Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Alan Johnson, Choreographer, 81

Democracy Dies in Darkness: Yes, but Comedy and Artistry Live in Limelight. Witness the timeless work of choreographer Alan Johnson.

Of whom, Abq Jew must admit (he must! he must!), he had never heard. But then, Abq Jew read the classy obituary by The Washington Post's Harrison Smith - and he realized that he and Alan Johnson were practically on speaking terms.

Choreographer Alan Johnson worked on Broadway musicals as well as Mel Brooks comedies.
(Rose Eichenbaum/Masters of Movement-Portraits of America's Great Choreographers)

Yes, Abq Jew greatly enjoys reading obituaries about once-living people who are now dead. Especially ... OK, only ... when they're not written about him.

Someday in the way, way distant future, if he is ... lucky? ... Abq Jew may have the pleasure of writing his own obituary. Knowing that it will never be as good as Art Buchwald's Hi, I'm Art Buchwald and I Just Died video self-obit.

But it will be as good as it can be, considering the circumstances. Like, the obituee.

Anyway, it turns out that Alan Johnson was Mel Brooks's choreographer.

Yes, Ken O'Hara, Mel Brooks just turned 92. Till 120!

And yes, you know Alan Johnson's work. As Mr Smith explains:
Alan Johnson, a Broadway choreographer who partnered with Mel Brooks to stage some of the most delightfully farcical dance numbers ever filmed — including the goose-stepping showstopper from The Producers, Springtime for Hitler — died July 7 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 81.
Mr Johnson was highly esteemed in the business, choreographing solo shows and revues for performers including Ann-Margret, Bernadette Peters, Tommy Tune and Shirley MacLaine.
Yet Mr. Johnson remained best known for his work with Brooks, the comic mastermind behind television’s Get Smart. Following an introduction by director and lyricist Martin Charnin, Mr. Johnson served as Brooks’s choreographer beginning with “The Producers” (1967), which starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as a pair of Broadway fraudsters. 
The film was centered on a fictional musical — Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden — designed to alienate audiences and enrich its makers, who relied on a bit of “creative accounting” to make a killing from a surefire flop. 
While Brooks came up with the idea of the show, generating lyrics like 
Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, 
come and join the Nazi party!
Mr. Johnson created the campy, Busby Berkeley-like staging. 
Seen from above, high-stepping Nazis marched in the shape of a rotating swastika; black-uniformed SS officers pranced like characters from West Side Story.

Mr Smith continues with the list of credits:
Settling in Los Angeles to work with Brooks, Mr. Johnson choreographed the burlesque number I’m Tired for the director’s 1974 western spoof Blazing Saddles; Madeline Kahn, mimicking a world-weary Marlene Dietrich, strutted across the stage as a group of infantrymen danced with their rifles.
That same year, Mr. Johnson created a soft-shoe routine for Young Frankenstein in which a cadaver, newly brought to life by a mad scientist, bursts into a white-tie-and-tails rendition of Puttin’ on the Ritz.
For History of the World: Part I (1981), he choreographed a “Spanish Inquisition” number featuring a chorus line of monks and a bevy of swimming nuns.

And if you want a serious tribute to the life and work of Alan Johnson - here is a montage of the highlights of his amazing career. (If you don't have time to view all the videos Abq Jew has thoughtfully provided for you, his loyal readers - this is a nice, short version.)

Created for his Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Choreography Awards, the short film features his choreography for Mel Brooks' films, his Emmy award winning appearances, as well as his stage and commercial work.

Your choreographic brilliance has added lustre and class
to every movie you have ever done with me.
- Mel Brooks -

And for all of you, Abq Jew's loyal readers, who called, emailed, or otherwise confronted Abq Jew with the worry that the Abq Jew Blog (or Abq Jew himself) was going away forever - and you both know who you are - 

It's only the Abq Jew App, and - if things go well - it's only a vacation.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A New Milestone: 700,550 Page Views

To Life! To Life! L'Chaim!  Sometime on July 8, 2018 - right after Shabbat Pinhas, just as we began yet another beautiful week in New Mexico - this Abq Jew Blog achieved 700,550 All Time Page Views.

We achieved 613,000 All Time Page Views
on October 2, 2017 - about 9 months ago.

That's about 310 Page Views per Day.
Plus 4,500 Facebook Likes and 2,700 Twitter Followers.
Thank you!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Abq Jew App Takes Vacation

We'll Meet Again: Due to a wide range of circumstances beyond Abq Jew's control - which includes almost an entire panoply of accidents, miscues, and others' strange behavior - the Abq Jew App has decided to take a short vacation.

The first thing Abq Jew would like to tell you about this is

The Abq Jew Website, Blog, 
and Events Calendar
will continue to be available -
but on the Web only.

Let us, for just a moment, fondly recall (see Holy Frappe! The Abq Jew App! et al) the introduction of the Abq Jew App in September 2013:
It is with great pleasure that Abq Jew announces the exciting development you've all been waiting for:
The Abq Jew App
Take Abq Jew with you - wherever you go!
Jewish Life in Albuquerque and Beyond?
There’s an app for that!
Abq Jew, the website ( and blog ( that have provided “a guide to Jewish life in Albuquerque and beyond” for almost three years, is launching a new way to bring the Jewish community together – the Abq Jew App
The Abq Jew App is available – for free download – from Google Play (for Android phones and devices) and from Apple iTunes (for iPhones and iPads).

What others said at the time:
Rabbi Arthur Flicker of Albuquerque’s Congregation B’nai Israel says 
The Abq Jew App  What a wonderful addition to my iPhone! Abq Jew always keeps me up to date with happenings in our Jewish community. Now I have all of that information right on my phone. Thank you, Abq Jew
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Albuquerque's Congregation Albert says 
I love the Abq Jew App! It makes accessing the Albuquerque Jewish community so much easier. Keep up the good work!
And what Abq Jew himself said:
The Abq Jew App is pretty unique. Websites? Blogs? Sure, everyone’s got them. 
And the Abq Jew website and blog will always be great ways to find out what’s happening in the Jewish community of Albuquerque and beyond. 
But the Abq Jew App really takes it to the next level. This is cool.
The second thing Abq Jew would like to tell you about this is

Almost 5 years and more than 600 downloads after its September 2013 launch, the Abq Jew App's success will be remembered with great joy.

The third thing Abq Jew would like to tell you about this is

We'll meet again!
We'll Meet Again is a 1939 British song made famous by singer Vera Lynn with music and lyrics composed and written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles. 
The song is one of the most famous of the Second World War era, and resonated with soldiers going off to fight and their families and sweethearts.
On 7 November 2009, Hayley Westenra performed again at the Festival of Remembrance, singing We'll Meet Again, made famous by Dame Vera Lynn during WWII, at the Royal Albert Hall. 
During the performance, an old recording of Lynn performing the song was played behind on the big screen. Lynn was present, as well as Her Majesty the Queen

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Little Red Hen

Songs Are Dangerous: Renowned and beloved music instructor (and award-winning composer and recording artist) Jane Ellen began her recent OASIS Albuquerque class Ronnie, Lee, Fred, & Pete: The Weavers by quoting Ronnie Gilbert:

Songs are dangerous.

The OASIS Albuquerque course description tells us
The Weavers, one of the most significant popular music groups of the postwar era, was formed in 1948 by Ronnie Gilbert (1926-2015), Lee Hays (1914-81), Fred Hellerman (1927-2016), and Pete Seeger (1919-2014). 
After securing a steady gig at New York's Village Vanguard, the group was discovered by Gordon Jenkins who put them on the charts with original arrangements of "Goodnight, Irene" and "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena." 
The Weavers saw their career nearly destroyed during the Red Scare of the early 1950s.
And Abq Jew's dear relative Ronnie Gilbert (see Starting With Aunt Bea) explains exactly what was going on in the first words of her memoir.

