It has taken me a while to sit down to write this review, but I am not sure as to why this has happened.  I think it may be that it was such a disappointing experience that I didn’t want to think about it.  An anonymous writer once penned, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but in this case, it didn’t.  Even though it’s been quite a while since I saw the performance, I’m still miffed at this production by the Fiasco Theatre Company which appeared at McCarter Theatre’s Berlind Theatre from May 3 to June 9.   It was a “new take” on Sondheim’s incredible musical, and whenever I see terms like “a new take,” “reimagined,” or “updated,” I immediately get suspicious.

INTO THE WOODS is another of “those” musicals; people either love it or hate this show that has been on Broadway three times chalking up a total of 1044 performances and garnering five Tony Awards and a host of other awards for those outings.  It is one of Sondheim’s most clever shows lyrically, and the clarity of the music and lyrics is essential to the success of the piece.

I have been fortunate in seeing this show done many times.  The original Broadway production was charmingly set with most of the woods suggested by a series of drops – very simply done.  The original London production was much darker with an almost gothic feel to the dark and foreboding woods and a huge cuckoo clock presiding over all.  An edge was added to this production which made it less accessible.  A pared-down, but successful production was mounted by students at The Royal Academy of Music in the 1990’s because they preserved the integrity of the music, lyrics, and book, and the most recent Broadway outing in 2002 which seemed unfocused for some reason.  There have been touring companies, as well as many regional companies that have met with various levels of success. However, all of these have tried to do just service to the material.

However, here, the show was unmercifully hacked down to a cast of eleven from nineteen as written with the musical accompaniment by a lone piano which simply does not do this rich score, originally orchestrated by the legendary Jonathan Tunick, any justice whatsoever.  Not only was it hacked to pieces, there was far too much “cutesy” staging and abject mugging going on throughout the evening that it interfered with and detracted from the script and score.  This production simply looked like there was no money and not enough people, so the company “made do” with a bargain-basement version.

It is a credit to the score by Sondheim and book by James Lapine that people were still able to enjoy it through all of the muck on stage in this production.  Knowing what this show can be made me realize how much more the audience would have enjoyed it if they had seen it unencumbered by antics, musical accompaniment that didn’t often get lost, and voices that were up to the task at hand.

Let me interject here that I am probably in the minority about this although there were audience members who left during the intermission on the evening I attended.  The show was extended.  I have had several conversations with those who saw it after me; several of whom had never seen it before.  Their responses included remarks like, “It was so imaginative,”  “They really made do with very little,” and “I thought the clutter on stage was wonderful.”  When I asked those who had not seen it before about specific plot points like The Mysterious Man being The Baker’s father, I was generally met with “He was?  Oh, I didn’t get that.”  In fact, many of them didn’t get much of the storyline, and it’s not because they are incapable of it.  They, like the theatre company, lost the plot somewhere along the way.

The story, in brief, mixes together the lives of several fairytale characters:  Cinderella, The Baker and His Wife (which seems to have been adapted for dramatic purposes from THUMBELINA), Jack the Giant Killer, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood.  Oh, there’s a bit of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White thrown in as well.  They all wish for something, and as they find out “Wishes come true, not free.”  The first act has a seemingly happy ending, Jack and his mother are rich, Cinderella is marrying her Prince, The Baker and His Wife have a child, and the Witch is once again beautiful.  However, that happiness is short-lived, and the second act deals with all of the repercussions of their transgressions with the few remaining characters wiser and stronger because of their ordeals.

The first problem with this production was the set.  There was no sense of focus on the stage.  Left and right featured floor to ceiling panels of piano sound boards, and the back of the stage was filled with ropes which one can only imagine were supposed to be piano strings.  Here comes the question, folks: “Why?”   Did it look like a woods?  No, it looked like a series of ropes.  The rest of the set consisted of unmatched tables, chairs – stuff spread about which often got in the way of the action and never helped the audience to truly establish a scene.  The costumes by Whitney Locher were simply a series of rag-bag things that made it look more like MARAT/SADE than INTO THE WOODS.  The witch came out particularly poorly with what looked like a black slip for a costume along with black opera gloves.   The physical production could only be described as “post-apocalyptic” grunge or a badly interpreted production of GODSPELL.

