My Favorite Video Game Has Become My Wife’s Must-See TV

My Favorite Video Game Has Become My Wife's Must-See TV

I’m starting to feel like I’ll never finish playing The Last of Us, Part II. And it’s all my wife’s fault.


Mind you, this isn’t your stereotypical story about a man’s nerdy hobby and his other half’s nagging insistence that he put down the controller and help out around the house. We are not that kind of couple. No, the problem is that my wife has become as obsessed as I am with the game’s gripping story and incredible visuals, and since she has no desire to play it 

herself (“too many buttons”), she won’t let me play unless she’s around to watch.


It’s funny, all this fuss, especially given that I had no intention of playing The Last of Us, Part II to begin with. The original game, released in 2013 at the end of the PlayStation 3’s life cycle, was one of the most compelling single-player video games ever created. It was a simple tale, a sort of post-pandemic, American-horror-story riff on Kazuo Koike’s Lone Wolf and Cub, released years before The Mandalorian would bring that classic Shogun epic swinging back into the pop culture consciousness. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the original The Last of Us was such a perfectly told tale that creating a followup seemed as sacrilegious to me as making a sequel to Citizen Kane.


But I got The Last of Us, Part II for Father’s Day and figured “What the hell?” Even if it lived up to all my fears, it couldn’t spoil my appreciation for the original. It turns out, though—despite what you may have heard from the nerd-rage circles of the internet, where legitimate creative expression is met with ire and only repetitive and pre-chewed fan service is allowed—The Last of Us, Part II is not only a brilliant 

sequel, it may well be the single most compelling and challenging work of art released this year in any medium.


And that’s the problem. My wife occasionally watched me play the first Last of Us, and she had a pretty good handle on the 

story despite experiencing it only in snippets. But she can’t take her eyes off of The Last of Us, Part II, and now my play time is dictated by her viewing schedule.


That’s why I’m only 35 hours or so into the story, a month after the game’s release. From what I’ve seen so far, though, this new game is a revenge tale that’s ultimately about the futility of revenge—reminiscent of the very best samurai flicks. It’s a necessarily violent (at times) narrative about the personal cost of violence. It’s a non-linear 

storytelling experience that not only forces you to see, but also to experience—to feel—the conflicting emotions and motivations of the various major players—each the antagonist of the other. It is, in a sense, a narrative extrapolation of the famous MLK quote: “The reason I can’t follow the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy is that it ends up leaving everybody blind.”

What’s more, it proves that in such a contest, no one agrees who took the first eye.


Add to that some of the most impressive HDR visuals you’ve ever seen on any screen and a dynamic surround sound mix so convincing that it has at times made us think there was a real storm brewing in the distance outside, and it’s understandable that my wife treats The Last of Us, Part II more like a movie or TV show than a vicarious gaming experience. (Indeed, she almost seems to forget that there’s

an interactive element at all, except during those times when I need to use the PS4 controller to strum a guitar in the occasional musical mini-game interlude.)


The point of all this is not that you should play The Last of Us Part II if you’re not a gamer. The point is, if you have a gamer in your household and you’ve relegated them to the basement or bedroom, invite them into the home theater or media room. Let

them play on the best AV system in the house. That’s the environment for which today’s cinematic single-player games are designed.


Let’s face it: some of us are already starting to get a little starved for new content to watch, and that problem is only going to get worse as more film releases are delayed or taken off the release schedule altogether. With a new generation of video-game consoles slated for release this Christmas, though—and with any number of new story-

driven games waiting in the wings—you may just find that your spouse’s or kid’s next favorite game may become your new favorite home cinema viewing experience.

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Is Christopher Nolan Too Much of a Purist for His (& Our) Own Good?

Is Christopher Nolan Too Much of a Purist for His (& Our) Own Good?

Since the fate of the summer box office is hanging on it—and possibly of the box office for the foreseeable future, and maybe of the movies as we know them—most of you are probably already well aware of the ongoing saga of the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. (If you’re not, go check out John Sciacca’s brief and to the point “Is Tenet to Die For?”)


Well—the date of its U.S. release has now been put on indefinite hold. Which of course creates a hell of a pickle for the other studios, who are itching to get titles like Wonder Woman 1984 into theaters, hopefully before Summer 2020 is nothing more than a troubling memory. Disney is likely to go its own way with its live-action Mulan, even though trying to lure people back into theaters any time soon will inevitably have a serious Hansel & Gretel feel to it.

All of the above could have been predicted. What’s more interesting—and telling—is that Warner Bros. is now considering releasing Tenet overseas while it continues to brood over what it wants to do about it in the U.S.


(Before I proceed, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’m not a Nolan fan. I find his films cold, manipulative, brutal, and condescending and think he’s the second most overrated director in Hollywood. [Actually, he and James Cameron are jockeying for the No. 2 slot.] None of that is really relevant to what I’m about to say—it just felt good to say it.)


Anyway—Nolan might have painted himself into a huge corner with his “My great piece of cinema called Tenet shall be released to movies theaters first or it shall not be released at all” position. If we’ve all learned one thing from the current series of rolling crises, it’s that no one can afford to cling to a single, intractable position, no matter how seemingly well founded, because unforgiving forces beyond our control will chop you off at the knees.


The stakes are too high, and the situation too perilous, to put your faith in any kind of orthodoxy. Only the nimble, innovative, and open-minded are likely to survive all of this relatively intact.


To return to the possibility that Tenet could be released in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere before it sees the light of day in the U.S.—I floated that idea a couple of months ago and was immediately shot down, being told the U.S. box office will always be No. 1 and it was inconceivable a movie that big would find a home everywhere but here. But the foreign box office can add up to at least half of a tentpole film’s haul, and better to take that and run than let what many expect to be the movie of the year sit getting moldy on the shelf.


