Sometimes love has to lick you in the face. Proof: The new CD “A Dog’s Story”

We’ve always said that Broadway Records and its president Van Dean is the cat’s meow. Now they have gone to the dogs. And that’s a compliment.

The company’s latest release? The Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording of A Dog Story. It ill be released digitally and in stores on Friday, January 20. The album is currently available for pre-order at

A Dog Story is a charming new musical comedy with music and lyrics by Gayla D. Morgan and a book by Eric H. Weinberger about Roland, a career-driven lawyer, who thinks he must be married to make partner. To solve his dilemma, he gets a puppy as a chick magnet. Through first dates, angry tangos, and a sudden disappearance, Roland discovers there’s more to life when you “get a dog!”

Here’s the cast recording the CD. Those who can’t name who is who: Go to the doghouse!

The cast of A Dog Story includes David Perlman as Roland, Lindsie VanWinkle as Miranda, Stefanie Brown  as Blair, Brian Ray Norris as Guy.

You just got to love a musical who reminds us that sometimes love has to lick you in the face!


Dr. Laurie Hess and her pet profession: Her book reminds us why owning a Nile monitor is a major no-no

When a dog or cat is sick, there are often dozens of local veterinarians who could help. But who do you turn to when your pet is a boa constrictor or an African grey parrot?

In Unlikely Companions: The Adventures of an Exotic Animal Doctor (Da Capo Press, $24.99), Dr. Laurie Hess—a veterinarian with two decades of experience and her own private practice—invites us into her day-to-day life. Relating the events of one week, Hess shares the mysteries of her ER, the weird and wonderful animals she meets every day, and her observations on how people can connect with their pets in ways they can’t connect with each other. As she searches for answers in piles of lab test results, she shares the stories of owners who have stretched both pennies and hearts to keep their pets going strong.
Hess’ career mantra has always been that exotic pets deserve exceptional care. Here, we chat with her about why people should (and should not) own an exotic pet.

What exactly are exotic pets?
Exotic pets are domesticated animals, other than dogs and cats that are commonly kept as pets. This includes birds (most often parrots, but also canaries, finches, pigeons, doves, and others), ferrets, rabbits, rodents (guinea pigs, chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, degus, prairie dogs); reptiles (turtles, tortoises, snakes, and various lizards); amphibians (toads and frogs); hedgehogs, sugar gliders (small mammals that look like flying squirrels but that are actually marsupials); pot-bellied pigs; and some less commonly known species such as wallabies, fennec foxes and kinkajous. Exotic pets should be differentiated from exotic animals—those that are typically wild or found in zoos and that should not be kept as pets.

Fennec foxes should not be kept as pets, though princess is awfully cute

Why would anyone want an exotic pet?
Exotics are great for people who are looking for an alternative to a cat or dog. This includes people who live in small homes who don’t have the room to house a dog or cat that needs a lot of space to run around, or individuals that have neighbors close by who won’t tolerate barking dogs. Certain species of exotic pets, such as small reptiles (geckos, bearded dragons, small tortoises) and rodents (guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils), are great for people who might want a lower maintenance animal than a cat or a dog, such as a family with elementary school age children who are getting their first pet. All children should, however, be supervised around any exotic pets.

What are the best exotic pets for families?
It really depends on what the family is looking for in a pet, how much time they have to spend with it, and the age of the kids interacting with it. A good starter animal for families that are considering getting a bird is a cockatiel. These birds are very interactive, full of personality and fairly easy to keep. For families that want a cuddly mammal, a guinea pig is a good choice. Guinea pigs are hardy rodents that bond to their owners and are not very time demanding. Finally, for families with slightly older children who want a fairly low maintenance pet that is interesting to look at but that doesn’t require a great deal of daily attention, a small reptile, such as a gecko or bearded dragon, might be a good choice.

The doc and a feathered friend

What are the problems wanting or owing an exotic?
While birds, rabbits, rodents (such as guinea pigs, chinchillas, hamsters, and gerbils); reptiles (such as turtles, tortoises, lizards, and snakes); amphibians (frogs and toads); ferrets; and other less well-known animals like hedgehogs, sugar gliders and pot-bellied pigs, are very popular pets, most owners of these unique animals don’t even realize that these pets need regular medical care. Unfortunately, many of these exotic animals are purchased or adopted for the wrong reasons—because they are cute, colorful or in the case of birds, they can talk—and many exotic pet owners end up frustrated or disappointed in these animals which end up being ignored or dumped at shelters. Also, many exotic pet owners don’t educate themselves about what these animals need, so these pets get sick and end up being brought to veterinarians on an emergency basis. 

