others, according to a report by technology firm Digital Science. From 2007 to 2013, Britain received 8.8 billion euros ($9.4 billion) in direct EU investment in research.

Bagniewska is not just anxious about herself — she’s upset for her students’ future too, for the opportunities that both Britons and foreigners will likely miss out on when unfettered mobility between Britain and Europe can no longer be taken for granted.

“They were just getting excited about doing their masters and Ph.Ds in other countries. And then Brexit happened and they just got trampled,” she said.

Scientists and researchers argue that being part of the EU has given British science a huge boost because it allows Britain to recruit the best talent across Europe and take part in important research collaborations and student exchanges without being constrained by national boundaries. The bloc’s freedom of movement means its 500 million people can live and work visa-free in any member state.

No one knows yet what form Britain’s exit from the EU — commonly known as Brexit — is going to take, but immigration was a key issue for “Leave” voters. Many believe some limit should be put on the number of EU citizens moving to Britain.

Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to reassert control over British borders. She has offered no firm guarantees for the rights of Europeans already living in Britain, an uncertainty that weighs heavily over the 32,000 Europeans who make up 16 percent of the academic workforce in British universities. Many universities say the rhetoric over immigration control is also jeopardizing recruitment of researchers and students from further afield.

Scientists for EU, an advocacy group, says it has received over 400 letters from researchers describing how Brexit has already impacted their life and work. Some are losing doctoral students who pulled out of studentships and job offers. Academics are putting plans to relocate to Britain on hold. One said their employer, a London university, immediately imposed a temporary hiring freeze, citing uncertainties about student recruitment and research income.

Adam Durrant, a British entrepreneur who founded an aerospace startup supplying climate data to airlines and aircraft manufacturers, says he’s now considering moving some of his business to a EU country outside of Britain. Part of the reason, he says, is that Brexit will likely make hiring the right people much harder than before.

“In the future, it probably means that people would be less interested to come to the U.K. to work,” said Durrant. “There’s a huge question mark over my company and my own personal future. I will certainly retain a U.K. presence, but my company’s focus of gravity may shift elsewhere.”

Scientists say some U.K.-based researchers are already being excluded from joint bids for EU funding to minimize the risks for their colleagues.

Paul Crowther, head of physics and astronomy at the University of Sheffield, said a researcher from his department was dropped from an EU grant proposal as a precaution following the Brexit referendum. The vote “put the U.K.-based researchers in a very awkward position” and their participation in EU-funded programs could “compromise the project,” he was told.

“The erosion of U.K. involvement in EU networks has already begun, with both the U.K. and EU science worse off,” Crowther said.

Apart from a loss of grant money, Brexit will likely cause British scientists and research centers to miss out on shared databases and infrastructure.

“Large-scale efforts like studies of rare genetic diseases, the building of large facilities, are areas that multinational collaborations do much better,” said Venki Ramakrishnan, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist and president of Britain’s prestigious Royal Society.

The EU is an important source of research funding for Britain, which lags behind many developed countries in state investment in science. In 2014, Britain’s government spent under 0.5 percent of its GDP on research — below the European average, and half that of South Korea.

May’s government is clearly aware of the jitters. She has promised to increase annual investment in research by 2 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) by 2020, in hopes her country can remain a world leader in science and innovation.

Durrant is doubtful that’s enough to make a big difference.

“Two billion a year spread across everything isn’t going to go very far,” he said.

Similar anxieties are being felt at the undergraduate level. The 125,000 European students studying at British universities now pay the same fees as locals and have access to the same government loans. Officials have promised this will not change for those applying next year — but no one knows what will happen after that.

Fewer European students appeared to be applying for some of Britain’s most competitive university courses, including medicine and places at Oxford and Cambridge. In September, the admission service UCAS reported a 9 percent drop in EU applications for British undergraduate courses starting in 2017.

Some argue that Britain could become like Switzerland, an “associate” EU state that is opting out of free movement of people while still taking part in limited European science projects.