And here’s where Nolan’s “A movie theater is the only 

proper place to see my film” position could become untenable. If, for the sake of honoring that position—or any contractual obligations that might be attached to it—Warner Bros. does decide to launch the film overseas first, we all know it will be bootlegged the second it hits the screen, and in the very next second will be sent streaming around the world.


And that means thousands and thousands of people—maybe millions—in the U.S. will first experience Tenet as a crappy illegal dub, with no possibility on the immediate horizon of seeing it under any better circumstances. Unless I’m missing something here, wouldn’t that completely undermine Nolan’s purist stance? Now, he could decide to compromise his self-anointed position as God and have the film released immediately to the U.S. home market in 4K with an Atmos soundtrack and have the vast majority of people who can appreciate the difference see it in better quality than they would experience it in a movie theater.


If he actually did care about the quality of the moviewatching experience and the future of the movies, Option 2 would be a no-brainer. But since he appears to be little more than an ego-driven Hollywood poseur (which I realize is a completely redundant description that could apply to practically any contemporary big-budget director), it’s more likely he’ll now just dig in the heels of his imported handmade brogues even deeper.


I’ve got to wonder how he feels about wearing a mask.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Can Live Theater Thrive Online?

Inside "Forbidden Broadway"

In Part One, I talked to Tony-winning writer/director Gerard Alessandrini about the genesis of Spamilton, his highly acclaimed spoof of the megahit musical Hamilton. Here we discuss the challenges of getting his show in front of the massive audience that was introduced to Hamilton when it appeared on Disney+, the prospects for touring the latest edition of his legendary revue Forbidden Broadway, and the impact the pandemic is having on the theater world in general.

—Michael Gaughn

It seems like a missed opportunity that you can’t have Spamilton on tour now that everyone’s seen Hamilton.

We’re a little disappointed that theater isn’t happening around the country, because we did have a tour of Spamilton out that was going to many of the cities where Hamilton had already played. Now that Hamilton has been on Disney+, I’m sure we 

would have been getting a lot of bookings and having a lot of fun touring.


One thing that bodes well is that Hamilton will probably remain in cycle on Disney+ or elsewhere, so there will still be interest in the show when you do get a tour out.

I absolutely think that’s true. It’ll still be there and everybody will know it from the point of view of the original cast, which is how I wrote Spamilton. So, yes, hopefully down the line, it’ll really make Spamilton more accessible and topical.


There is an interesting dynamic now in that Hamilton will still be prohibitively expensive to see when it gets to go back on tour—balcony seats were selling for more than $700 for the Atlanta dates—but you now have a mass audience that’s been exposed to the show through Disney+ that would probably be eager to see Spamilton live—partly because your ticket prices aren’t stratospheric.

That’s exactly right. But, of course, Hamilton is on hiatus, too—there’s no Hamilton in New York; there’s no Hamilton on tour. I’m sure they must be frustrated also.


Which of the other recent Broadway shows would lend themselves well to a broader audience via video?

The only show that followed Hamilton that sort of had a freshness and depth to it was Dear Evan Hansen. But I don’t know if they’ve done a video of that. The Hamilton video was done well because they had the money and the opportunity. The show was already a huge, huge hit. But 

most shows don’t have the budget to do a high-quality video production. Rather than record a performance, most producers were probably thinking in the old tradition of “Oh, this will be made into a movie.”


But a few other shows besides Hamilton have done high-end videos that are enjoying broadcast. One I saw was SpongeBob: The Musical on Nickelodeon—don’t laugh—and they did an excellent video of it. It was very fun.

You also had a cast for Forbidden Broadway all ready to go out on tour when this hit, right? So, now you’ve got two shows that are sort of sitting in limbo.

We had three or four individual productions of Forbidden Broadway planned for the summer. I know we had one in San Diego, and the San Francisco Gay Men’s

Can Theater Thrive Online?

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Chorus was going to do a special and hysterical version.


There’s a wonderful regional theater down the street from where I live in Connecticut that’s been celebrated for decades—The Ivoryton Playhouse. We were all ready to do Forbidden Broadway Comes to Ivoryton. I was directing it and writing special material for The Playhouse. We got right up to dress rehearsal. Then we had to stop. All those productions got either postponed or are indefinitely up in the air. So, we’re waiting to see what’s going to happen.


What’s your guess about how this is going to play out for those productions?

I think it’s going to be a long time. They’re going to have to have a vaccine before people go back in the theater. Even if the government lets us open these theaters, who wants to risk their lives to see any kind of musical comedy or even a good play? I think theater has been sort of damaged and may have to reinvent itself from the ground up.


But I do want to make a guess that the smaller, Off-Broadway theaters and smaller shows like Spamilton and Forbidden Broadway will come back first, because to make a big show work financially, you have to pack a 2,000-seat theater, whereas with Off-Broadway, believe me, we can run with a small audience and make it work. We can even take away seats and make



I think the tourism of theater is pretty much going to be on hold for a long time in New York, but New Yorkers are actually going to want to go see something. Ergo, Off-Broadway may have a resurgence.


And it’s a lot easier to shoot a smaller show for streaming than a big Broadway show.

We do have some good video of Forbidden Broadway and Spamilton. In the old-school tradition, we also have terrific cast albums that are very professionally done. Cast albums are still viable entertainment.


If there’s one good thing for me about Broadway ending or freezing it’s that now neither Spamilton or Forbidden 

Can Theater Thrive Online?

Broadway: The Next Generation are dating in any way. They’re still right up to date.


One of the problems with New York theater being closed through at least early next year is that the talent is dispersing out of economic need. It’s too expensive to stay hunkered down in Manhattan. Actors traditionally make money as waiters but the restaurants only have limited service.

Right. Restaurants are attached to theatergoing in New York. And you’ve got to remember that an actor’s range of talent is time-dependent. In other words, you want to see young, beautiful people in a show—and in the movies as well. A lot of talented younger actors are missing their window of opportunity.


For example, they were planning to do that big revival of The Music Man with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. But now the stars might be too old for the parts by the time they get around to doing the show. The same is true in sports. Even with the most talented player, that physical prowess and ability to do those wonderful things only lasts a few years where they’re at top peak. By the time they’re in their thirties, they’re too old.


There might be a similar problem with hanging onto movies to release them in theaters instead of taking them straight to streaming. Given how quickly everything is changing in society, they could feel out of date by the time they’re released.

How true! I saw a questionable post online that said even Hamilton is out of date because it’s from a different, pre-coronavirus era. I don’t know if that is exactly true but all this has sort of put the kibosh on me as a writer because I write topical humor. So, how do I know something’s going to be funny in six months? I don’t. So, there’s no sense guessing. In the meantime, I’ll stay home and enjoy watching Hamilton and Disney+, and TCM On Demand.

Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals, best known for the long-
running musical satire Forbidden Broadway and the Hamilton spoof Spamilton, both of which
have been performed in theaters around the world. He has been the lyricist (and sometimes
composer) for over a dozen musicals, including Madame X, The Nutcracker & I, Scaramouche,
and the Paul Mazursky musical of Moon Over Parador, and has won numerous accolades,
including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk awards. His voice can be heard in
Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas. He’s also written special-material songs for many
stars, including Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

The Bletchley Circle

It’s pretty easy to take a quick glance at The Bletchley Circle and think you’ve got it figured out. Combine two parts Rosemary & Thyme, one part Sherlock Holmes, one part Numbers, boil until completely devoid of flavor, add a dash of Masterpiece Theatre saccharine and a sprinkle of tut-tut-tea-time-pass-me-a-scone English inoffensiveness, and you’ve got the recipe for my impression of the series before I actually sat down to watch it. And to be frank, if not for my interest in the

Enigma and Lorenz ciphers used by Germany in World War II, and the Allied efforts to break those codes, I likely never would have watched the first episode.


But thank goodness I did, because that initial impression couldn’t have been more off-base. True, The Bletchley Circle does owe a debt to the aforementioned properties. And yes, it is unapologetically English. But rather than being just another formulaic murder-mystery series or, worse yet, another boring period drama, the first season actually manages to be a smart, well-scripted whodunnit that carves out its own identity.


Actually, to call it a whodunnit is a little misleading. Yes, on 


This British murder-mystery series is a masterclass in economical storytelling that assumes the intelligence of its audience. 



The Kaleidescape download is a step up from the streaming version, mainly in its shadow depth and detail. Its 1080p presentation holds up better on screens 65″ and up.

the surface the show follows four former Bletchley Park colleagues who reunite seven years after the end of the war to get to the bottom of a series of murders that have the police baffled. And yes, they use all the tools of the codebreaking trade to analyze patterns and hone in on the elusive killer. But that’s not really what the show is about, and if you watch murder mysteries in an attempt to identify the killer before the big reveal, or to experience that “Ah ha! I should have seen it all along” moment, I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed.


What The Bletchley Circle is really about is the relationships between these four women, and their attempts to find their respective places in society after contributing to the war effort and then being forbidden to reveal—even to their husbands—the role they played. What it’s about is a peculiar moment in time when a country is struggling to find its own post-war identity. It’s about the age-old struggle between masculinity and femininity and the social norms surrounding such constructs. And what makes The Bletchley Circle work is that it grapples with all of this without being overtly political or in any way heavy-handed. In lesser hands than those of writer Guy Burt (probably best-known for his work on Showtime’s The Borgias), the series could have easily devolved into the sort of Woman Good/Man Bad culture-war orthodoxy that I sympathize with politically, but always find boring in works of fiction.


Thankfully, the struggles the quartet faces as a result of being highly intelligent and highly skilled women living in a world that only knowns how to place them in secretary-, cashier-, librarian-, or housewife-shaped boxes are handled with enough nuance that the series feels true to its time and place. It doesn’t feel like a wholesale re-evaluation of the past through the

lens of current mores.


If there’s a criticism to be leveled against the first season of the show—three perfectly paced 46-ish-minute episodes that feel more like a single movie with two built-in potty breaks—it’s that the four leads occasionally feel more like archetypes than fully fleshed-out characters. In fact, at times the young Lucy (played by Sophie Rundle of Peaky Blinders and Gentleman Jack fame) feels like little more than a vehicle for her eidetic memory, which comes in handy when the plot calls for the quick recollection of dates and figures.


But such blunders are few, and on the whole The Bletchley Circle is a masterclass in economical storytelling that assumes the intelligence of its audience. Is it worth owning? I’d say yes, but only the first season, which thankfully contains a satisfying story with a proper beginning, middle, and ending. Season Two ups the production-value ante a little, and adds some color to the otherwise beige palette of Season One. It also features a somewhat more on-point storyline that ties more directly into the ladies’ time at Bletchley Park. But some sloppy scripting and puzzling anachronisms keep it from being as satisfying as Season One. My recommendation would be to check out Season Two on Amazon Prime before spending $16.99 to own it.

The Bletchley Circle

Season One, on the other hand, is an easy no-brainer purchase for anyone who likes a good (and I do mean good) period drama or murder mystery. The video transfer available from Kaleidescape is a step up from the streaming version on Amazon, mostly in its handling of shadow depth and detail. The streaming version also suffers from a few chromatic aberrations that might not be noticeable if you’re watching on a 65-inch TV all the way across the living room, but which definitely mar the presentation when blown up to cinematic proportions. The Kaleidescape transfer nips such problems in the bud and looks great on the big screen, even if its resolution is limited to 1080p.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

How “Hamilton” Became “Spamilton”

the original cast of Spamilton (l to r):
Nicholas Alexander Rodriguez, Nora Schell, Chris Anthony Giles, Juwan Crawley, Dan Rosales

Nothing is sacred for Gerard Alessandrini. The various editions of his Forbidden Broadway have been skewering New York theater’s best and brightest for more than 30 years. So of course Hamilton—the most successful Broadway show by far in decades—was way too big a target for him to pass up. But rather than take a single jab at it as a number within Forbidden Broadway, Gerard decided to turn his affectionate but incisive lampoon into an entire show. And thus Spamilton was born.


The full-length Hamilton parody was not only a success in New York but spawned both national and international productions. In Part 1 of this interview, I talk to Gerard about Spamilton’s genesis and reception. In Part 2, we’ll discuss the challenges the pandemic poses for getting his acclaimed show in front of the vast new audience created by Hamilton’s airing on Disney+ and about how theater in general is faring in a locked-down world.

—Michael Gaughn

As a parodist, what was your initial reaction to Hamilton?
Hamilton was the biggest new hit show to arrive in New York since I’ve been here, so I thought, “Well, I have to spoof this.” I quickly jumped into learning the show and learning more about Lin-Manuel, who was just an acquaintance at that time.


Not really knowing him very well, I thought, “I’ll make this a complete fantasy of what might have been going through his mind at the time he wrote Hamilton.” It was a silly but effective idea. I then mixed in my ideas regarding the show’s effect on Broadway. One of the main thrusts of Spamilton is showing you how Hamilton changed Broadway forever. What would new 

musicals be like? What about all the older divas like Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters and Liza Minnelli? Would they be able to work after Hamilton?


Now that they’ve shown the video of Hamilton on Disney+, people know what it was like to see the show with Lin-Manuel and the original cast—which, of course, is what Spamilton is spoofing. So it makes Spamilton more relevant or topical, and it remains topical even though things have changed on Broadway in the performance or monetary sense.


Is this the first time you’ve parodied a complete show?
The closest thing I ever did by way of spoofing a whole show was Les Misérables. When it opened in 1987, I immediately included it in Forbidden Broadwaybecause what better thing to spoof than a serious musical about one of the French Revolutions.


So, from 1988 to 2015, I kept adding different spoofs of Les Mis. Christine Pedi—a dear friend who was in Forbidden Broadway and has a radio show about Broadway on Sirius/XM—kept saying, “Oh, you have so many Les Misérables parody numbers, you should put all of them together in one evening.” It’s true, and that may happen yet.


Other full-length parodies I mounted were a show I created with Robert Hetzel called Madame X—The Musical, which was performed at NYMFThe New York Musical Festival. It was a very clever spoof on the genre of “women’s pictures.”

In 2010, we presented The Singing Nutcracker with a book by Emmy-winner Peter Brash. Since then, I did a parody of La La Land, which I think has a lot of potential as a spoof of movie musicals through the decades.


When Spamilton opened, did people get what you were doing out of the gate or did it have to develop an audience? And did the show appeal to more of a Hamilton audience or more of a Forbidden Broadway audience?

Well, I must say, our timing was perfect. I said, “Let’s do this in July 2016, after the Tonys are over and Hamilton has won all the awards.” It was also the second anniversary of the show premiering downtown, so I thought that gave them plenty of time to celebrate the great thing they’d done. So, by July, it was time to make Hamilton and Lin-Manuel a comedic target. It seemed the All-American thing to do. So, voila! Spamilton: An American Parody.


We first presented it in a cabaret, which was small and informal. We didn’t even take out an ad, but as soon as we just put a poster in the window of the Triad Theater, we completely sold out. The audience was full of Hamilton lovers—and, believe me, they clearly knew what we were doing. Everybody already loved all the songs, because the Hamilton cast album was out. So, it was a bullseye, based on timing and place.


By the end of 2016, we moved to the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater on West 47th Street—a block away from the real HamiltonIn total, we ran for over a year and a halfan amazing run for a parody show. Our producers included John Freedson, the producer of Forbidden Broadway for the past 30 years, and David Zippell, the great Broadway and film lyricist. They also mounted a production in Chicago.


After that, we had a wonderful and lauded production in LA at the Center Theatre Group in Culver City. Next came a spectacular production in London at The Menier Chocolate Factory. David Baboni and The Chocolate Factory had mounted three very successful productions of Forbidden Broadway before. So doing Spamilton went very smoothly and was delightful fun.


Then, we came back and launched a national tour, hitting the cities where Hamilton had already played. Of course, Hugh Fordin of DRG Records also recorded an excellent cast album, which is still very popular.


I would say more people who love Hamilton are interested in Spamilton than Forbidden Broadway fans. It’s Hamilton lovers who are coming to hear the songs they love turned inside out.

How "Hamilton" Became "Spamilton"

What was Lin-Manuel’s reaction?

He’d come to Forbidden Broadway to see In the Heights spoofed twice, and that was very flattering. He’s a good sport and he’s got a great sense of humor.


I think he had been a fan of Forbidden Broadway since he was young. He told me once that, in 1996, he got up very early in the morning to run down to

Sam Goody’s, the record store, to buy the first release of the Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back cast album. He was excited because it contained an extended spoof of Rent, which he loved.


So, when we were doing Spamilton, I emailed him and said, “Come see it.” And he came with Tommy Kail and Alex Lacamoire, his superb director and fabulous musical director. It was such a thrilling evening. People knew who they were, so the audience was psyched. And the cast knew they were there because the Triad is only 30 feet deep, so you can see

everybody in the audience.


That’s got to be intimidating.

It was a little intimidating for some of the younger cast members, but everybody delivered an excellent performance. You could just see Lin-Manuel laughing hysterically. After the show, he was very attentive to the cast and me. He said, “How did you know all that stuff about me? Now I have to go to therapy after seeing what you put on the stage. ” And I said, “Well, I didn’t know anything, really. I looked everything up on line and made up the rest!”

How "Hamilton" Became "Spamilton"

Gerard and Lin-Manuel

He was just a doll. They stayed and talked with us for maybe over an hour. The cast—they are very young, talented people—they were just so thrilled to meet him. He was very generous to them. He said, “Have you seen Hamilton?” Of course, none of those kids could afford to see Hamilton. So, he arranged for everyone to see it, including me and my partner Glenn.


And Glenn—who was playing King George in Spamilton and was the stage manager—went down to the Richard Rodgers Theatre to pick up the tickets for everybody. When he came back with them, I joked, “That’s $10,000 worth of tickets. Let’s sell them and run away forever to Rio.” Of course, the truth is we would rather stay in New York and see Hamilton!

Lin-Manuel saw Spamilton again a few months later with his wife and in-laws. When he first came to see it in July of 2016, everybody certainly knew who he was, but when he came back the second time, he had just been the host on Saturday Night Live the night before, right? And it was like the Beatles were coming to see the show. There was a huge crowd outside the theater just because Lin-Manuel had walked in.


After the show, he was again being nice to the cast, but people were coming up from the street and crowding onto the stage and bothering poor Lin-Manuel and his wife. People who hadn’t even seen the show were asking for his autograph and things like that. He had become a superstar in just six months.


I sent him the cast album when we recorded it, and he let us put his quote, “I laughed my brains out,” on the front cover. In order to tour the show, we had to get permission from him and his producers because a good three-quarters of the show is real music from Hamilton. We do have some restrictions. We have to do Spamilton in small theaters—we can’t park it in a huge theater. But we’re happy to do that because it’s the kind of show where you should have a drink in your hand.


It feels like a much bigger show than it is. The choreography seems to have a lot to do with that.

I’ve worked with Gerry McIntyre before on Forbidden Broadways and Forbidden Hollywoods as a performer, but he’s also a great choreographer. He’s like top, top notch. He should be choreographing Broadway shows, and maybe he will when theater returns. He did a fantastic job with Spamilton, because he knows all the great Broadway choreographic styles through the decades. Add to that his great sense of humor and unabashed showmanship. Having done Forbidden Broadway and Forbidden Hollywood, he knew it had to be funny as well as really sharp.

Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals, best known for the long-
running musical satire Forbidden Broadway and the Hamilton spoof Spamilton, both of which
have been performed in theaters around the world. He has been the lyricist (and sometimes
composer) for over a dozen musicals, including Madame X, The Nutcracker & I, Scaramouche,
and the Paul Mazursky musical of Moon Over Parador, and has won numerous accolades,
including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk awards. His voice can be heard in
Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas. He’s also written special-material songs for many
stars, including Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

One Band’s Solution to a World Without Touring

One Band's Solution to a World Without Touring

One of my favorite bands, Guided by Voices (aka GBV) has found an interesting way to stay in business and keep its legion of fans engaged amidst the current pandemic. The band had to cancel its concert schedule, which would have taken it across America and into Canada and England. Instead, GBV has initiated several special programs: A virtual “world tour” livestreaming event, which aired on Friday; a fan subscription music series; and a new album coming out in August.


If you’re not familiar with GBV, they are in some ways indie rock’s answer to The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, and Pearl Jam (the last named are big GBV fans, btw). All three have fanatical, dedicated fans who gleefully collect most everything they release, from live concerts to special merchandise and a wealth of recordings. All three deliver epic live concert 

experiences with long, ever-changing set lists. And they all have extensive catalogs of studio and live recordings.


GBV has released more than 100 albums and singles, and shows no signs of slowing down. Band founder, lead singer, and main songwriter Robert Pollard has built a remarkable cottage industry from home and studio recordings, DVDs, books, T-shirts, and other merchandise. GBV more or less defined the DIY indie-rock spirit of the 1990s, literally rising from Pollard’s basement to concert stages around the world. The group has succeeded against all possible odds.


For the uninitiated who may wonder what GBV sounds like, it begins with late-‘60s British Invasion sounds, such as the The Who and The Kinks mixed with the harder early-’70s vibe of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Toss in joyous power pop, new wave, bubblegum, punk, and psychedelic influences, and the result is a wonderfully eclectic brew that is new yet familiar. Earworms grow with every listen to GBV recordings. But live on stage is where the band shines and its current incarnation may be the best version yet. Borrowing a phrase from Duke Ellington: They rock madly!

For this live streaming concert, they pulled out the stops for the clubs they were scheduled to perform at on tour and the fans they would have performed for. In an interesting twist on the concert business model, each venue where they were slated to perform received 20% of every ticket sold to the Guided by Voices World Tour 2020 livestream.


Buying my ticket was as great an experience as one could imagine given the circumstances. The band was in fine form, playing on a large soundstage at a venue called The Brightside in Dayton, Ohio which offered band members proper social distancing, access to good lighting, and professional sound reinforcement. For a group that thrives on its audiences, pulling off a show like this must have been challenging, yet there was no shortage of musical energy as the band simply drove on from one song to the next for about two and a half hours.


Fan favorites were abundant, including “Chasing Heather Crazy,” “Cut Out Witch,” “Motor Away,” “Echoes Myron,” “I Am a Scientist,” “The Best of Jill Hives,” and “I Am a Tree.” They were no doubt focused on this year’s release, Surrender Your Poppy Field, offering up at least 10 of that album’s 15 tracks. There were also some rarities, and I suspect there were new songs from the upcoming album Mirrored Aztec. I’m still taking in the 52-song set list!


One benefit of a show like this is the band could focus on performing without the pressures of a packed house, quirky sound systems, and inadequate monitoring. This was never more evident than during the beautiful bridge to “Glad Girls,” where all the band members harmonized splendidly. Their five-part harmonies on “Teenage FBI” and “The Goldheart Mountaintop

Queen Directory” were similarly impressive. These details can get overlooked in a traditional concert setting.


Watching the Guided by Voices World Tour 2020 livestream was in many ways like being a fly on the wall for a concert-tour dress rehearsal. That they chose to share this with their fans is wonderful thing.


Production-wise, the livestream was crafted to a quite high standard. 

While they likely couldn’t have multiple camera people in the facility and on stage, they still had multiple camera angles (seven, in fact). I suspect they used GoPro-type cameras set up strategically around the stage, intercut to keep the action interesting and exciting.


Image quality was really very nice even at only 720p resolution, with a warm blue hue that allowed the stage lights to illuminate the band without much distraction (even the band members were dressed in muted blues, which streamed well without many artifacts). The audio was 24-bit / 44.1 kHz, so all things considered the sound was pretty great for a hard-rocking band firing with all cylinders on—drums, bass, two electric guitars in all their fiery Marshall-amped glory!


If I had a criticism of this virtual concert experience it would be to add some level of interactivity so fans could offer feedback to the band. At minimum, it would be nice if you could text in requests and such. Fortunately during the show, many fans (myself included) congregated on the band’s Facebook page, sharing the buzz about the event and its evolving set list, which was fun.


As I mentioned, the band recently started a wonderful subscription series, which I just joined via their website. Called “Hot Freaks” (named for a classic GBV song), for $100 you get all manner of live concerts, unreleased demos, previews for upcoming records, special video clips, and other special goodies. On the day after I joined, they sent me about a dozen emails with download links to catch me up on the program. I’m already overwhelmed—in a good way—and this is just the start of a year-long subscription.


So, yes, this is how you keep the music flowing even when the chips appear down, folks. Guided by Voices World Tour 2020 will continue to be streaming for the next several days, so if you are a fan or simply curious, it is a good deal. You’ll be supporting a great American rock band and you’ll get a download of the concert audio to enjoy as well.

Mark Smotroff

Mark Smotroff breathes music 24/7. His collection includes some 10,000 LPs, thousands of
CDs & downloads, and many hundreds of Blu-ray and DVD Audio discs. Professionally, Mark has
provided Marketing Communications services to the likes of DTS, Sony, Sega, Sharp, and AT&T.
He is also a musician, songwriter & producer, and has written about music professionally for
publications including Mix, Sound & Vision, and AudiophileReview. When does he sleep?

I’m Kinda OK with Hollywood Being on Pause

I'm Kinda OK with Hollywood Being on Pause

The Souvenir

I agree with Mike. I’m unconvinced by John Sciacca’s arguments about why movies might get better as a result of production delays.


But I do agree with John about one thing: There’s a major upside to the ongoing delays and shutdowns in Hollywood. With the tide of new content rolling in much more slowly, my wife and I finally have the opportunity to catch up on all the movies and TV shows we’ve let slip by in the past few years. And we’re both finding that—having missed the zeitgeist and the flurry of 

conversations surrounding these releases when they were new—we’re able to enjoy this content on our own terms, at our own pace.


We’ve recently, for example, started digging into The Witcher, the Netflix adaptation of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s folklore-inspired fantasy series. As the credits rolled on the first episode, my wife turned to me and exclaimed, “Why did we wait so long to watch this?”


Well, our daughter was in town the week it dropped last year, and then there was Christmas, and by the time New Year’s celebrations settled down and we had time to sit down for some new entertainment, the sixth season of Grace and Frankie was out, and . . . look, there’s only so much time in the day and only so many days in a week. We forgot about one squirrel and started chasing a newer one.


Am I a little sad that the release of Marvel’s Black Widow, originally slated for May 2020, got pushed back indefinitely? Absolutely. In an alternate universe, my wife would be queuing it up on our Kaleidescape Strato tonight. Instead, I think we’ll give Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir a spin, since it didn’t even make a blip on our radar when it was released last year (to be fair, an unusually exceptional year for new cinema). Or maybe we’ll finish watching the amazing Imagineering Story on Disney+, which we somehow managed to forget about after four episodes.


I’ve also been itching to sit my wife down in front of Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood and Akira Kurosawa’s Kumonosu-jō (aka Throne of Blood) for years now, but there just never 

seems to be the time. There’s always something new, something shiny, something tempting right over the horizon. And while few of these baubles ever truly measure up to the classics we’ve been meaning to watch or re-watch, they always seem to somehow find their way to the front of the line.


So, while I hope that Denis Villeneuve’s Dune manages to make its December 2020 target release date, and while I’ll certainly watch Wonder Woman 1984 the minute I can get my nerdy front paws on it, I’m kind of OK with the fact that the torrent of new releases has been reduced to a trickle. I’m not happy about the fact that so many creative types are out of work at the moment, mind you. But I’m glad I finally have the time to dig a little deeper into the home entertainment back catalog, the surface of which I only manage to scratch in any given year.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

The Future of the Movies, Pt. 1

The Future of the Movies, Pt. 1

The only thing we know for sure about the future of the movies is that we don’t really know anything for sure—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All forms of filmmaking have been stuck in a rut for a couple of decades now. Closing the movie theaters, which were quickly becoming relics anyway, and shutting down production indefinitely could be just what the doctor ordered. The problem is, a band-aid can’t fix this—the entire art form needs to be reimagined from its genetic code on up.


In “Could Theatrical Delays Make Movies Better?” John Sciacca puts a positive spin on the whole dire situation, proposing that the lockdowns and other restrictions give the movie studios and theaters time they wouldn’t otherwise have to spruce things up. Those are pleasant thoughts, but I think they’re quickly brought down to earth by the harsh economic realities, and 

by an even more intractable and reliably counterproductive force—human nature.


Economic realities first: Movies are already stupidly expensive to make, and the studios are currently taking a huge financial hit because they can’t release theatrically what would have potentially been their biggest moneymakers of the year. The last thing they’re going to do during an era of massive belt-tightening is invest any extra money—which can quickly skyrocket into the many millions—in the off hope it will somehow improve an already finished film.


For instance, nobody’s going to even think about mucking around with a Pixar film once it’s locked and loaded. Conceiving and executing even the smallest changes means deploying many, many people and much processing power—and quickly running up a tab that could keep every resident of a medium-sized American city well nourished for a year.