Why did you choose to be an exotic pet vet?
After I graduated from veterinary school I realized that very few veterinarians receive adequate training in school to know how to care for exotic pet species properly. There was a definite need for exotic pet veterinary care because  owners routinely bring these animals to the vet when they are sick with the expectation that the vet will know what to do to make them better. These exotic pet species need not only specialized medical knowledge to get them better when they are ill, but also a detailed education of what to feed them and how to house them to keep them healthy. I didn’t receive any of this information when I was a veterinary student and realized that to be able to provide proper care for these pets, I would need additional post-doctoral residency training in exotic pet medicine and surgery. So, I completed an additional 3 years of training, beyond veterinary school, specifically in bird and exotic pet medicine and surgery.

Is the Nile monitor playing with or trying to eat the dog? People who released their Nile monitor pets has caused such a problem in areas of Florida that wildlife officials are shooting them on sight.

What is the strangest exotic pet you have ever treated?
I have seen many odd pets during my 22-year career treating exotic animals, but perhaps one of the strangest cases I have encountered was a large reptile—a six-foot-long, 30-pound Nile monitor—that was owned by a young man and his mother who traveled all the way from Pennsylvania to New York to see me. The monitor had been housed and fed improperly, became ill and then was then given an overdose of an antibiotic by another vet unfamiliar with this species. By the time it got to me, the lizard was in kidney failure. My staff and I tried very hard to save the animal, but unfortunately, it came to me gravely ill and passed away despite our best efforts to give it intravenous fluids and medications. This monitor is a perfect example of the type of animal that really doesn’t belong in most people’s homes as a pet, because it could not be cared for properly.

Forget skyscrapers and sightseeing. “True New York” shows the real pulse of Madhattan

If you can make it there, you’d make it anywhere. No wonder it’s called Madhattan. First Run Features is off to a great New Year run with the DVD release of True New York, an anthology of five award-winning short documentaries about New York City and the amazing characters who call the city home

C-Rock (Director: Jordan Roth)
Featuring stunning cinematography and staggering footage of cliff-diving, C-Rock tells the story of a group of Bronx boys who leap off the 100-foot tall cliff known as “C-Rock” and into the Harlem River. A dangerous rite of passage going back generations in the Bronx, the film captures the rawness of youth while also revealing a wistful nostalgia for a changing neighborhood.


Taxi Garage (Director: Joshua Z Weinstein)
Forget Louie De Palma and Elaine O’Connor Nardo. This Taxi Garage is a powerful and touching look inside a taxi depot in Queens filled with classic New York personalities and a melting pot of immigrants with big dreams of making it in America. The film focuses on Johnnie “Spider” Footman, a colorful octogenarian who has driven a taxi all his life and is New York’s oldest taxi driver.

One Track Mind (Director: Jeremy Workman)
One Track Mind reveals the amazing story of Philip Coppola, who has devoted four decades to cataloging, archiving and sketching every station in the New York City subway system. Filmed over the course of four years, this is a portrait of a man consumed by a singular obsession as well as a loving exploration of the city’s unique artistic idiosyncrasies.

A Son’s Sacrifice (Director: Yoni Brook)
The award-winning film is a classic immigrant story and father/son tale. Imran is just another 27-year-old New Yorker struggling to take over his family’s business, which happens to be a halal slaughterhouse in Queens. Imran must confront his mixed Bangladeshi-Puerto Rican heritage and gain acceptance from his father’s conservative community.

Black Cherokee (Directors: Sam Cullman & Benjamin Rosen)
This film  focuses on street performer Otis Houston Jr., a self-taught artist from Harlem who performs before a captive audience of car-bound commuters along Manhattan’s FDR Drive. A meditation on family and inspiration.

Grin (or grimace) and bear it: “Polar Bear Town” is a fascinating documentary

I may live in Churchill (PA), but I can’t bear the though of not visiting Churchill (Manitoba, Canada). Every fall, about 10,000 tourists from around the world descend on Manitoba, “The Polar Bear Capital of the World.” This community of about 800 people on Hudson Bay in Northern Canada is home to the annual migration of more than 1,000 hungry polar bears that pass through town as they wait for the bay ice to return.

Polar Bear Town (Public Media Distribution) documents a season in Churchill, following this extraordinary migration of human and four-legged animals as they collide in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways. The Smithsonian Channel original series will be available on DVD on January 24.

The program takes viewers close to the enormous creatures known as the “Lords of the Artic.” These polar bears can grow to be 10 feet tall and more than 1,300 pounds. They are also skilled hunters that can detect the presence of seals beneath three feet of snow and ice and can pick out scents from nearly 20 miles away. Ouch!

Churchill is one of the few human settlements where polar bears can be observed in the wild and prime viewing happens in October and November. The program captures that moment when tourists from around the world fly into town in hopes of getting up close and personal with a polar bear. Professional guides Dennis Compayre and Kelsey Eliasson have a delicate mission: To get their clients close, but keep them safe.