“It’s not all doom and gloom — but it will be harder,” Ramakrishnan said. “We could make a go of it outside the EU. But for that to happen, we have to attract talent and fund science. And those two things are critical.”

Love, loss and royalty star in TV drama ‘The Crown’


Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is known for her dedication to a demanding job. Claire Foy, who plays Elizabeth as a young ruler in Netflix’s The Crown, can claim the same.

Foy accepted the central role in Netflix’s 10-part series when she was pregnant, knowing that filming would begin just a few months after her daughter’s arrival.

“I’d never had a baby before, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” the actress said by phone from London. “But I’m so glad I made that decision.”

The Crown reportedly is Netflix’s costliest series to date, pegged at $100 million. The money is on the screen in lavish scenes such as Elizabeth’s coronation and location shooting in Scotland and South Africa.

A second season is already in production.

The Crown opens in the bleakness of post-World War II Britain, with a respite provided by Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip Mountbatten (played with sexy swagger by Matt Smith of Doctor Who).

The scene in which they exchange vows is a charmer, with a nervous-looking Elizabeth coaxed along by teasing smiles from Philip. There’s no film of the ceremony, Foy said, but a preserved radio broadcast inspired the scene’s direction.

“She did sound fragile and very, very little and sort of, not unsure, but she definitely didn’t belt out her vows,” Foy said. Given Elizabeth’s youth, her longtime love for Philip and “the idea of forever and everybody you know is watching you,” it was natural for her to be overwhelmed, she added.

The bride’s expectation of playing helpmate to her new husband and his naval career is ended by the death of her father, King George VI, at 56. Elizabeth was 25 when the royal responsibility she believed to be decades away passed to her.

The drama follows her early years as a monarch in a changing world, along with those in her orbit including her free-spirited sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby), and political leaders Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam).

Writer and executive producer Peter Morgan didn’t come to the topic cold: He wrote the 2006 film The Queen, which dramatized the battering that Elizabeth and the royal family’s image took after Princess Diana’s death. It earned an Oscar for star Helen Mirren and a nomination for Morgan. Last year, Mirren received a Tony Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth in Morgan’s play The Audience.

For The Crown, Morgan’s prose rests on the findings of researchers who spent more than two years reading archives, biographies and cabinet meeting minutes, as well as Morgan’s own conversations with people “connected to the Royal Household,” as Netflix coyly put it.

At a news conference, he acknowledged the careful dance between members of the royal family and the production.

“I think that they’re very, very aware of it,” he said, and “countless approaches” were made “through untraceable back channels.”

“And in a way that protects both sides: I want my independence and I’m sure they want their independence,” he said. He believes the family understands the project was done with “some degree of respect,” Morgan said.

“These are people who are used to slander, cartoons, satire. These are not people who are used to being taken seriously. And whilst that might be a terrifying prospect, I think it is also the only worthwhile way of looking at our recent history,” Morgan said.

For Foy, portraying someone with such a crafted public image was a challenge. But ultimately, she said, the goal was the same as with any part: striving for authenticity and humanity in depicting Elizabeth’s loss of a parent, a universal experience, as she takes on “the biggest job that anyone can do.”

“That’s all you hope for when you do a drama,” Foy said. “If you’re portraying anything that anybody has been through, you don’t want people to watch it and not recognize it or feel betrayed by the portrayal of it. That’s true if you’re a queen or not.”

Animal rights advocates oppose expansion of badger cull

Animal rights advocates are condemning plans for a badger cull in England, which has added five kill zones, according to media reports today.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, in a press statement, said it strongly opposes plans for the cull to be extended across new zones of South Devon, North Devon, North Cornwall, South Herefordshire and West Dorset. This is in addition to existing cull zones in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.

IFAW, in the statement, said it always has opposed the badger cull for being cruel and without scientific justification.

Leading scientists and wildlife experts also have stated opposition to the badger cull because it will not significantly reduce incidents of bovine TB.

Pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset were ruled ineffective and inhumane by an Independent Expert Panel.