Also, even the most brilliant and seasoned professionals can lose their feel for a project once they think they’ve 

wrapped it up, so being able to dig in again can result in changes and additions that, at best, feel off-key.


As for movie theaters: Most theater owners haven’t made a dime in months. They know they’ll be lucky to open their doors anytime soon and don’t know if anyone will show up once they do. They’re spending way more time thinking about new ways to push more Milk Duds—which is where they make their real money—than they are pining for a new Atmos system.


As for human nature: The number of people who work better given all the time and money in the world is infinitesimally small; the number of people who can do better creative work under those circumstances is even smaller. The truth nobody wants to admit to is that almost everybody needs some kind of gun to their head to take any significant task from conception to completion.


Freedom can be a wonderful thing—if you know how to cherish it and how to maximize the opportunity you’ve been given. Most people are neither that brilliant nor that bold—or they wouldn’t keep making the same silly genre- and franchise-driven films over and over and over again.


Most filmmakers do their best work when they’re chafing at and pushing back against constraints—there’s nothing like being seriously pissed off to get the creative juices flowing. And most filmmakers unravel when they’re handed a blank check—partly because it tends to reveal that most filmmakers have no clothes. How many well-heeled film-school grads have worked their way up to a “A Film by ____” credit only to churn out a series of exercises in formless indulgence that serve better as sleep aids than entertainment?


Sorry, more time and money might result in some slightly better movies—that monkeys & typewriters thing again—but the odds are seriously against it.


But I don’t disagree with John on one crucial point: That the current crises could present some hugely positive opportunities—possibly even a chance to storm the Hollywood Bastille. Which will be the subject of my Part Two.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

INXS: Live Baby Live

INXS: Live Baby Live

We don’t often review concerts here at Cineluxe, mainly because not a lot of them come out featuring 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio. (We did review Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague, which while only in HD quality did feature an engaging Atmos soundtrack.) So, when INXS: Live Baby Live received a full 4K HDR restoration from Eagle Vision following a limited-

engagement theatrical run at the end of 2019, it seemed like a perfect candidate for review.


I graduated high school in the late ‘80s—the height of INXS’ popularity—and I’m a big fan of the band’s music. Their albums Listen Like Thieves, Kick, and X—from which this show draws much of its material – were in regular rotation in my car’s Sony Disc Jockey 10-disc CD changer. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to see them perform live before lead singer Michael Hutchence committed suicide in November 1997, putting an end to the band.


This show was captured in July 13, 1991 with INXS performing in front of a sold-out crowd of nearly 74,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium.


According to, director David Mallet (who has also filmed the likes of Peter Gabriel, Queen, 


This 1991 concert gets a 4K HDR upgrade that puts you in the middle of the massive Wembley crowd—without having to deal with all the sweaty bodies. 



The frenetic cutting might not be to everyone’s taste, and wider shots tend to look more HD than UHD, but the 4K excels in the closeups.



The Atmos soundtrack is the real star of the show, with an evocative mix that sounds realistic and huge.

AC/DC, Elton John, U2, and Pink Floyd) used 17 cameras and a helicopter to capture this concert on 35mm film, which has been painstakingly restored from the original negatives over a six-month period to 4K Ultra HD. The show is presented in a more cinematic widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which was created “by going through the film shot by shot and repositioning every one to get the best out of the frame.” The new Dolby Atmos soundtrack was “created by the band’s Executive Music Producer Giles Martin and Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios.”


INXS’ performance was part of a larger event called “Summer XS,” which also featured performances by Jesus Jones, Deborah Harry (aka “Blondie” and I hate that I might have to explain that to anyone!), and The Hothouse Flowers. This explains the relatively “short” 98-minute performance, but believe me, the concert certainly doesn’t feel short, and more than makes up for any lack of time with an abundance of energy.


I’ve only ever been to one live stadium show, Taylor Swift’s “Reputation Stadium Tour” back in 2018, but the contrast between these two performances was interesting. Where Swift used all manner of technology at her disposal, including giant-sized sets and props, multiple backup singers and dancers, elaborate video screens and pyrotechnics, INXS just took to the stage by themselves and proceeded to kill it for 98 straight minutes. There are no gimmicks or crutches here—no overdubs or vocal backing tracks, no guest performers or added members to fill out the band, just Hutchence and the other five band members at the height of their career pouring themselves into the songs, with Hutchence seeming to gain more vocal strength and energy as the show goes on.


You can see the packed house at Wembley falling under Hutchence spell, with 74,000 bodies writhing and moving in time to the beat, jumping, dancing, digging, and hanging onto his every note. It is as powerful a performance as you’re likely to see, reminiscent of Freddy Mercury’s hold over the crowd at the same venue just a few years before.


Watching the concert also made me appreciate just how much I prefer to be enjoying this show from the comfort of my home theater with a well-made martini in hand. If you look closely, it appears that several people are pulled out of the seething mass of bodies after passing out. Being able to enjoy this in peace and comfort rather than being trapped in the suffocating and claustrophobic scrum at the front rows at Wembley is a pleasure beyond words.


The set list features 22 songs, including most of the band’s biggest hits to that time, with the notable absences including “The One Thing,” “Listen Like Thieves,” and “This Time.” (The show precedes Welcome to Wherever You Are and doesn’t feature any tracks from that album.) Even still, there is plenty from start to finish that will have you rocking out, and I dare say if you don’t find your head bobbing and your toes tapping at multiple points along the way, you might want to check your pulse.


With so many camera angles and shots to choose from, I did notice that the view jumps around quite a bit, which you’ll either like or you won’t. The view changes almost every few seconds, whether to a different performer, perspective, angle, wide, or crowd shot. This can make for a dynamic viewing experience, but if you like a concert film that mostly stays back and keeps the band in frame, this editing might be a little frenetic for you.