Songs are dangerous. So said HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee) in the1950s, and its anti-communist investigators did their best to prevent us from being un-American in public. Nevertheless, the Weavers endured ....
Which brings us to ...

The Little Red Hen. You know - the old folk fable that (ostensibly) teaches children the virtues of work ethic and personal initiative.

Red Hens, Little or not, have certainly been in the news lately. Especially this one -

The Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, Virginia

About which Abq Jew will have more to say a bit later on.

But first - let's talk about Malvina Reynolds. Who, as Abq Jew has said (see Morningtown Ride), was, God bless her, a real piece of work. 
Malvina Reynolds (August 23, 1900 – March 17, 1978) was an American folk/blues singer-songwriter and political activist, best known for her song-writing, particularly the songs Little Boxes and Morningtown Ride
Malvina Milder was born in San Francisco to David and Abagail Milder, Jewish and socialist immigrants, who opposed involvement in World War I. 
She married William ("Bud") Reynolds, a carpenter and labor organizer, in 1934. They had one child, Nancy Reynolds Schimmel (a songwriter and performer in her own right), in 1935. She had earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and later earned a doctorate there, finishing her dissertation in 1938. 
Though she played violin in a dance band in her twenties, she began her songwriting career late in life. She was in her late 40s when she met Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger, and other folk singers and songwriters. She returned to school at UC Berkeley, where she studied music theory. 
She went on to write several popular songs, including "Little Boxes," "What Have They Done to the Rain," recorded by The Searchers and Joan Baez (about nuclear fallout), "It Isn't Nice" (a civil rights anthem), "Turn Around" (about children growing up, later sung by Harry Belafonte), and "There's a Bottom Below" (about depression). 
Reynolds was also a noted composer of children's songs, including "Magic Penny" (a traditional London folk song during the 1940s) and "Morningtown Ride," a top five UK single (December 1966) recorded by The Seekers.

Remember - Songs are dangerous. One of Malvina's songs (amazingly, not mentioned in her Wikipedia entry) is The Little Red Hen.

Which starts out sorta regular - just like the nursery rhyme.
The Little Red Hen found a grain of wheat,
Said "This looks good enough to eat,
But I'll plant it instead, make me some bread,"
Said to the other guys down the street,
"Who will help me plant this wheat?"
And has an understandable, repeatable chorus:
"Not I!" said the dog and the cat.
"Not I!" said the mouse and the rat.
"I will then," said the Little Red Hen,
And she did.
But which ends as sort of an anti-nursery rhyme.
The bread looked good and smelled so fine
The gang came running and fell in line;
"We'll do our part with all our heart
To help you eat this chow!"
She said, "I do not need you now." 
"I planted and hoed this grain of wheat,
Them that works not, shall not eat,
That's my credo," the little bird said,
And that's why they called her Red.
Which brings us back to ...


The problem with incivility is ... It Isn't Nice. Yes, Malvina wrote a song about that, too. Here sung by Judy Collins, because - why not?

It isn't nice to block the doorway, 
It isn't nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn't nice, it isn't nice, 
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom's price,
We don't mind.

Yes, the song is from another era of fighters and martyrs.
But it still rings true, doesn't it?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Romans 13, Tolerance Zero

Not here. Not now. Not in our name: We have seen the pictures, watched the videos, heard the voices. Children being separated from their parents - by agents of our government - as they cross the US-Mexico border to plea for asylum.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Cartoonist Rob Rogers: ‘I Was Fired’

Our Attorney General has supported this new and purposefully frightening US policy, in part, by quoting Romans 13, a passage from Paul’s epistle to the Romans.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 
Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

But Abq Jew recalls the words of Antonio in The Merchant of Venice.
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
Oh, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

We Jews, Abq Jew is proud to report, are not Christians.

We need pay no attention to what Paul may (or may not) have said as he was trying to sell (you should forgive the expression) his particular brand of Christianity to what would become, through the mystery of history, the Holy Roman Empire.

But we Jews do, in fact, have our own version of Romans 13.

Allow Abq Jew to present

דינא ד׳מלכותא דינא

Dina d'malkhuta dina (the law of the land is the law) is a Rabbinic / Talmudic statement that Jews must observe the laws of wherever they live.

The blog Jewish Treats explains:
“Dina d’malchuta dina,” the law of the land is the law, is a phrase repeated numerous times in the Talmud, and always attributed to the sage Samuel. According to Samuel, there is no question that a Jew must obey the laws of the land in which he/she resides... unless that law directly contradicts halacha (for instance a law ordering everyone to worship idols).  
In certain cases, the rabbis determined that certain rulers and their unfair and harsh laws were dangerous to the Jewish people, and therefore permitted the local Jews to "skirt the laws" or even to ignore them (such as the anti-Semitic decrees of the Russian Czars). In a country like the United States, however, there is no question that dina d’malchuta dina must be strictly observed.  
What does this mean? This means that being a law-abiding citizen is more that just one’s civic duty, it is one’s religious obligation as well. Taxes, civil law, even the “rules of the road” are our responsibility to uphold.

But let's hold our horses.

Our Rabbis of Blessed Memory, however, were not unequivocal about the matter.

And Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) points out the degree of the Rabbis' uncertainty about dealing with the government.

On one hand:
[Rabban Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah the Prince said:] Be careful in your relations with the government; for they draw no man close to themselves except for their own interests. They appear as friends when it is to their advantage, but they do not stand by a man in his time of need. (Pirke Avot 2:3)
But on the other hand:
Rabbi Chanina, an assistant of the High Priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive. (Pirke Avot 3:2)
Both of these statements - both of these viewpoints - are, Abq Jew fears, true. Yet, as F. Scott Fitzgerald informs us:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
From which, Abq Jew claims, we must ask each other

Which side are you on?

Most of the major and minor American Jewish institutions - 27 or more - have issued statements strongly opposing our government's immoral treatment of refugees.

Just one example: Bend the Arc has declared a state of Moral Emergency. Here is their statement:
The Trump Administration's inhumane immigration policies can only continue if good people stay silent. Add your voice to this communal declaration from the Jewish community. 
To this country, in whose promise we still believe, to the millions of people who are outraged and horrified, and especially to the thousands of children who have been separated from their families, we declare our nation to be in a state of moral emergency. 
This Administration has established border policies unprecedented in their scope and cruelty, that are inflicting physical, mental, and emotional harm on immigrants and punishing those seeking refuge at our borders. 
We are anguished by the stories and images of desperate parents torn from their babies and detention facilities packed with children. We shudder with the knowledge that these inhumane policies are committed in our name, and we lift our voices in protest. 
The Jewish community, like many others, knows all too well what it looks like for a government to criminalize the most vulnerable, to lie and obfuscate to justify grossly immoral practices under the banner of “the law,” to interpret holy scripture as a cover for human cruelty, to normalize what can never be made normal. We have seen this before. 
When crying children are taken from their parents’ arms, the American Jewish community must not remain silent. 
To those who are targeted by these cruel policies, know that the Jewish community hears your cries. We will take risks to support you, and we will demand that our nation’s leaders take action. We will not abide the claim that people didn’t know or understand the extent of your suffering; we will not allow your torment to be in vain. 
Our government can persist in this inhumane behavior only if good people remain silent. 
And so we declare a state of moral emergency, and we rise to meet this moment. Even as our democratic institutions are under duress, we raise our voices and take decisive action. United by the wisdom of our tradition, we stand with immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, with the children, and with their parents. 
We declare: Not here. Not now. Not in our name.