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Sparks Strike a Chord with Fans By Sandra Carr

Perusing the record racks at East-West Records and Woolco while growing up in Orlando, Florida, I came across Sparks’ “Kimono My House,” “Propaganda” and “Angst In My Pants” albums. I was in awe and intrigued, and would have laugh-out-loud moments in the store because I thought the art-pop band’s record covers were hilarious!

Sparks feature brothers Ron Mael on the keyboards and lead vocalist Russell Mael, and various guitarists and drummers during its 50-year music career.

The album-cover art is just part of Sparks’ story. The musical legacy continues with the band’s smart and witty lyrics that are composed by maestro Ron and brought to life by Russell’s falsetto and instrumentation.

Sparks’ “Kimono My House”
Sparks’ “Propaganda”
Sparks’ “Angst In My Pants”

At the time, girls my age were digging Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett and other 1970s heartthrobs while I preferred Sparks, Cheap Trick, The Cars, The Beatles, Wings, The Beach Boys, the Bay City Rollers, Elton John, the Ramones and KISS as well as listening to my mom’s seven-inch record collection from the 1950s and ’60s.

As my musical taste advanced in the 1980s to include Duran Duran, Rick Springfield, The B-52’s, INXS, Depeche Mode, The Psychedelic Furs, The Go-Go’s, U2, Tears for Fears and other alternative- and new-wave artists, Sparks remained one of my faves, and in heavy rotation.

Sparks’ “In Outer Space”

As the pendulum continues to swing forward, the live, concert experience was as important as listening to my records. Seeing my favorite rock gods on stage took my love of music to a whole new level. I also hoped that I would have an opportunity to watch Sparks perform on stage in or near Orlando.

Fast forward more than 20 years later to a Mid-Atlantic vacation that my husband Dan and I took to celebrate our 18-year wedding anniversary in October 2013. We flew to Baltimore, Maryland and rented a car, so we could drive to Washington, D.C.; Sleepy Hollow, New York; Salem, Massachusetts; and New York, New York.

Whenever we travel, I research and find out which bands and musicians are performing on our itinerary. I screamed with excitement when I saw that Sparks would be performing at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 27, 2013. Dan liked Sparks’ music, but wasn’t an uber fan like moi. I couldn’t believe that I would finally get to see Sparks! I was over the moon!

The 9:30 Club is a wonderful, intimate concert venue that reminded us of The Beacham in Orlando, and was perfect for watching Sparks’ keyboard-and-voice concert during “The Revenge of Two Hands One Mouth” tour. Ron and Russell were amazing! The stripped-down show had a cabaret vibe, and I felt it was really special to watch Ron and Russell performing their music in that format. I was up front during the entire concert, but Dan decided to stand back and watch the show from afar. You can view the set list here, but it’s missing “My Baby’s Taking Me Home.” You also can watch a performance from the same tour in Oslo, Norway in October 2012.

Photography was prohibited during the concert, so the only photo that I have is a picture that I took of a sign, which states, “Sparks kindly requests that there be no video, no photography, no audio recording and no charcoal drawings of tonight’s performance. Thank you for your understanding.” I busted out laughing when I read that no charcoal drawings were allowed during the show! That was a real hoot!

Photo by Sandra Carr.

Now, full-speed ahead seven years later, and the world is in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the bright spots during that turbulent time was the release of Sparks’ 25th album “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” in May 2020.

Sparks’ “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” is playing on my 1958 Stromberg-Carlson PF 535 tan portable phonograph. Ron is looking up and staring at rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson.
Photo by Sandra Carr.

Sparks boosted spirits and kept themselves and their fans sane during the pandemic by posting album updates and comical, self-isolation videos on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. I highly recommend following Sparks on social media! The band’s social media pages are very informative and entertaining.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, longtime Sparks fan and filmmaker Edgar Wright’s long-awaited documentary, “The Sparks Brothers,” hit theaters on June 18, 2021. I saw the trailer online and couldn’t wait to watch the documentary! The film features Todd Rundgren; Nick Rhodes and John Taylor of Duran Duran; Beck; Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; and many other fans and musicians.