A look at the segments on the two disc set:

Welcome to Churchill
The town prepares for the fall migration. As the season opens, tensions are higher than usual. Last Halloween, a surprise late-night encounter with a polar bear left a local woman seriously injured and the bear dead, the nightmare all in Churchill strive to avoid. Officer Bob Windsor of Manitoba’s Department of Natural Resources, who leads a team of conservation officers, is stepping up efforts to make the town safer, even if it means increasing challenges for guides like Dennis and Kelsey. Among the bears closing in on Churchill is a Polar mom with two cubs to protect and a 1,000 pound male known as Big Bear. Churchill resident Brian Ladoon, who owns and operates the Miles 5 Dog Sanctuary, braces for bear interlopers who try to poach food from his pack of endangered Canadian Eskimo dogs.

Papparrazi Alert
A mother bear is leading her nine month-old cub back from his first hunting season on the ice. Now, they’ll face an even more daunting challenge: Throngs of tourists descending on Churchill, which could put the cub and themselves at risk. Veteran guide Compayre takes his apprentice, but an aggressive client might complicate her “baptism by bear.” And fellow guide Kelsey Eliasson flips the script and takes up a camera himself to assist in a groundbreaking research project that identifies bears through their unique whisker patterns.

Rumble on the Tundra
Polar bear season has reached its peak and Brian Ladoon is looking for help at his Mile 5 Dog Sanctuary. Brian can’t be in two places at once–feeding his Canadian Eskimo dogs and on the lookout for polar bears. Luckily, volunteer Russell Hausler has traveled from Australia to give Brian a hand. Meanwhile, bear guide Dennis Compayre and regular client, California photographer Andrew Bazeley, are looking for the perfect shot to complete Andrew’s book. They encounter a pair of polar bears that locals call the Scrappy Brothers, because they wrestle each other to hone their skills for mating battles to come. And a cub called Curious ventures away from its mother and finds itself on a dangerous collision course with a hungry but elderly male known as St. Pete.

Halloween Horror Story
Halloween has arrived in Polar Bear Town. It’s the worst day of the year for bears in Churchill and the busiest for conservation officers. Children are trick-or-treating and people like Erin Greene are attending parties. Last year, Erin was on her way home from a party when she was attacked by a polar bear. Erin survived the attack but is afraid that it could happen again. Erin enlists her friend; bear guide Karine Genest, to confront her fears by getting close to a polar bear for the first time since the attack. While humans are understandably fearful, the bears are even more at risk. New Mom follows her nose into a bear trap and separates herself from her cub, whose very survival may depend on Kelsey’s intervention. And a roaming Big Bear is headed directly toward the army of guards protecting town.

Parole Day
Winter has settled in on Churchill. It’s the time of year when conservation officers release bears from its polar bear holding facility, which the locals call “Polar Bear Jail”. A special release sees a mother polar bear and her cub airlifted out of town, to be safely released in the wilderness. Kelsey has special access for the release and follows along in a chase helicopter. But the tranquilizers that conservation officers use on bears wear off quickly and the helicopter pilots need to find a place to land before the bears wake up. Meanwhile, Compayre enlists some friends to help him find a special bear called Dancer, who he’s known for over 20 years.

Quest for Cubs
It’s spring in Churchill. While most polar bears are now hunting for seals on the frozen Hudson Bay, pregnant females have migrated south to their ancestral dens to give birth. The race is on for guides, photographers and scientists to find hidden denning sites outside of Churchill, in hopes of seeing mothers and cubs emerge. Inside one of those dens, a mother bear has spent three full months nursing her cubs. At around 20 pounds each, they’re nearly ready to leave the den and embark on the epic trek to their icy hunting grounds. And a team of biologists, including Don Moore of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, make an astonishing discovery–a maternity denning complex that a group of polar bears has used for generations.


“Queen of Katwe” is inspiring, “the triumph of the human spirit’

Checkmate! You will cheer for Disney’s Queen of Katwe, the inspirational journey of a young girl from the streets of Uganda to world-class chess player, which has earned widespread critical acclaim, including a 93% Certified Fresh critics consensus on Rotten Tomatoes.

The triumphant film, which is based on a true story based on Tim Crothers’ book The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster (expanded from an ESPN the Magazine article), arrives home on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere on January 10 and on Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand on January 31.

 Queen of Katwe is based on the true story of Phiona, a young girl (portrayed by Madina Nalwanga) from the streets of Uganda whose world changes when she is introduced to the game of chess. It doesn’t take long for her fall in love with the game. Recognizing her natural aptitude for chess, a man named Robert (David Oyelowo), starts mentoring the pre-teen. Initially, Phiona’s mother, Harriet Mutesi (played by Lupita Nyongo’o), is hesitant to encourage her, as she fears that her daughter will be disappointed.

As Phiona continues to succeed in local chess competitions, Robert teaches her to read and write. Harriet eventually realizes that Phiona has a chance to excel and helps Phiona fulfill her potential and escape a life of poverty. As a result of the support she receives from her family and community, she becomes an international chess champion. It is a remarkable story of perseverance against all odds that will leave viewers feeling humbled and inspired.

Says director Mira Nair, “The triumph of the human spirit is not to weep for what we don’t have but to focus on what we do have and allow that to take us to a place we never imagined possible.”

The drama was filmed entirely on location in South Africa and Uganda. Adds Nyong’o : “It was so great to go back home. I’m from East Africa. I’m from Kenya, which is just next door to Uganda. This is a story about the commitment to a dream even in the most discouraging of situations. The slum of Katwe is a very difficult place to live, but you see these people living there with dignity and making it day by day. And so to go there and to have that environment to work from really did sober us and enliven us.”

The release of Queen of Katwe takes viewers behind-the-scenes with filmmakers, as well as the cast and their real-life counterparts, through extensive bonus features, including a three-part documentary highlighting the amazing personal stories behind the film; audio commentary by director Mira Nair; a short film by Nair depicting the life of Robert Katende; in-studio access to 15-time Grammy-winning recording artist Alicia Keys during the creation of her new original song “Back to Life;” and deleted scenes. 

“Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man” celebrates the legacy of the singer and cultural icon

Celebrate singer-songwriter, poet and cultural icon Leonard Cohen, when the fascinating and critically acclaimed documentary, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, arrives for the first time on Blu-ray (plus Digital HD) from Lionsgate. The 2015 film, narrated by Cohen himself, is based on Came So Far for Beauty, the January 2005 tribute that was held at the Sydney Opera House.

The documentary features performances of Cohen songs by such luminary artists as U2, Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Antony, Martha Wainwright and Beth Orton. Bonus: Cohen’s former back-up singers Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen appear as special guests. Yet another bonus: The end of the film includes a performance by Leonard Cohen and U2, which was not recorded live, but filmed specifically for the film at Manhattan’s Slipper Room in May 2005. Think of this as a free concert, at which you can sit thisclose.

What did you say? You want more bonuses? The Blu-ray include exclusive performances not seen in the theatrical release: Tunes by Martha Wainwright,  Batalla, The Handsome Family and Teddy Thompson. There’s also a conversation with Cohen and audio commentary with director Lian Lunson. And what timing: Nab the flick on February 7, just before the 2017 Grammys are handed out. Music to our ears . . . and eyes! Want even more? A soundtrack CD is available from Verve.

Morphine remains addictive. Join them for a “Journey of Dreams”

Morphine can be addictive. It’s a drug of choice. When it comes to “low rock,” the Boston-born band Morphine blazed like a comet across the international music scene in the ’90s, rising from local small clubs to indie and major label record deals, high and wide critical acclaim, and packed shows until their untimely demise.

The trio’s unique and mesmeric sound continues to resonate with its fans and music lovers as the group ascends to legendary if not iconic status. The documentary Morphine: Journey of Dreams  (MVD Entertainment Group) is the definitive, in-depth tale of this unique musical act’s compelling career and life together and their resonant musical creativity.

Journey of Dreams  doesn’t just get behind the music, but inside the band as its story is primarily told by the trio’s surviving members, saxophonist Dana Colley and drummers Billy Conway and Jerome Dupree, plus the close-knit familial coterie that worked with them as well as Sandman’s girlfriend Sabine Hrechdakian.

It’s punctuated by incisive commentary and observations from such friends and admirers of the group as Henry Rollins, Joe Strummer and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos. A wealth of live performance footage gathered from across Morphine’s career recalls and amplifies the band’s innovative yet at the same time classic, timeless and “beautifully bottom-heavy” sound, as Rolling Stone (the mag, not the Mick) praised it.

Viewers ride and fly along with the hard- touring band’s road experiences, vibrantly brought to life as Colley reads from his tour diaries at key points in the film as well as through his accompanying Polaroid pictures and Super 8 films.

Journey of Dreams is not just a tale of music business struggle, triumph and tragedy, but also a love story (among its members and team as well as Sandman and Hrechdakian) as well as an adventure, drama, travelogue, and something of a roller coaster ride. When all is told, an evocative and loving tribute to a rock band that was like no other.


Tyler Perry, matriarch Madea and other family faves return for laughs (and a few boos)

Lionsgate is celebrating the New Year with a most unusual treat . . . some 10 months in advance. Of sorts.

On January 31, Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween–the outrageous return of Madea after a three-year theatrical hiatus–lands on on Blu-ray (plus Digital HD), DVD, Digital HD and On Demand. Perry returns as Madea along with fan favorites Aunt Bam and Hattie to prevent her teenage niece from attending the crazy frat party next door.

The film tells the story of Madea being summoned to keep a watchful eye on Brian’s teenage daughter and keep her out of trouble. