Friday, December 31, 2010

From the Mount Washington Valley to the Big Apple

 N.H. singing group becomes first amateur group to perform at Radio City Music Hall

“Oh my God, they were the singers,” Jean Suter, of Long Island, N.Y., said as the members of Alpenglow took their seats in front of her after performing as the opening act from the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 28. “I feel so special to be sitting behind you.”

Alpenglow, a group of singers from the Mount Washington Valley area of New Hampshire, won the Dove Hair Care Brush with Greatness Sing4All contest, which included an all-expenses-paid trip to New York and the opportunity to become the first amateur choir group to sing at New York's historic Radio City Music Hall.

“It definitely sounded right,” Antulio Arroyo, events supervisor at Radio City, told the group after a backstage tour of the music hall.

The group, which consists of Mary Bastoni-Rebmann, Emilie Jensen, a senior at Kennett High School, Matt Stoker, a junior a Fryeburg Academy, Taylor Hill, a senior at Kennett, twin brother and sister Liam and Mae Van Rossum, eighth graders at Bartlett Elementary School, and Abby Miller, a sophomore at Kennett and a private voice student of Bastoni-Rebmann, sang “My Favorite Things” and “Winter Wonderland” just before the 8 p.m. performance featuring the Rockettes.

“My childhood has been completely amazingified,” Jensen said of the experience. “This day has been like nothing in my entire life. I'm still in shock, basically. I don't even know how to express everything that has happened.”

Jensen has good reason not to be able to find the words to describe the experience. Radio City Music Hall is a city landmark and one of the most recognizable theaters in the world. The Christmas Spectacular, which dates back to 1932, remains the theater's crown jewel.

“It was amazing. It was more than you could ask for,” Miller said. “The stage was just amazing. It was huge, and just looking out you just felt the best that you possibly could.”

The snow storm that arrived Sunday, just days before their New York debut, nearly prevented the members of Alpenglow from having that feeling. The group was scheduled to fly out Monday, Dec. 27, at 6 a.m. If the group members hadn't left earlier they would have missed the performance.

“I was online and on the phone all afternoon, evening, into the night on Christmas tracking the weather and letting the rest of the group know what was going on,” said Keith Force, who shot and entered the required video of the group into the contest.

When group members were unable to get in touch with their contact at Dove, they took it upon themselves to make their own ways to New York. Miraculously, everyone managed to beat the storm — much to the surprise of Dove, which had nearly written them off.

"Dove was very pleased that we made the decision to come early as it was a weekend and the office was closed," Bastoni-Rebmann said, "The weather did not deter this group."

Everyone agreed stepping out on that stage and looking out into the audience was a special moment that made all the extra effort to get there and the hard work leading up to the performance well worth it.

“It was definitely a much needed reward,” Hill said. "We worked so hard so finally being able to do all that and getting that reaction from the audience was awesome.”

The group received a hearty applause from the audience after each song, and it was gratifying for everyone in the group to see the audience enjoying the performance.

“We saw people in the back dancing, and we looked up into the balconies and everyone was just having such a great time,” Stoker said. “I think it made us feel more comfortable on stage. We just did what we did and it was absolutely incredible. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Alpenglow has only been in existence since Nov. 17 and formed specifically for the contest, which required them to submit a video of them performing Rodgers and Hammerstein's “My Favorite Things.”

“That is very impressive,” Rockette Amy Ling said of the short amount of time the group has been together. “Their voices jell very well. It was very pure.”

Alpenglow didn't reach that level overnight. It was a developed process that included warm-up performances in the valley.

“We had a few experiences up to this point performing live in front of audiences in North Conway and Jackson,” Rebmann said. “I think that was great for them to have those stepping stones, so that they got comfortable as a group to perform in an environment where you never know how it is going to go.”

For Bastoni-Rebmann, as great as the experience of gracing the Radio City Music Hall stage was she was more taken by the poise and confidence that the kids in the group displayed in such a huge moment.

“I was more involved with how the kids responded and watched them stay centered,” Rebmann said. “They were performers first and a performing family first, and they didn't let the distractions of the excitement take them away.”

Bastoni-Rebmann couldn't stress enough how impressed she was that the kids didn't allow themselves to get taken away by the external stuff and that they stayed focus.

“I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was going to be,” Hill said. “I've used this word so many times on this trip, but it was really surreal and I think I was trying to soak it all in before it was over and it was a lot of fun.”

Hill wasn't the only member in the group surprised to see that nerves didn't get the best of them.

“I was a lot less nervous than I thought I'd be,” Mae Van Rossum said. “I thought
I'd be shaking and stuff, but I wasn't. Lucky me.”

Mae's brother, Liam, was a bit scared about going on stage and performing to an audience of thousands, but stayed in the moment.

“I was frightened and all but I pulled through it,” Liam said. “I'm just really overjoyed. I am so lucky that Mary chose me to do this because she could've picked anybody for the cast, but she picked me. It was great.”

It was actually the unexpected TV interviews for Fox 5 in New York and Entertainment Tonight that had some of the group members more rattled.

"Those (interviews) were nerve-racking,” Hill said. "I didn't like those. I mean, I'm sure if I am ever able to do something like this again I'll be more trained and I'll be more use to it, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it was awesome.”

Joining them for the interviews was Idina Menzel, the official spokesperson for the contest, who  video conferenced with the group during the voting period of the contest. Her appearance before the show was kept secret from the group.

“We met her at the studio and so we showed up and 'Oh there's that lady from Dove from the other day and she brought Idina with her, whoa',” Liam Van Rossum said. “I didn't even realize she was in the room. She is a real great person. She had a wonderful personality.”

Menzel, who was in the original casts of “Rent” and “Wicked” and has a recurring role on the TV show “Glee,” reiterated the advice she had previously given the group and encouraged them to attempt to further reach their potential.

“Meeting Idina, such a huge celebrity on Broadway, and having her input on what we do and having her tell us we can go far and that we just need to reel it in and live in the moment was absolutely incredible,” Stoker said.

In addition to performing on stage, Alpenglow performed in the lobby before the show and gave a private performance of “Winter Wonderland” to a couple of the Rockettes in Radio City's Roxy Suite.

“They were wonderful,” Rockette Amy Lenhardt said. “I was really, really impressed.”

And the feeling was mutual from the group, particularly from Jensen, who has been a dancer for 11 years.

“I love the Rockettes,” Jensen said. “They are so great, the precision is just ridiculous. I'd love to be one, but sadly I'm not tall enough, but they have the technique that is just precise and so perfect. I love it, I love every second of it.”

And all it goes back to Dove Hair Care, of all things, for allowing this amazing opportunity to happen. The origin of the contest came from wanting to expand upon an ad campaign that featured the song “My Favorite Things.”

“We came up with this idea of wouldn't it be fun to look for America's next best glee club and do something grassroots and start from the ground up and place this contest,” Michael Bordainick, marketing manager on Dove Hair Care, said.

The scale of the contest was small. Alpenglow won with only 7,026 votes, but Dove wasn't expecting millions of votes.

“Everything you do can't be huge,” Bordainick said. “You can't have the same scale of something like 'Glee,' so we knew this would be smaller, but it isn't necessarily any less impactful for the people you touch. I think for us it was about being more impactful for a select group of people over being less impactful for a larger group.”

Dove got more than expected with Alpenglow and is happy with the way things turned out.

“They are even better live than watching the video,” Bordainick said.

Alpenglow is grateful to Dove for the opportunity. Thanks to Dove and the supportive Mount Washington Valley community whose votes made the win possible, the members of Alpenglow are now part of the 78-year-old legacy of Radio City Music Hall. That's a Christmas gift that will last for years to come.

Friday, December 24, 2010

New 'TRON' is a visual stunning popcorn film

“TRON: Legacy” is an interesting case of a major studio investing millions of dollars into a sequel to a movie that was box office dud. In the 28 years since the original, Disney's “TRON” has developed a cult following, but a large portion of the general public is probably thinking: “What the heck is a TRON?” or “Wait, there was a first?”

When “TRON” came out in 1982 it was a showcase for groundbreaking technology. It was the first film to have extended computer animated sequences and through strong editing did an impressive job integrating actors into computer generated sequences.

The original film was about how Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a video game programmer and hacker was sucked into the digital world he created. Now on the other side of the screen, the games, including the famous light cycle battle, are much more dangerous.

In this world the programs are doppelgangers of their creators, an idea that is used as a major jumping off point in the sequel. “TRON” ended with Flynn escaping from the digital land known as The Grid, but “Legacy” reveals that he became obsessed with the world and kept going back and eventually was taken hostage by his own program, Clu (also Bridges).

“Legacy” explains all this in an effective prologue and then fast forwards 20 years to reveal that Flynn is still missing and his orphaned son Sam (Garrett Hedlund, “Four Brothers”) is a mischievous rebel that refuses to take over his father's company. Inevitably, Sam is also zapped onto The Grid. The rest of the film is attempting to bringing dear old dad home while battling off the tyrannical Clu, who wants in on the real world.

The Flynns have help from Quorra (Olivia Wilde, TV's “House”), a particularly special program that has been Kevin's protege. Wilde gives an interesting performance. Quorra is a strong, confident fighter, but there's more to her than the typical butt kicking babe. Wilde gives the character a childlike enthusiasm and curiosity. There's a way she watches father and son interact that is perfect. A dinner scene between the Flynns and Quorra is a quietly hilarious awkward reunion.

As with the original, the plot is nothing spectacular, but not completely lacking substance. There is a theme that too much time spent in the digital world (the Internet, video games, etc.) can lead to a disconnect from reality. It is barely explored, but at least it is there.

The story is serviceable and engaging enough, but it is really just an excuse for the visuals and, on that basis, the film works because there are indeed some stunning visuals. This is a richly conceived universe that expands on motifs from the original. The upgraded light cycle sequence is thrilling as are the numerous disc battles. The visuals are perfectly complemented by a score by electronic music duo Daft Punk, who also make a cameo appearance.

Through digital technology Bridges is able to play Flynn at his actual age and Clu looking 30 years younger. It is an impressive, if not all together seamless, achievement. There's never any doubt that it is Bridges, and in some scenes it is amazing how good it looks, but much of the time it looks too waxy and digital, but this works since Clu is a digital clone after all.

While the process is not perfect, it is great fun to see Bridges playing off his younger self. Bridges plays Flynn as a broken man who has gone inward. There's a bit of The Dude from “The Big Lebowski” in Flynn, especially in lines like “you're really messing with my whole Zen thing, man.” Clu is a standard, but effective villain.

Hedlund is a likable hero and has good chemistry with both Bridges and Wilde, but he is easily overshadowed by both.

Michael Sheen (“Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen”) has a fantastic supporting turn as an androgynous night club owner on The Grid. Sheen has limited screen time, but steals every scene with a campy persona and high energy.

Bruce Boxleitner returns as Alan Bradley in the film's bookend scenes in the real world as well as briefly as Tron, if only since the movie bares his name. It is nice to see another original cast member and Boxleitner is good with the limited time he has. There's an implication that if there are more films in this franchise that he'd feature more prominently.

Fans of the original film will enjoy this update. It is a bit clunky in places, but so was the original. The film does work as a stand-alone piece though, so sci-fi fans should also appreciate what is on display here. It is definitely a niche film and it is a good one — not great, but, certainly good fun.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Even more subversive songs to get through the holidays

Last week I provided a list of five songs that offer a different take on the holiday season. With Christmas a week away and the pressure to create the perfect holiday building up, I am presenting five more songs to ease the tension.

"Christmas In Hollis" — Run DMC (1987)
This is a happy hip hop holiday song about Christmas in Queens, N.Y. The song includes such endearingly goofy lyrics as "It was December 24th on Hollis Ave in the dark/When I seen a man chilling with his dog in the park/I approached very slowly with my heart full of fear/Looked at his dog, oh my God, an ill reindeer."

"I Won't Be Home for Christmas" — Blink 182 (1997)
Goofball pop/punk rockers wrote this anthem for all those who are driven up the wall by the holiday season. The song features bitter, but funny lyrics like: "It's time to be nice to the people you can't stand all year/I'm growing tired of all this Christmas cheer"

"O Holy Night" — Eric Cartman (1999)
"South Park" dedicated a whole episode to satirizing holiday music back in 1999. This is one of the tamer songs from the episode with the spoiled Cartman butchering the holiday classic to hilarious effect.

"Oh Shit, It's Christmastime!" — Mad Tea Party (2009)
This uke-abilly band — that would be rockabilly with a ukulele — vents their frustration for Christmas in this infectious two-minute ditty. The cheerily sung cynical lyrics include sentiments that anyone can relate to, if only fleetingly: "It's Christmas, forgot about the pagans and Jews/It's Christmas and it makes me blue."

"Christmas Night of the Living Dead" — MxPx (2009)
It was perhaps inevitable, especially with their increasing prominence in pop culture, that there would be a zombie-themed Christmas song. Punk rockers MxPx present this bloody tale of Christmas carnage featuring the chorus: "Christmas night of the living dead/My face is green and the snow is red."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Five non-holiday holiday movie

Every holiday season the same dozen or so movies get played over and over again. Heck, “A Christmas Story” is annually aired for 24 hours on Christmas day. But there are alternatives — films that aren’t necessarily about the holiday season, but feature key scenes or plot points centered around Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Here are five options to help provide something different this holiday season.

“The Apartment” (1960)
This Billy Wilder comedy stars Jack Lemmon as an office worker who is promised upward mobility if he allows executives to use his apartment for their trysts. Things become complicated when Lemmon falls in love with the spurned mistress (Shirley MacLaine) of his boss (Fred MacMurray). It is on New Year’s Eve that MacLaine has to decide between the two men in her life in this poignant, surprisingly dark look at love.

“Trading Places” (1983)
A couple of Wall Street bigwigs (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) decide to switch the lives of one their star traders (Dan Aykroyd) with a street hustler (Eddie Murphy) and bet whether Murphy will rise to the occasion and Aykroyd will become just another bum. Aykroyd spends a good chunk of screen time as a drunken Santa before teaming up with Murphy to get payback. Their revenge scheme includes a lengthy New Year’s Eve party sequence on a train involving, among other things, Aykroyd in black face, Jamie Lee Curtis in a mountain climbing outfit and a gorilla.

“Die Hard” (1988)
It is easy to forget that “Die Hard,” the movie that made Bruce Willis an action star by trapping him in a building with sophisticated terrorists led by Alan Rickman, is set during the holiday season. In fact, it was a Christmas party that brought Willis' New York cop to the Los Angeles office building in the first place. The holiday backdrop is just one aspect that helps to fuel the tension and adds an extra layer of humor. It was a theme that was carried over to “Die Hard 2.”

“When Harry Met Sally” (1989)
One of the quintessential modern romantic comedies chronicles the relationship of the title characters (Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) over the years from adversaries to friends and eventually lovers. The closing scenes are at New Year’s Eve party in which the couple finally realizes that they’re perfect for each other. It is a satisfying conclusion to a movie that is an observant, funny and smart look at relationships.

“About a Boy” (2002)
Hugh Grant stars as a man who lives off the royalties from a Christmas song his father wrote. He invents an imaginary child to pick up women at a single parents support group, but instead of finding a fling he picks up a new friend in the form of an awkward 12-year-old boy with a suicidal mother. This odd couple helps each other to become better version of themselves. There are scenes at an oddball Christmas party and, more crucially, Grant meets the first woman (Rachel Weisz) he ever wanted something real with at a New Year’s Eve party. It may sound trite and cloying, but it is funny, heartfelt and genuine.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Singing group in contest to sing at Radio City Music Hall

Online voting open through Dec. 20

To paraphrase the lyrics to “New York, New York,” if you can make it there, you can make in anywhere and the recently-formed singing group Alpenglow is getting its chance to do just that thanks to a singing contest sponsored by Dove soap.

Alpenglow has been named one of the four finalists in the national Dove Hair Care Brush with Greatness Sing4All contest. If it wins, the group, which formed specifically for the contest, will get to open for the Rockettes at the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular on Dec. 28.

“Sharon Ball came across the Dove Haircare Brush with Greatness contest on the Internet the day after 'Seussical' closed,” said Mary Bastoni-Rebmann, who is part of Alpenglow and was instrumental in forming the group, which drew heavily on the cast of Arts in Motion's production of “Seussical the Musical.”

To enter the contest, Alpenglow had to upload a video of the group singing the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein song, “My Favorite Things.”

“With the support of our parents and friends, we were able to put together our video in less than a week, and produce it with the highest of quality,” said Alpenglow member Emilie Jensen, a senior at Kennett High School in North Conway, N.H.

The group rehearsed quickly over a couple of days and set up a mini production at Amy Frechette's house. Bastoni-Rebmann handled props and costume as well as the choreography with Sharon Ball. Floyd Corson accompanied the group on piano and Keith
Force shot the video with the help of Max Belkin, who provided the camera.

“The making of the video was a whirlwind,” said group member Matt Stoker, a junior at Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine. “It's thrilling to know that we pulled together such a fantastic project with so little time. You could see in everyone's eyes while we were working on this video that we wanted to do this 110 percent and with all of our hearts, and I feel that that is what we did.”

Alpenglow consists of Bastoni-Rebmann, Jensen, Stoker, Taylor Hill, a senior at Kennett, twin brother and sister Liam and Mae Van Rossum, eighth graders at Bartlett Elementary School in Bartlett, N.H., and Abby Miller, a sophomore at Kennett and a private voice student of Bastoni-Rebmann for the last two and a half years.

“We rehearsed only two times before we actually filmed the video, and I almost thought that the stress of it all outweighed the actual reward. I was so wrong,” Hill said. “I am so proud of all the hardworking people who helped this come together, and even the other groups, because this was not a very easy task.”

That work clearly paid off as the group made it to the final four and it is now up to online voting to decide who gets to go to New York City. Voting is open through Dec. 20 and can be done daily by anyone with a Facebook account by visiting

“I was told by a family friend that we had made the final four,” Mae Van Rossum said “At first I didn't believe her. I was so happy I thought I was going to cry.”

One of the rewards of making the final four was a video conference with Tony-award-winning actress, Idina Menzel, who was in the original casts of “Rent” and “Wicked” and currently has a reoccurring role on “Glee.”

“Idina was so nice and sincere,” Miller said. “She answered all of our questions and laughed at Liam's corny jokes.”

Liam Van Rossum had prepared for the video chat by watching videos of Menzel on YouTube and knew he discovered the perfect question upon watching a video of her as Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, in “Wicked.”

“When it came time for questions I asked, 'Kermit the Frog once said that it's not easy being green, but you handle it nicely, how do you do so?'” Liam Van Rossum said. “And then it came to a conversation of how annoying green makeup is.”

Menzel was impressed by the “sweet and charismatic” group and advised them to just
to have fun and, if they win, to stay in the moment and not let nerves take them out of themselves.

“I think that they are terrific,” Menzel said. “I heard lots of great voices in there and lots of real raw talent and I think they had some great smiles and they are definitely strong in the personality.”

The members of Alpenglow were thrilled by the opportunity to talk with Menzel and appreciated her openness and advice.

“Meeting with Idina was simply a dream come true as she is one of my idols,” Stoker said. “She was so down to earth and kind and supportive. We all were very relaxed and enjoyed our time with her greatly.”

Stoker and Hill appeared together in Arts in Motion's production of “Rent” this past summer so it seemed only appropriate that Alpenglow sung a song from that show to Menzel.

“They sang 'No Day But Today' for me,” Menzel said. “Which was a real treat because that's my favorite song from the show and I sing that often in my own concerts. They had the harmonies perfectly right.”

Although Menzel can't play favorites, she did enjoy her time talking with members of Alpenglow, which is currently leading in votes but will need help to keep that lead.

“It was a nice way to spend the afternoon because it is inspiring talking to young, really talented people,” Menzel said.

Have an off-beat Christmas: Different songs for holidays

Everywhere you go they can be heard. In stores. On the street. On the radio. They're on the attack and there's too many to fight them off. Yes, Christmas songs have arrived and there's no stopping them. So, now I provide the third installment of subversive songs for the holiday. The first dates back to 2006 and the second to 2008.

“Cool Yule” — Tony Rodelle Larson (1962)
Probably about as obscure of a Christmas song as you'll ever find. I discovered this a few years back mis-labeled as being performed by William Shatner. It is easy to understand the confusion as Larson's broken speech patterns do indeed bring to mind Shatner's riffs on such songs as “Rocket Man” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” This beatnik riff on “Twas Night the Night Before Christmas” is definitely way out and is a fantastic change of pace.

“There Ain't No Sanity Clause” — The Damned (1980)
English punk band The Damned released this song just in time for the holiday season, but it failed to chart perhaps because no one wanted to have the Santa Claus bubble popped for the youngest yuletide revelers. The lyrics are barely intelligible, but include gems like “Vanians got a visit from a guy named Drac/Says he's from the blood bank wants his 10 pints back.” It is the sing-a-long anthem-like chorus that brings this one home.

“I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas” — Relient K (2007)
Christian punk/pop band Relient K's second Christmas album mixes sincere rock-tinged holiday music with songs that lampoon the season. In this case, we have the latter with a fast, rocking cover of the novelty song “I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas.” The snarling punk attitude and crunching guitars suit lyrics like “I broke my bat on Johnny's head/Somebody snitched on me” quite well.

“Another Christmas Song” — Stephen Colbert (2008)
Satirical pundit Stephen Colbert did a hilarious parody of holiday specials complete with “unexpected” guests and “impromptu” sing-alongs. The special's songs either subverted pre-existing songs or, in this case, are something completely new. Lyrics like “The tree is frozen, the winter’s bright/Who’d have thought the wise men look so white” are made all the funnier by Colbert's authentic crooning and the familiar jazzy sound of the music.

“Merry Something to You” — Devo (2009)
Yep, Devo, those quirky new wavers who are often dismissed as one-hit wonders recorded a song for the holidays. Blending cheery, generic holiday music with the synthesizers and drum beats they are known for, the band creates an infectious little ditty. Although best known for the song “Whip It,” Devo often used their songs to satirize society and that's most definitely the case here as they proclaim: “Believe what you want nothing's really true.”

Friday, December 03, 2010

Could 'Tangled' be Disney's last fairy tale movie?

In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, Pixar Animation Studios chief Ed Catmull, who along with director John Lasseter oversees Disney Animation, declared that “Tangled,” Disney's reworking of the “Rapunzel” story, would be the last fairy tale/princess movie that the company produces, at least for now.

It isn't that Disney has run out of fairy tales to choose from. “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “The Snow Queen” were actually in development before Catmull and Lasseter decided for the new direction. The decision is motivated by money.

Last year's “Princess and the Frog,” Disney's first princess movie in more than a decade, wasn't the moneymaker the studio had hoped for leading to all sorts of speculation as to why. The general consensus seems to be that the appeal of princess movies is too narrow and one expert quoted in the Los Angeles Times article theorizes that young girls have already moved beyond princesses.

“By the time they're 5 or 6, they're not interested in being princesses,” said Dafna Lemish, chairwoman of the radio and TV department at Southern Illinois University and an expert in the role of media in children's lives. “They're interested in being hot, in being cool. Clearly, they see this is what society values.”

The article also suggested that elementary students are more interested in big budget action films like “Iron Man” and “The Transformers” and that with those as possible options wouldn't choose to watch a fairy tale.

When I was younger I watched both action films and animated fairy tales. At age 8 my dad took me to both “Batman Returns” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Back home, I'd gladly watch “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” one day and “The Little Mermaid” the next. Perhaps times have changed, but I think it is possible children today also have diverse tastes. We are selling them short to simply give them what we think they want.

Both Catmull and Lasseter have come from Pixar, which has a near flawless track record of witty animated films with substance. With them at the helm, Disney Animation should be in good hands, but this choice to axe the fairy tale seems rash. One film does not make a trend.

I'm not convinced the reason why “The Princess and the Frog” underperformed was that the appeal was too narrow. Films like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” had a broad appeal despite featuring princesses at their centers because they had an ideal mix of humor, heart, action and songs. They were engaging and could be appreciated by both children as well as their parents. “The Princess and the Frog” tried to recreate that vibe but perhaps simply missed the mark, and audiences may have sensed that.

“Tangled” was retooled and retitled to become disassociated with the fairy tale that inspired it. Disney may have overcompensated with the name change, but the reworking of the material wasn't a bad choice. The male lead Flynn (voiced by Zachary Levi of TV's “Chuck”) was made into a roguish bandit, not dissimilar to Aladdin, and Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) was given a more active role in her story instead of just passively waiting in her tower.

In the process of trying to distance themselves from the fairy tale, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, the new directors Catmull hired for “Tangled,” stumbled upon the old formula that worked such wonders in the early to mid 1990s. Once again there is a just right balance of laughs, thrills and heart tugging.

As with all the best Disney animated musical, "Tangled” features two comic relief sidekicks. Rapunzel has a chameleon named Pascal, who is her only friend and confidant, and Flynn is being pursued by Maximus, a horse from the castle guard. Both of these characters are worthy of standing alongside the likes of Sebastian, Abu and Timon and Pumbaa. They are essentially silent film characters that provide wonderful slapstick humor.

Most of songs are largely forgettable, but two get it right. “I Can See the Light” makes a valiant attempt at reaching the soaring levels of a ballad such as “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin” and nearly makes it. The very funny “I've Got a Dream” follows in the tradition of having at least one big, infectious comic number.

If “Tangled” turns out to be the swan song for the Disney animated fairy tale, at least it is a good one. But given that the film made $68 million in its first five days, perhaps Disney will not be so quick to forsake one of their mainstays.

Dana Cunnigham releases new live album

Some things in life turn out better than ever could have been expected.

“It just really made sense,” Dana Cunningham said regarding turning a recording of a concert at Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine into her fourth album.

“Live at Stone Mountain Arts Center” was originally intended as an album exclusively for pianist Cunningham's fans as a way of fund-raising for her next studio album, but when she heard what she had it became clear it was special.

“It was just such a great capture and had gone so well,” Cunningham said. “The sound was so good and we just thought, 'Let's just make this a full fledged recording and put it out there.'"

The album, which also features cellist Max Dyer and Jeff Oster on horns, condenses the evening's two sets into just over an hour. Virtually all of the talk was removed from the album, only applause and one slightly audible "thank you" remain. There are nine pieces that haven't really been heard and three or four that have been previously recorded, but not with horn or cello.

“It was great fun because it was so good, surprisingly good because you never know what is going to happen,” Cunningham said. “We hadn't much time to rehearse prior, and some of the things we did we had never done before.”

The choice to record at Stone Mountain sprung from a long-time relationship with Carol Noonan, the founder of the arts center.

“Carol is so devoted and knows every facet of what makes everyone happy, and you feel that joy when you are there — that people are truly happy, having a good time," Cunningham said. “It is a beautiful venue, it is the right size, it is close to where I live.”

Cunningham and Noonan are teaming once again for an annual Christmas concert at the Little White Church in Eaton Saturday, Dec. 4, at 7:30 p.m. Although this show is sold out, Cunningham will be performing a second concert Sunday, Dec. 5, at 4 p.m.

"One of things people enjoy is that Carol and I are so different that we really have a lot of banter back and forth that people find humorous because we both tease each other,” Cunnigham said.

Dyer, who not only appears on the new live album but Cunningham's Christmas album, “Silent Night,” will be at both performances. The Sunday concert will also add flutist Julia Hendrickson and poet Marnie Cobbs to the mix.

“I think Carol's voice and the depth of my own music really invites people to a more contemplative place, so that they can pause,” Cunningham said. “That's one of the reasons I do what I do because I think that the culture is so fast and so chaotic externally that we need some support to balance that with our own internal quiet, so this program is a chance to center and get a little bit of calm inside before everything really starts to rush.”

Tickets for the Sunday concert are $20 and are available at White Birch Books, The Eaton Store and online at Advance tickets are requested, but tickets may also be available at the door. Cunningham's new album is available for purchase on her website.