Vocally, the show was weak as well.  Only a few of the performers were up to the challenges of this score which requires solid singing along with extremely crisp diction.  Sondheim’s lyrics are dense and contain wonderful plays on the language.  For instance, Jack’s Mother sings the following about their cow Milky White (I’ll get to him in a minute):

“There are bugs on her dugs.  There are flies in her eyes. There’s a lump on her rump big enough to be a hump, son.  There’s no time to sit and dither while her withers wither with her”

Although Liz Hayes, who played Jack’s Mother and Cinderella’s Stepmother, was too young for the roles, she sang well and delivered and excellent performance, there were others who did not handle the music well.  They included Noah Brody who mangled the Wolf’s song and his work as Cinderella’s Prince, Andy Grotelueschen who gave a weak performance as Rapunzel’s Prince, and Paul J. Coffey who just seemed out of sorts as the Mysterious Man who is eventually revealed as The Baker’s Father, and sadly, Jennifer Mudge who was simply lackluster, wanting, and sometimes apologetic as the Witch.

There were some good voices and performances in the cast, but they were up against the dire physical production.  Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld were both charming as The Baker’s Wife and The Baker.  They showed that they understood the material and gave it its proper due.  Patrick Mulryan, who is a giant himself, gave an excellent performance as Jack, and Claire Karpen was charming as Cinderella.  Emily Young was wonderfully quirky as Red Riding Hood, but she did not have the proper edge to make the character fully successful.

Musically, Matt Castle worked valiantly to keep the company together with his piano playing which he had to augment to catch up or cover errors by the performers.   There is just too much music in this show for it to be reduced to one piano and be successful.  The addition of a few other instruments (including some really bad guitar playing) just made things more disjointed and sad.

One of the overused words I heard from the audience was “clever.”  Much of what was on stage was so clever that it didn’t seem to belong to this script in the same manner as the set did not belong with what was happening.

The Wicked Stepsisters were played by Grotelueschen and Brody as they stood behind a drapery rod with the dirty drapes acting as dresses.  They mugged so badly that their lines were obscured and the moment lost.  Grotelueschen was also guilty of this when he played Milky White.  His antics overshadowed what was being said, and he not only drew focus, he also upstaged the others who were delivering plot points.  Mugging was rampant throughout the evening.

The problems here more than likely came from their being two directors who were also in the show.  They truly needed someone to play referee and simply say, “NO” many times.  Brody and Steinfeld are both founders and artistic directors of Fiasco Theater, and they have been responsible for many interesting productions.  This is not one of them.  They were out of their depth with this production of INTO THE WOODS, and were too close to the project since they were in it and controlled it.  This may have worked for them in the past, but it did not work here.

INTO THE WOODS is a huge undertaking, and unlike others, I cannot get excited about “reimagining” works that are proven, especially when that reimagining means that the production will not do justice to the work, and Fiasco Theater certainly did not do justice to this work.

Absence did not make my heart grow fonder; I just got angrier and wish that all of those audience members who enjoyed what they saw would find a copy of the DVD of the original so that they could hear what the show should sound like.  I’m not saying that the original production of any show is always the best, but here, it was certainly far more understandable and enjoyable.

I really wanted to like this production because I truly love this show, but it was impossible for me to do so here

Ben Brantley of THE NEW YORK TIMES wrote in his review of the show, “Never mind that this production doesn’t feature anything like the usual highly polished, highly trained vocalists and orchestra customary for the rendering of Sondheim. Onstage you’ll find one upright piano (played by Matt Castle) and a few other instruments (a cello, a guitar, some woodwinds) scattered about for cast members to pick up from time to time. And some of the performers, to be blunt, can barely carry a tune.”   Perhaps Mr. Brantley can “never mind” that there are few singers or a decent production on stage for a show, but some of us who love the theatre still expect it.  This production was simply far too much about process and not nearly enough about production.   It was a glimpse at what happens in a workshop environment before all of the pieces are put together in a finished “whole.”  There was far too much of the “Let’s throw it at the wall to see if it sticks” on view here.

OK, So I still harbor the desire to make my living as an actor, and my Equity card is burning a hole in my pocket.  Actually, it’s just a dull-thudding reminder that I haven’t made any of my career goals – yet.  However, it would be nice if I could manage to go to an audition where I didn’t meet up with some of the world’s most interesting, if unprepared, casting directors.  I’ve been to many auditions in my life, and as a teenager, I was “typed out” of more auditions than I care to remember.  (To be “typed out” is to not make it through the door of the audition.  Some miserable sod walks down the line of hopefuls at a cattle call, looks, and simply says, “No.”  Some are nicer; they’ll add an “I’m sorry,” but the inevitable “No” will be forthcoming.)

Ravishingly Dapper Headshot of Michael Tomas Otten

Just so that you have a point of reference, this is one of the headshots I use most often.  I honestly do look like this, and you must keep this in mind as I relate the following anecdotes about the fun world of theatrical auditions.

I think I must first explain that an audition can take place absolutely anywhere.  I have been in ballrooms, on stages, in a kitchen, in an empty office that echoed worse than the Grand Canyon, and, among others, a room so small, the three of us were touching knees.  Often, there is a table or two with an assortment of people who generally do everything except watch the audition.  These can be assistants, designers, boyfriends, etc.  It is extremely annoying when the entire row of people are all on their phones, texting furiously while one is pouring his or her heart out.  In any event, I think you get the picture.  Here are just a few of the interchanges that have taken place after I have not gotten the job:

1. Casting Director (CD): “Who called you for this audition?” (Definitely not a good sign.)

Me (Knowing full well that I have not gotten this job): “Well, since I sent my picture and resume to your office, and I received a telephone call from your office to come here today, I am assuming that you called me in for this audition.”

CD: “Why would I call you in for an audition for this show?”

Me: “Because you wanted to hire me is the only reason that springs to my mind.”

CD: “No, I don’t think it was that.”

Me: “Oh.  Well, do you want me to read anyway?”

CD: “No, I don’t think so,” Then, turning to the young man on his left, “What show are we casting today?”

Me: “Well then, I hope you find whatever you’re not looking for.” (Exuent)

2.  CD (Digging through a pile of photos scattered across the table in no particular order): “Who are you?”

Me:  “My stage name is Michael Tomas Otten.  You just missed me on your left.”

CD:  “OK, thank you… Ah – Um, You look like your headshot.”

Me:  “Pardon?”

CD:  “You look like your headshot.”

Me (Looking at the others seated at the table to see if this is a joke or an ice-breaker or something): “I thought that was the purpose of headshots – to be “looked-like” and all.”

CD:  “Well, you’re a character actor aren’t you?”

Me:  “I do and have played ‘characters,’ but I have also done leads.”

CD:  “…But everyone knows that the headshots of character actors are always fifteen years out of date.  This looks recent.”

Me (Knowing once again that this audition is going nowhere): “Oh, I’m sorry.  I must have been absent that day in character actor school when they told us that our headshots should always be fifteen years out of date.  I should have gotten the notes from a classmate.”  (At this point the CD just looked at me, and the director turned and left the room by a side door.  I could hear him laughing in the hallway.  The CD just looked at me, so I left.)

3. (a personal favorite!) CD: “Thank you for coming in today.  This is a brand new play, and we’re very pleased to be mounting it.  What role are you reading for?”

Me:  “I’m sure I don’t know.   I was told to prepare a monologue as you didn’t have a character breakdown yet.  You said you would supply script pages if needed.”

CD:  “Well, I can’t give you a script if I don’t know what the part is.”

Me:  “…But I don’t know what the characters are, so I wouldn’t know what to ask for.”

CD:  “Well, we’re writing characters in and out of the show all of the time, so you need to tell us.”

Me (After standing quietly for a few seconds):  “I just think I’ll go outside and try this again later.  Thank you.”  (I was always told to be polite, even to those who are obviously deranged.)

4. CD:  “Wow, thank you.  You gave a phenomenal reading; the best we’ve had today, but I’m sorry; you aren’t what we’re looking for.”