I’m posing next to “The Sparks Brothers” documentary poster at the Winter Park Regal Cinema on June 18, 2021. Image courtesy of Sandra Carr.

Raconteurs Ron and Russell Mael share heartfelt and amusing tales about their childhood and musical career in this approximately two-and-a-half-hour picture. Sparks fans will love the documentary, which is currently streaming on Netflix. You also can purchase the DVD online. I give the documentary five sparks!

“The Sparks Brothers” DVD is now playing on my 1959 Westinghouse black-and-white television set. Photo by Sandra Carr.

Two months after the documentary was released, Sparks hit the big screen once again with the musical “Annette,” which has been described as a rock opera. The film’s story and music were written by Ron and Russell Mael and directed by Leos Carax. The storyline follows a stand-up comedian (Adam Driver) and his opera singer wife (Marion Cotillard), and how their lives change after they have a child (Devyn McDowell) named Annette. The film also stars Simon Helberg, and includes cameos by the Mael brothers. The film won five French Cesar awards, including best director (Leos Carax) and original score (Ron and Russell Mael).

The “Annette” soundtrack is playing on my 1950s blonde, Zenith stereophonic console with the Cobra-Matic record changer. Photo by Sandra Carr.

After the two film releases, Mael mania ensued! Fans geared up for Sparks’ 2022 tour, which occurred March through the beginning of May. The dynamic duo also performed two nights at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in February.

I really wanted to see Sparks during “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” tour, but I hadn’t been on a plane since my trip to England in August 2019. I’m vaccinated and boosted, but my comfort level for flying wasn’t at 100% because of the COVID-19 pandemic and unruly passengers.

I started to feel less reluctant about flying after the Omicron variant cases declined and places started to reopen. After much deliberation, the only option that worked best with my schedule was the Sparks concert at The Town Hall in New York City.

I’m a planner, so making a spontaneous decision to fly to New York City to see Sparks the week before the first Town Hall concert on March 28 was a ballsy move on my part, that’s for sure! Luckily, the stars aligned and everything worked out, so I could visit my friends in New York City and attend the Sparks show.

Fortunately, my last-minute ticket purchase was an orchestra seat that wasn’t too far from the stage.

I’m posing with my Sparks button pack before the concert at The Town Hall in New York City on March 28, 2022. Image courtesy of Sandra Carr.

I enjoyed watching Ron and Russell perform as a twosome in October 2013, but really looked forward to seeing Sparks as a complete band.

Before the show, the upbeat, 1960s music that played, which may have been Ron and Russell’s pump-up music of choice, invigorated the audience.

As the fog billowed across the stage, I knew the concert was about to start. I was excited to watch stoic keyboardist Ron take his seat in front of the keyboards and tickle the ivories and dashing frontman Russell sing beautifully while bopping to the beats.

The opening number was “So May We Start” from the “Annette” soundtrack, which was truly apropos.

Sparks perform “So May We Start” from the “Annette” soundtrack at The Town Hall in New York City on March 28, 2022. Photo by Sandra Carr.

The two-hour musical journey didn’t disappoint Sparks fans, and continued with 22 additional songs, including classics and crowd favorites throughout the group’s five decades in the music industry.

Sparks perform “Shopping Mall of Love” at The Town Hall in New York City on March 28, 2022. Photo by Sandra Carr.

Highlights included “Music That You Can Dance To,” which caused fans to shimmy frantically, Russell and the audience singing the band’s mantra “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” and Ron doing his shuffle dance during “The Number One Song in Heaven.”

Sparks’ keyboardist Ron Mael dances on stage during “The Number One Song in Heaven” at The Town Hall in New York City on March 28, 2022. Photo by Sandra Carr.

Tunes from “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” also took center stage, which included “Lawnmower,” “Stravinsky’s Only Hit” and “All That.”

A theatrical-style performance wouldn’t be complete without costuming. Russell wore a black turtleneck and vest jacket adorned with a sparkly Hello Kitty brooch paired with chartreuse-looking pants and black-and-yellow sneakers. He also wore a matching chartreuse-looking vest jacket with an Idol Artist pin throughout the tour. The stellar backing band matched Ron’s stage attire by wearing black shirts, pants and shoes.

The Town Hall concert was all that and more! I don’t want to spoil the surprise for other fans by giving too much away, especially if they’re attending Sparks performances during music festivals later this summer. I want them to enjoy the experience as much as I did in New York City.

I was a lucky fan who was handed one of the band members’ set lists after the concert, which was a spectacular souvenir! I also gave Ron and Russell Orlando gifts (Lake Eola Park snow-globe magnets and orange pins) from the front row before the show concluded.

Sparks took a group photo with the audience at the end of its Town Hall concert in New York City on March 28, 2022. Photo by Sparks.

As I had mentioned earlier, Sparks’ social media pages feature a plethora of playfulness portrayed in its photos and videos. The band’s tour posts are equally funny and sweet, and will make you smile and laugh instantly!

Sparks shared a video on social media, featuring Ron and Russell performing “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” at a train station in Paris, France during the tour. The heartwarming video features an excited fan who gets the chance of a lifetime by joining them in the performance. The video currently has more than 840,000 views. It would be wonderful if the video could get a million views!

Sparks, thanks for taking your fans along for the ride! I haven’t traveled in a while because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so seeing your show in New York City was worth the trip! It also was nice to live vicariously through you during your travels in North America and Europe.

Here are some of my favorite photos from Sparks’ tour diary, which can be viewed on the band’s social media pages.

Sparks’ Russell and Ron Mael pose with their Washington souvenirs during a pit stop before they perform in Seattle. Photo by Sparks.
Sparks’ Ron Mael is posing in front of a storefront sign that states a fun fact in St. Paul, Minnesota. Photo by Sparks.
Sparks’ Russell and Ron Mael catch up on local, national and world news before they perform in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Sparks.
Sparks’ keyboardist Ron Mael holds up his personalized Ronnie license plate at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Sparks.
Sparks’ Ron and Russell Mael strike a pose with Royal Farms’ chicken sculpture in Maryland. Photo by Sparks.
Russell Mael is posing in front of a metallic sign that features two of Sparks’ tremendous traits in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Sparks.
Sparks’ lead vocalist Russell Mael poses for a photo on a London street corner that matches his expertise perfectly. Photo by Sparks.
Sparks’ lead vocalist Russell Mael dons a beret in Paris, France. Photo by Sparks.
Sparks’ keyboardist Ron Mael is about to chow down on a pretzel in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Sparks.
Sparks’ Ron Mael receives a sign that says it all from a fan in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Sparks.
Avid foodie Russell Mael introduces Sparks fans to Norway’s national cheese, Brunost. Photo by Sparks.
Sparks’ composer Ron Mael meets his idol, Ingmar Bergman, in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by Sparks.
Sparks’ frontman Russell Mael is hanging out with his Groke and Moomintroll pals at the Moomin Museum in Tampere, Finland. Photo by Sparks.
Captain Russell Mael sailed Sparks’ ship in Helsinki, Finland. Photo by Sparks.
Captain Sandra Carr or Captain Russell Mael? Who wore the captain hat best? I think it’s a tie! Image courtesy of Sandra Carr.
Russell and Ron Mael are deciding which map is best for plotting their route to Vilnius, Lithuania, which was the last stop on Sparks’ European tour on May 7, 2022. Photo by Sparks.

The Mael brothers are dapper troubadours who have been cracking me up and making me smile with their brilliant music for more than 40 years. I hope fans will have a chance to attend one of Sparks’ concerts later this summer, especially if they didn’t see the band perform during the spring 2022 tour.

Sparks summer 2022 tour schedule. Photo by Sparks.

Ron and Russell are planning to release a new album and tour again in the future. Visit allsparks.com and Sparks’ social media pages for more information.

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Legendary Actor Paul Sorvino Discusses Acting Career and Art at Florida Film Festival By Sandra Carr

Director Martin Scorsese’s classic film “Goodfellas,” about New York City mobster Henry Hill and fellow gangsters stealing, selling drugs and whacking people off, is one of Italian-American actor Paul Sorvino’s most memorable roles in his portrayal of mob patriarch Paul Cicero.

Goodfellas

“Goodfellas”

Moviegoers watched “Goodfellas” during the 23rd Annual Florida Film Festival at the Enzian Theater before a question-and-answer session with Sorvino.

“I wanted to play in a Scorsese film more than I wanted to breathe my next breath,” said Sorvino.

Scorsese wanted Sorvino for the role of Paul Cicero but Sorvino had a hard time connecting with the character at first.

He wore a black cashmere coat and his father’s pinky ring and tried to look like a gangster during his reading with Scorsese, who he won over for the part.

After he was selected for the role, he still tried to find the character and his inner sense to portray the mobster at the time. Adjusting his tie in the hallway mirror, he jumped back and frightened himself because he saw Paul Cicero.

“I knew exactly what to do for the part and it was one of the easiest roles to play,” he said.

Photo by Sandra Carr

Photo by Sandra Carr

Sorvino also portrayed former mobster Joe Scoleri, who serves time in prison and returns home in the movie “Last I Heard,” which was one of the narrative feature films during this year’s Florida Film Festival. Sorvino received praise from fan Anthony Castelluci, who led the audience in saying “Hell yeah” during the question-and-answer session that followed “Goodfellas” on Saturday, April 12.

Last I Heard Image courtesy: Florida Film Festival

“Last I Heard”
Image courtesy: Florida Film Festival

At age 75, he has played more than 160 roles during his career and has never done the same character twice. He studied with famous acting teacher Sanford Meisner and made his film debut in “Where’s Poppa?” in 1970. Meisner taught him the ropes.

“I learned that you think before and after when you’re playing a role,” he said. “My first acting teacher, Sanford Meisner, said a thinking actor is a stinking actor. The more intelligent you are, then the more difficult it is to be a really good actor because your intelligence gets in the way. You have to make sure your intelligence stays out and doesn’t take over.”

Paul Sorvino during his Q&A at the 23rd Annual Florida Film Festival.                                                  Photo by Sandra Carr

Paul Sorvino during his Q&A at the 23rd Annual Florida Film Festival.
Photo by Sandra Carr

One of his best performances was his portrayal of deaf attorney Lowell Myers in the film “Dummy.”

“I created five different phases of deaf speech for my character,” he said. “It was a challenge and my favorite role to play.”

Dummy

“Dummy”

Paul Sorvino portrays deaf attorney Lowell Myers in Dummy.

Paul Sorvino portrays deaf attorney Lowell Myers in “Dummy.”

He also portrayed the Italian leader of the communist party Louis Fraina in “Reds,”¬†and¬†based the role on his grandfather.

Reds

“Reds”

Besides acting, Sorvino is an opera singer, bronze sculptor and painter. He created two lion sculptures for above designer Gianni Versace’s door in South Beach and a bronze sculpture of his granddaughter, Mattea Angel, releasing a dove for the Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s heart wing.

I had an opportunity to ask Sorvino about his attraction to authoritative roles during the question-and-answer session.

“Those roles always come towards me,” he said. “I have always been a wise ass and somebody that knew more than he was supposed to know. When I was a kid, I would say that I knew enough just to piss everyone off! Whatever the role may be, I give it all I got!”

My husband Dan and I attended An Afternoon with Paul Sorvino, featuring Goodfellas during the 23rd Annual Florida Film Festival.

My husband Dan and I attended An Afternoon with Paul Sorvino, Featuring “Goodfellas” during the 23rd Annual Florida Film Festival.

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