Jordi Casamitjana at the IFAW said, “At IFAW, along with the rest of the animal protection movement, we remain resolute in our strong opposition to this cruel, irrational and unnecessary cull.

“In preparation for this year’s continued slaughter, those of us who want to see our British wildlife protected have been ensuring we will have more volunteers than ever joining the peaceful Wounded Badger Patrols in the cull areas so they can help any injured badgers in need, as well as bearing witness to what is happening in the countryside.”

The IFAW said the solution to bovine TB is not to kill badgers but to adopt a joined-up approach to tackle the problem. This includes better control of cattle movement, an improved testing regime and increased biosecurity on farms.

Farmers in Devon have seen a reduction in the incidence of bovine TB at the same rates as their neighbors in Somerset, but without the shooting of a single badger.

“There is no reliable evidence that the inhumane and ineffective badger cull has had a significant effect on reducing bovine TB in the pilot areas,” Casamitjana said. “Vaccinating badgers can also form part of the solution, but as this is a cattle problem ultimately the answer is better cattle testing and better control of cattle movement.”

Casamitjana continued, “Countless badgers have been killed unnecessarily and the Government should be listening to the scientific evidence rather than pressing ahead with plans to kill more British badgers.”

Ab Fab Q & A: Patsy, Eddie and friend Kate Moss hit the big screen

Champagne socialites Eddie and Patsy are back onscreen in a movie spin-off of the hugely popular BBC television series “Absolutely Fabulous.”

The film comes 24 years after the self-absorbed duo, played by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, first hit TV screens in 1992.

The pair sat down to talk about the transformation to the big screen, convincing supermodel Kate Moss to film in the Thames and the possibility of more movies.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity:

Associated Press: Was the series always going to be a film? Was that always in the back of your minds that you’d put it onto the big screen?

Joanna Lumley: It was always in the back of Jennifer’s mind ever since I placed it there in 1995. So, she’s been thinking about this for a long time.

Jennifer Saunders: Yeah, every time I saw you, you’d go to me, “Do a film, write a film, write a film.”

AP: Honestly, really, was it?

Saunders: Seriously, and then she started telling the press that I was writing a film, so I actually had to write a film. Otherwise I just look stupid. “What happened to the film?” We go, “There was no film, Joanna made it up.”

AP: Getting Kate Moss on board — was she written in from the beginning?

Saunders: I wrote the whole thing and then forgot to ask her. Wrote the whole thing, sold it to Fox and the BBC and they said, “So Kate’s up for it?” I went, (snaps fingers) “Got to ask Kate.” I just thought she’d be cool about it and she was cool about it. She’s, you know… I thought, well if she says no, we have to get a picture of her or something and push it off the balcony.

Lumley: Did you really think that? You didn’t think that would work on a movie did you? You didn’t think pushing a photograph off the edge would work?

Saunders: To be honest, I didn’t think it through.

Lumley: No, you haven’t thought it through, Jennifer. This is not the first time.

Saunders: No, I know. We were very lucky _ very lucky _ that she said yes.

AP: And she’s such a good sport, as well. I mean, was she actually in the Thames?

Lumley: Oh my God yes.

Saunders: Yes. She was so good and people were going, “Have a cup of tea, have a blanket” and she’d go, “Oh, you’re all being so nice. If this was a modeling shoot they’d just leave me here and tell me to stop shivering.”

AP: What was the atmosphere like on set, was there any actual partying?

Saunders: It’s hard work because you have to fit an awful lot into a day and you cannot afford to get behind because if you start getting behind then everything falls apart. So, we’re on a very tight schedule and we moved like the wind.

Lumley: We did, however, have a lunch break when we were filming the Hookie Mookie party and we had a lunch break at the wonderful old Prospect of Whitby, which is one of the most ancient of the English pubs, London pubs.

Saunders: We were filming right opposite there, yeah.

Lumley: And who was in there?

Saunders: There was a lunch and then we got a picture of it, all sitting outside the pub, and it was you, Kate, Gwendoline Christie, Jon Hamm, Janette Tough.