Interestingly, my Marantz processor listed the video format as 4K/50Hz, which is unusual for US films. Kaleidescape explained that the film was natively filmed by Eagle Vision for their UK audience, so it is native 25 frames-per-second, not the 24 fps of US movies. However, Kaleidescape claims this shouldn’t pose any compatibility or weird motion issues, and I certainly didn’t notice any.


While it is a 4K HDR transfer, I’d say the video quality can be a mixed bag. Some lengthy shots (from the helicopter?) and pans of the crowd can be a mess, almost veering into VHS quality, whereas closeups of the band are sharp and detailed and 

mostly look terrific. On the whole, I’d say the concert is more HD-looking than UHD, and you likely won’t use this to show off how great your video system looks. Having said that, the video quality is definitely well beyond serviceable and puts you in the middle of the performance.


Image quality starts to really improve after about 30 minutes into the show when the sun has mostly set at Wembley, and you can far better appreciate the stage lighting, with the bright colors and lights getting some nice pop from HDR. HDR also helps with the shadow detail, as lights play across the performers as they walk in and out of bright spots. You also get some good color saturation from the stage lights or Kirk Pengilly’s incredibly saturated red suit. There is a bit of grain in some of the early sky shots and in stage lighting, but it is organic and inoffensive.


But make no mistake, the audio is the star of the show here, and you’ll want to get the full lossless True HD Atmos soundtrack from the 4K disc or Kaleidescape download to fully appreciate the performance. The presentation is huge. In fact, one of my listening notes says, “Doesn’t sound like a studio mix at all; sounds like a big, fat, giant stadium concert experience!” Audio is primarily spread across the front channels and mixed up into the front height speakers, creating a massive wall of sound, but there are tons of ambience, reverb, and crowd noise mixed into 

INXS: Live Baby Live

the side and rear surround speakers to immerse you in the experience and put you right in the middle of Wembley. You know, without all the sweating bodies.


Bass starts off big and huge during “Guns in the Sky” and has that deep, thump-you-in-the-chest quality of a stadium PA system, letting you easily feel it in your seat. The bass-heavy mix is also a great way to demo the benefits of your system’s room correction. Turning Audyssey off on my processor caused the bass to become kind of a flat, one-dimensional affair with little focus or impact, where re-engaging it just tightened the screws on the low frequencies and gave them way more punch and slam.


Featuring just a couple more F-Bombs than Hamilton (typically when Hutchence is engaging the crowd), Live Baby Live is 99% family-friendly, and a great way to introduce younger listeners to one of the great bands of the ‘80s. If you haven’t enjoyed a concert in your home theater, this makes for a fun evening that will have you rocking and singing along while taking you back nearly 30 years. Like a great album, this is a show you’ll likely find yourself returning to, and with Kaleidescape’s pre-bookmarked songs, it makes jumping straight to your favorites “What You Need”!

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at

Could Theatrical Delays Make Movies Better?

Could Theatrical Delays Make Movies Better?

Pixar’s Soul

Movie theaters are closed, the best films have been getting pushed back (well, except for Hamilton, so there’s that), and new film production has been put on hold, and I get that that all sucks—but I’m thinking there might actually be some upside to this, hopefully making the experience even better when we are finally able to return to the movie theater or get some great

new content to watch at home!


More Time = Better Results

You ever watch those cooking shows where chefs are furiously working down to the very last, “Hands up, utensils down!” second? That is basically every Hollywood production schedule. They are working on these films till practically the very last second to ensure they are as good as possible, tightening the edits, effects, and story. For a perfect example of this, check out Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II on Disney+, which shows just how many people and moving parts, and how much work, are involved in bringing a major film to the screen.


But now studios have all been given the greatest commodity of all—time—to go back to hone these films that were supposed to already have been released and tweak them to perfection. This is the equivalent of an extra hour in the kitchen, and instead of not completing a sauce or forgetting a garnish, they can deliver a perfect plate.


And while working on new productions on soundstages and in offices has mostly ceased, a lot of this effect and finishing work can be performed remotely, meaning Hollywood could be hard at work behind the scenes to make these upcoming releases truly impressive.


Writers Can Write . . . and Rewrite

Banging out a script is often a furious process under a tight deadline that involves lots of changes and rewrites, with others frequently brought in to help improve or punch up the material, often happening on the very day of shooting. And

you know what can be a total suck to the creative process? A looming deadline. Sure, that proverbial clock ticking over your head might produce pages, but it doesn’t always result in the best, most original and creative work.


Writers will undoubtedly benefit from all of this forced time in isolation, letting them focus on crafting the best stories possible, or have extra time to go over and improve projects already in the pipeline that were delayed. Think about Disney/Pixar’s Soul, planned for June 19 and now waiting until November 20, or Morbius moving from July of this year to March 2021, or Fast 9 originally slated for a May 2020 release and now waiting almost a full year until April 2021. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that some of the best movies we’ll ever see are being written right now!


Theater Renovations

With theaters forced to close, owners now have the time and opportunity to do any needed renovations or upgrades. That seat with the hole in it? Get it repaired or replaced. Haven’t implemented a seat reservation system? Get on it. That one blown speaker or subwoofer that seems to plague at least one auditorium at the cineplex? Fix it. Been holding off on upgrading to an Atmos sound system because you didn’t want to close your biggest theater? Now’s the perfect time. Haven’t changed your projector lamp or balanced the sound system in a while? Get on it.


Theater chains know that people have enjoyed the opportunity to experience some first-run films in the comfort of their homes, and nothing is going to kill the momentum of a comeback like a sucky experience, meaning now is the perfect time to make sure their theaters are all in top order when they open back up.


Whether you’re excited for Tenet, Mulan, or the new Bond No Time to Die, here’s hoping Hollywood takes this extra time to give us the best experience when we’re able to get back to the movies!


John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at