Me:  “I know I shouldn’t ask this, but I would like to know for future reference.  What is it about me that ‘is not right’?  Am I too fat, too short, too tall, or is it the mustache or hair color?  I only ask so that I can better prepare.”

CD:  “No, that’s an excellent question.  You don’t need to change anything.  If we were looking for someone like you, you’d be fine.  However, you just don’t look like anybody.”

Me:  “Pardon?”

CD:  “You don’t look like anybody.”

Me:  “Ah, I look like – me.”

CD:  “Yes, but you’re not somebody else.”

Me (OK, by this time, I was totally confused, and I’m afraid that I said the first thing that came into my mind.):  “Who’s on first?’  (…And with that, I gathered what dignity I had left, performed a rather graceful turn, and sauntered out of the room.)

5. (One last one –  a vocal audition when I was through singing) CD:  “Wow!  Thank you.  That was wonderful.  That’s the way that song should be sung!  That’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Me (…feeling as though I have it this time – he really seemed to mean it.):  “Thank you.”

CD: “Now, if we could just get some other actor to sing it the same way.”

Me:  “…but you just said that I did it extremely well.”

CD:  “Yes, you did, but I wouldn’t hire you.  You don’t have enough credits.”

Me (suddenly feeling like a pinball machine with not enough quarters in it):  “…but if I did it well, why not take a chance with me if it was exactly what you were looking for?”  (Actually, I wanted to ask how many credits I needed, but…)

CD:  “No, it’s too risky.  I’d rather have someone I know who won’t be as good than take a chance on someone I don’t know who may or may not be phenomenal.”  (Looking back, I can applaud his candor, but I still want to throw a chair at him.  He cast a known “friend” in the role.  He was terrible and got the worst reviews I’ve seen in quite a while.  I was too upset to gloat.)

The moral of all of this is: “Leave the ego at the door.”   I have been to many good auditions where I did well, but I knew I was wrong for the role.  They don’t hurt that bad.  It’s the auditions where I know I’m right for the role, and I see someone who is not nearly as good as me get it that hurt.    Just once, I want to look like “someone” or be known or have the correct headshot.  Ah, well…

In London, one of the shows that’s opening this summer seems to be getting most of the attention.  That show is a musical version of the hit film GHOST with a book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin who won an Oscar for his original film screenplay and music and additional lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard who have been fixtures in the music world for quite some time.  Word of mouth is that it’s excellent and will no doubt follow in the footsteps of BILLY ELLIOT, SISTER ACT, and PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT and will be seen on American shores soon.  When I heard about this show, I began to realize that there has been a trend, a somewhat unsettling trend if one thinks about it, in musical theatre lately.  Although there are still totally original shows, there are far more musicals, especially in London, that spring from non-musical films.

This is not a new phenomenon – over the past few years Broadway has seen it in shows such as DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRALS, LEGALLY BLONDE – THE MUSICAL, and SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, but there just seems to be more of them now.  Not only are there shows based on live action films, but stage musicals based on animated features like SHREK – THE MUSICAL and THE LION KING are popping up with more frequency.

While I was thinking of this, I realized that a recent trend that is fortunately dying out was the “and then we wrote” musical where a show was cobbled together about a singer or group using their music.  Shows like BUDDY and JERSEY BOYS have been around for a while, but this type of show was generally in a revue format.   Often, when a story is imposed on a group of songs like this, it is either extremely weak or superfluous; It’s only there to frame the songs.  Since people are basically going to hear the music anyway, audiences don’t seem to miss plot.  BUDDY is one such musical, the brief story only linked songs by The Crickets and people like Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.  It ran for 13 years in London while other, much better musicals failed.  Many audience members made annual pilgrimages to see the show because they loved the music so much.  It wasn’t so much a “musical” as it was a concert, often with the audience singing along – obscuring the “show” for anyone who was there for the joy of a book show.  JERSEY BOYS is a better for us “traditionalists,” but it is still not a “musical” in the truest sense.  Here, the show is only a reason to hear the songs.

MAMMA MIA! is different.  The music ABBA made famous has been interestingly interpolated into an existing story.   This story was adapted from a 1968 film and a failed 1979 musical.  The original film, BUONA SERA, MRS. CAMPBELL, was written by Melvin Frank, Denis Norden, and Sheldon Keller and was then taken by Alan Jay Lerner and Joseph Stein for CARMELINA, a Broadway musical that ran for only 17 performances.  They got it right with MAMMA MIA!, and the show is currently playing in eight cities around the world and touring on three continents.  Here, a way has been found for the ABBA music to be a part of the story, and it works beautifully.  Of course, it is wonderful music, and that doesn’t hurt.

…But I digress.

Now, we’re facing more movies being adapted for the stage as musicals.  This is moderately risky since even film musicals adapted for the stage haven’t always worked.  Productions of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, STATE FAIR, GIGI, and CALAMITY JANE all failed at the box office although they sometimes do well touring.  However, adaptations such as BILLY ELLIOT and SISTER ACT are mostly intelligently done, so they work.  ELLIOT is the more successful of the two from an artistic standpoint because all aspects of the music (with the excepting of one number that is cheap in comparison – a song and dance done with large dresses that just doesn’t fit with the rest of the show) are more intrinsically combined.  The nuns in SISTER ACT are sublime as is their music by Alan Menken and Glen Slater; however, the music for the secondary characters, especially the “thugs” gets tiring and is just too silly and trite.  On the whole, however, the show is joyous and leaves one’s face sore from smiling so much.

The other films to musicals that started in Britain include: DIRTY DANCING (which is closing soon in London and has no new music, just rehashed “classics.”), MARY POPPINS (which seems a little long but is still fun and wonderfully staged – especially Burt tap dancing around the proscenium.), and PRISCILLA.   The United States has added its share with THE LION KING (currently in seven cities around the world.), LEGALLY BLONDE, SHREK: THE MUSICAL, and XANADU (which was more of a nostalgic comment on the trendy elements of an era – sweat bands, roller disco, and leg warmers) than it was an attempt to retell the original film’s story), and the latest film to musical on Broadway which is receiving good notices, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.  Terrence McNally based his book on the 2002 film and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman of HAIRSPRAY (Oh, wait… I forgot about that well adapted John Waters film to musical – There are far more than I first thought!  IT’S AN INVASION!) fame did the songs.  It’s received five Tony nominations and mixed reviews.

Oh, in London, there is also an upcoming production of a musical based on Roald Dahl’s MATILDA which started at the RSC in Stratford and has a score by Tim Minchin, an Australian comedic musician.  The show got excellent reviews, and it will be interesting to see how it travels.  Currently, on stage in London is BETTY BLUE EYES, a musical by Dave Stiles and Anthony Drewe (of HONK! fame) that has also received excellent notices.  I hope to see that show soon, and I’ll let you know what it’s like.  Oh, I failed to mention that it’s based the quirky 1984 film starring Maggie Smith and Michael Palin, A PRIVATE FUNCTION, that has to deal with 1947 Britain and a pig that isn’t quite up “to code.”

One last show that has come to mind is THE WIZARD OF OZ.  This has been kicking around as a stage musical with varying degrees of success for generations.  About twenty years ago, the RSC did a charming production featuring Imelda Staunton as Dorothy.  I only wish they had recorded her instead of the following year’s cast.  Now, Andrew Lloyd Webber has used this iconic film as his latest reality program to find a “star.”  Previous musicals subjected to the public voting for leads were OLIVER, JOSEPH, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  Webber drums up publicity for the show by having an extremely nasty competition for leading parts where the TV audience gets to “vote” for the winner(s).  The TV shows draw huge watcher shares, and millions of Brits vote. I was told that the next one up is JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.  Is there really a need for a revival of SUPERSTAR?  The last one in London was chaotic and seemed very dated even though they tried to modernize it.

In any event, my issue with OZ is that Webber did not leave this score alone.  He’s cut some of the Arlen / Harburg songs and replaced them with his own.  I’ve not seen this one either, but to remove “If I Were King of the Forest” is tantamount to sacrilege in my book.  Also, the Wicked Witch of the West has been given a song.  There was good reason why she didn’t get one in the first place.  She’s the bad “person”; we don’t want to care for her.  I was also told, and I will see this for myself, I hope, that the song given to her is not particularly good.  One friend said it sounded more like something one would expect to hear the orphans singing in ANNIE.  I think I’d like to see this.