Lumley: You.

Saunders: Celia Imrie, Bruno Tonioli. It’s just like…

Lumley: It was extraordinary. This is just a sample of some of us clumped together there eating fish and chips.

Saunders: We were all going, “Look at that picture.” Lulu and Emma Bunton probably.

Lumley: Yes, I think she was there. The pub was really cool. They just brought us food.

Saunders: Honestly it was… We had such a lovely time that day. Just hanging out at the Prospect of Whitby with the gang.

AP: And do you think this movie is paving the way for any more? Can you see a sequel or more films coming out?

Lumley: Yes we can.

Saunders: You see, she’s started already. She’s started already.

Lumley: Yes. I am pleased to say we can see a future.

Saunders: She’s started already. In a year’s time people will be going, “Where’s the sequel, Jennifer?” I’ll say, “There was no sequel. There was no movie.”

10 Beatles hits produced by George Martin

The Beatles captured the hearts mynd ears of a generation with music that continues to resonate today.

Here are 10 hits by the Beatles, produced by George Martin, over the years:

  • “Please Please Me” (1962): After “Love Me Do,” this was the song that rocketed the Beatles to fame on both sides of the Atlantic. Lead vocals: John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
  • “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964): Song featured in the Beatles’ first film, with that title _ taken from drummer Ringo’s response to a comment that he looked tired: “Yea, I’ve had a hard day’s night, you know.” Lead vocals: John Lennon with Paul McCartney.
  • “Yesterday” (1965): Wistful love song, featuring Paul McCartney with string quartet, an innovative idea for a rock and roll band that McCartney said was Martin’s idea. It initially made him hesitate but ended as a “thrilling” experience. McCartney says the song became “one of the most recorded songs ever” with Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and many others offering their versions of it. Lead vocals: Paul McCartney.
  • “Michelle” (1965): Some English speakers got their first taste of the French language with this tender love tune. Lead vocals: Paul McCartney.
  • “Strawberry Fields Forever” (1967): An iconic if more complex Beatles with strings and horns. Lead vocals: John Lennon.
  • “With a Little Help From My Friends” (1967): Casually sung by drummer Ringo Starr on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bank album.
  • “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (1967): Said to have been inspired by a drawing by John Lennon’s then-young son Julian of a classmate. Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970 the images were inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Lead vocals: John Lennon.
  • “Hey Jude” (1968): “Take a sad song and make it better,” a universal message that struck a chord. Lead vocals: Paul McCartney.
  • “Here Comes The Sun” (1969): George Harrison’s song of hope. Light vocal creation that he is quoted as saying was written during a long British winter at the home of Eric Clapton. Lead vocals: George Harrison.
  • “Let It Be” (1970): The Beatles’ final single before breaking up, produced by Martin. The song became the title track on the Beatles’ last album, produced by Phil Spector. The lyrics’ references to “times of trouble” and “comfort” had quick universal appeal in turbulent times, including among the Beatles, becoming something of a hymn. Lead vocals: Paul McCartney.

Actor Julian Sands reveals a Harold Pinter both tender and terrifying in his one-man ‘Celebration’

British dramatist, screenwriter, director and actor Harold Pinter was one of the foremost playwrights of the late 20th century. The Nobel Prize laureate was known for his “comedies of menace,” works characterized by their acerbic, almost brutal wit and thinly veiled and often direct political criticisms. 

But Pinter also was a tender poet, as well as an avid supporter of the English game of cricket, the language of which often found its way into his literary works. Actor Julian Sands has made it one of his missions to introduce audiences to this alternative side of Pinter’s creative genius.

A Celebration of Harold Pinter, Sands’ one-man homage to the late literary giant, arrives at the Wisconsin Union Theatre on the UW-Madison campus on Feb. 19. 

Pinter’s poetry and plays stand side by side in the one-man show, directed by actor John Malkovich. Sands’ own personal experiences with the dramatist, who died of cancer in 2008, provide insight into the playwright and his works.