As they say on those “as seen on TV ads,” “But wait!  There’s more.”  Broadway also saw some other film to musicals that only hat short stays in recent years.  Shows like ELF with a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and music by Matthew Sklar lasted only for 57 performances.  Dolly Parton’s 9 TO 5 seemed to be a hit with audiences, but it still only ran for 148 performances.  Finally, WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN based on the film by Almodovar might have seemed an odd choice for a musical, and the show with a book by Jeffrey Lane and music and lyrics by David Yazbek played only 69 performances.  The film itself seems to have been forgotten, and it looks like the musical will soon be forgotten too even though it boasted a cast headed by Sherie Rene Scott, Patty LuPone, and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Are/were there new, new musicals?  Yes, and many have been good according to reports.  (I really must get out more.)  I think I’ll just list these:

  • THRILL ME, which is currently making the rounds In London and around the world it seems, is a “two-hander” about Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb with music and lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff – a disturbing story that is well told.
  • BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON got some very interesting word of mouth notices, but the show with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman only lasted 94 performances.
  • NEXT TO NORMAL ran for 733 performances in New York and won the Pulitzer Prize.  The book by Brian Yorkey deals with the trials of a disjointed family as the mother loses her battle with bi-polar disorder.  The lyrics are by Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt.
  • THE BOOK OF MORMON is wowing audiences in typical Trey Parker and Matt Stone fashion, and it garnered 14 Tony nominations.  The book by Robert Lopez, Matt Stone, and Trey Parker deals with two young Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda, and they try to bring scripture to a people who are more concerned with staying alive in a world run by a brutal warlord and are overwhelmed by extreme poverty and diseases like AIDS.  The missionaries aren’t the brightest pair, but they somehow survive.  Robert Lopaz of AVENUE Q fame joins Parker and Stone in creating the music and lyrics.
  • THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE stars Donna Murphy as a grandmother who looks back at her life in a resilient Yiddish theatre troupe and the horrific events of the Holocaust.  Murphy is also up for a Tony.
  • THE STORY OF MY LIFE ran for only five performances.  Neil Bartram’s and Brian Hill’s musical followed two friends from the age of six to thirty-five.  It was described by some as a “sweet little show” and, as such, was derided by many critics.  It’s difficult for a two-hander to survive on Broadway with negative to dismissive reviews.  Many, however, thought it an incredibly moving show.
  • THE SCOTSBORO BOYS was the last collaboration for Broadway legends John Kander and Fred Ebb.  The book by David Thompson deals with the infamous trial and injustices done to the nine young black men in Alabama.  As with many musicals and shows that deal with sensitive issues, audiences and critics were divided.  Some thought it brought the issues into new light; others thought it trivialized a horrible event and period in American history.  As a result, the show ran for only 49 performances.
  • I don’t think I have to go on about WICKED based on Gregory Maguire’s novel with a book by Winnie Holzman and songs by Stephen Schwartz which continues to do well on Broadway and in England and Australia.  There are also two touring companies in the United States and two in Canada.  Is there anyone remotely interested in musicals who doesn’t know that the leading character, Elphaba (a.k.a. The Wicked Witch of the West), got her name from the name of her creator, L. Frank Baum? However, shouldn’t it have been Elphraba?

My little tirade is over.  Don’t get me wrong; I love most of these shows, and I love musicals in general.  It just scares me to think that this may be the trend, and we’ll see fewer original shows on Broadway or in the West End.  I just finished an argument with someone regarding these being “original” shows, but this just doesn’t ring true somehow.  I know it takes the same amount of effort to write these shows as it does those with original books, but I’ve seen these stories already.  I think audiences deserve more than the same stories with songs added.

I know I’ve missed some, and for “re-hashed music,” I didn’t mention WE WILL ROCK YOU which has defied the odds and played for ten years at London’s Dominion Theatre.  It’s a futuristic story with some of Queen’s best known and loved songs woven into it much like MAMMA MIA! but with a little more difficulty.  It’s still great fun.

I’ll get off of my soapbox now – for a little while.