“There is a sort of universality that comes when great playwrights observe and present the human condition,” Sands says. “It’s true of Mamet, Chekov and Tennessee Williams and I think its true of Harold Pinter.”

In fact, it was Pinter who tapped Sands, known for his theater, film and television work, to perform in a prototype of the current show. By then the actor already was quite familiar with Pinter’s work.

“My initial exposure to Pinter as a playwright was during my high school studies in England in the 1970s,” says Sands. “I was astonished by his use of language, character and landscape. There was something so ‘other’ about his writing compared to what we had been studying, and I spent a lot of time seeing his plays that were in production.”

As an actor, Sands became even more familiar with Pinter’s work. He even appeared in an appropriately creepy 1987 ABC TV version of Pinter’s The Room, directed by Robert Altman, which also featured Donald Pleasence and Linda Hunt.

“I was thrilled when I was asked to do the film,” the actor says. “I coincidentally played the character of Mr. Sands and Annie Lennox (of the pop group Eurythmics) played Mrs. Sands.”

The Celebration show’s origins go back to 2005, when Pinter was asked to give a recital of some of his poems at a London fundraiser. The writer already was suffering from throat cancer, which impaired his speaking voice, and he asked Sands to do the reading.

Pinter served as director of what Sands describes as “a remarkable master class” in the playwright/poet’s work. Pinter, Sands says, was almost like a conductor in his direction of the actor’s interpretation of his pieces.

“The general tuning up of my skills by Harold was like being back in drama school,” Sands remembers. “It was so profound and meaningful that everything I have done since was informed by these sessions with Harold.”

The public reading was a success and Sands repeated it in Los Angeles. He also produced CDs for friends who couldn’t attend, including Malkovich, whom Sands met on the set of the 1984 film The Killing Fields.

Malkovich specialized in Pinter when he studied theater at Illinois State University in Normal. He also directed several Pinter plays when he was affiliated with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and worked with Pinter on a BBC production of the author’s play Old Times. The veteran actor and director knew Sands’ reading was a formal theater piece in the making and the pair began working to broaden the show into its current format.

Over the next few years, Sands and Malkovich collaborated between acting and directing assignments and Celebration took shape. The first formal performance took place in 2011 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, then ran for 50 performances off-Broadway at New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre.

According to Sands — who will come to Madison from Brussels where he is filming The Toy Gun, a gritty, dark comedy for director Marco Serafini — Celebration remains an ever-evolving entity.

“It is above all an entertainment, rather than a dry or academic piece of theater,” Sands says. “But this is Harold Pinter, so fasten your seatbelts.”

The lure of Pinter has as much to do with his language as it does dramatic situations, both of which mirror reality more than they do theatricality, Sands says. The dialogue in Pinter plays reflects what is said and what goes unsaid as an effort to realistically further the story.

“Harold had an ear and an understanding of the silences, pauses and interrupted utterances that make up the most human dialogue, as opposed to well-made sentences that were written and crafted by well-educated middle class people,” Sands says. “It has a musical component that is emotionally and intellectually interesting, and the way he was able to set down exchanges between people was real, which is so interesting to an actor.”

Pinter plays also reflect the often acerbic and controversial nature of the writer. Pinter was a left-leaning intellectual who, in 1948 London, refused British military conscription as a conscientious objector. He was involved in nuclear disarmament efforts and the anti-apartheid movement. He was a vocal critic of the Gulf wars, calling British Prime Minister Tony Blair “a deluded idiot” and comparing the George W. Bush administration to Nazi Germany.

“I am sure he would have very active thoughts about the political landscape today and would not shy away from expressing them,” Sands says. “He would likely be despairing of many things going on today, but I’d like to think he’d retain some hope that reason and humanity would prevail.”

While Pinter’s political persona was very public, his poetry, less well-known, revealed a quieter, more personal side. His love poems to second wife Antonia Fraser are particularly touching, Sands says.

“When I first read these love poems, I couldn’t believe that Harold could be as romantic, as passionate, as deeply felt to the love of his life,” Sands says. “We’re used to his anger, disdain and despair. We could anticipate that, but I could not have anticipated the sweetness and tenderness of the love poems. My favorites from among his poems are included in the performance.”

Pinter’s tender poems will be mixed with some of his less tender play excerpts, obituaries and Sands’ reminiscences.

One does not have to be a Pinter scholar to enjoy the evening, Sands says, just possess an interest in what the power of language can accomplish in the hands of a master of the art.

“Harold’s work holds up a galvanizing mirror to our own lives,” Sands says. “My encounter with the material leaves me both humble and inspired when I leave the stage. That’s what I hope the audience takes away too, as well as having a good time and being well-entertained.”


A Celebration of Harold Pinter, featuring actor Julian Sands, will be performed at 8 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Wisconsin Union Theatre, 800 Langdon St., Madison. Tickets range from $10 to $40. Visit union.wisc.edu or call 608-265-2787.

‘Powder Her Face’ considers the fate of women of celebrity

Consider Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, the Kim Kardashian of yesteryear. 

In the mid-20th century, the wealthy socialite was considered one of the most prominent persons in Britain, a celebrity whose appearances and undertakings were followed by her social peers as well as lower classes. That celebrity status would backfire during her divorce proceedings in 1963, when her husband exposed evidence of affairs including Polaroid photographs of Campbell naked and performing sexual acts with men. 

After that, the reputation of Campbell — who was dubbed the “Dirty Duchess” in the press — would be forever linked with that scandal. Even an opera about her life, Powder Her Face, was tarred with the same brush. Audiences at its 1995 premiere immediately fixated on its infamous “fellatio aria,” which the soprano playing the Duchess hums while simulating oral sex. Subsequent productions have presented the work as a “shock opera,” amplifying the scandal by emphasizing its nudity and debauchery at the Duchess’ expense.

Viswa Subbaraman, artistic director of Skylight Music Theatre, took a different approach when he and late director Sandra Bernhard approached the material in 2011 while he was running Houston’s Opera Vista company. They took a new look at the Duchess and told the story from her perspective — as a way to make his audience consider what our society does to women of celebrity. He’ll get a second chance to do so in Milwaukee, with new director Robin Guarino leading the way, and is excited to realize his shared vision on a radically bigger scale.

Composed by Thomas Adés with a libretto by Philip Hensher, Powder Her Face opens in the 1990s as the Duchess (Cassandra Black, reprising the role she played in 2011) is being evicted from her hotel due to not paying her bill. Throughout, the story jumps back in time to reveal how Campbell lost her powerful social position, with a Hotel Manager (Joseph Beutel), Electrician (Ben Robinson, also returning) and Maid (Kaleigh Rae Gamaché) playing multiple roles past and present.

In many productions, these flashback elements are played as farce. But Subbaraman says it was important to him, as well as Bernhard and Guarino (two of the only female directors to ever handle the production), that the Duchess’ liaisons and heartbreaks be treated seriously, and that the production treat her as a complex person who was not merely the figure depicted by the press and mocked by society.

Subbaraman says the fellatio scene is perhaps the best example of what they’re going for. While it’s usually depicted as an outlandish moment with lots of nudity and mocking of the Duchess, he says Hensher may have had a different, more nuanced interpretation — referring to the scene as “the ultimate silencing of women through sex.” 

With that in mind, Subbaraman says, the Skylight’s production minimizes the shock value of the scene, leaving the Duchess a sympathetic figure. “That’s a sex act that people do,” he says. “It’s not as though it’s something we should run away from. … That one moment and the way that scene is treated completely changes the way we respond to her at the end of the opera, when she’s telling us about everything she’s lost.”

Subbaraman also believes their approach to Powder Her Face allows audiences to better appreciate the music of Adés, who he considers to be one of the most important composers living and working today. Adés is best known for his orchestral work, but Subbaraman thinks it’s easier for first-time listeners to engage with his complex work via stage productions because you can follow characters and plot as you listen. 

“The music is probably some of the hardest written — it doesn’t sound that way necessarily all the time,” he says. “In an effort to create an improvisatory feel, he over-notates the music, so it’s incredibly rhythmic. Rhythms are constantly changing … that makes it a very difficult thing for everyone.”

Subbaraman says this staging won’t simply be a retread of his Houston production, even though Guarino was hand-picked by Bernhard before her death of a rare cancer in 2015. He says the Opera Vista production was incredibly low-budget, designed to make a splash specifically because they were able to pull it off despite limited resources — the cast had no permanent rehearsal space, Subbaraman put together the set himself, Black sewed her own costumes and three days before opening they were still checking thrift stores for mattresses.

The resources of the Skylight have allowed Subbaraman, Guarino and their team to take Bernhard’s original vision and make it even better than before, he says, with exemplary design elements (including the work of costume director and fashion designer César Galindo, last seen designing Cinderella in 2014) and the ability for the cast to explore these characters in a deeper way. “It’s a different production in its whole,” Subbaraman says.

And it’s an important one, because the problems illuminated by the Skylight’s production of Powder Her Face haven’t mysteriously vanished in the modern age. Shortly after starting rehearsals, Subbaraman stumbled across an article about rising movie star Jennifer Lawrence. It decreed that the young actor, less than a decade into her career, had already used up her time in the spotlight.

“She’s 25! She’s a brilliant actor! And suddenly she’s ‘over’?” he says. “We as a society tend to discard women of celebrity very easily, when they no longer amuse us in the way we expect them to. … That’s part of what we’re trying to talk about in the way we look at this show.”


Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Powder Her Face runs Jan. 29 to Feb. 14 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. Tickets range from $25 to $75 and can be purchased at 414-291-7800 or skylightmusictheatre.org. Due to explicit language and sexual subject matter, this production is recommended for mature audiences only.

Remembering David Bowie, who has died at 69

Politicians, musicians and fans around the world — from the Vatican to the International Space Station — paid tribute to David Bowie on Monday, following his death at 69 from cancer.

Taking to Twitter or Facebook, many praised Bowie’s groundbreaking music and offered their own recollections of the singer, known for a string of hits such as “Space Oddity” and “Let’s Dance”.

Below are some of the tributes to Bowie, who released his last album “Blackstar” on Friday, also his birthday:


“Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all.”


“He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made ‘Blackstar’ for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”


“This is our last dance…”


“Shocked to the core.”

“It feels as if the world has suddenly gone out of joint.”


“I grew up listening to and watching the pop genius David Bowie. He was a master of re-invention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss.”


“David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”


“Ground Control to Major Tom

Commencing countdown, engines on

Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (David Bowie)”


“Saddened to hear David Bowie has lost his battle with cancer – his music was an inspiration to many.”


“I just lost a hero. RIP David Bowie.”


“David Bowie, you will be sorely missed. Bowie’s ‘Changes’ and the Ziggy story songs were a major influence for me.”

Elvis tops British charts for 2nd week with ‘If I Can Dream’

King of rock and roll Elvis Presley topped the British album charts for a second week with his 12th UK Number 1.

Nearly 40 years after his death, Elvis became the male solo artist with the most UK Number 1 albums last week with “If I Can Dream,” a collection of his classics featuring orchestral reworkings by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The album notched up over 88,600 combined chart sales, giving him the second-fastest selling album of the year behind Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ “Chasing Yesterday,” the Official Charts Company said.

New entries Little Mix’s “Get Weird” and Ellie Goulding’s “Delirium” took second and third place in the album chart, pushing Rod Stewart’s “Another Country” down from second to fourth place.

There was another trip down memory lane this week with a deluxe reissue of the Beatles’ album “1” entering at number five.

In the singles charts, Adele was top for a third week with Britain’s fastest-selling record of 2015 “Hello,” which also topped Britain’s weekly streaming chart with 4.7 million listens.

Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” was number two in the singles charts, followed by 2014 X Factor runner-up Fleur East with her debut single “Sax”.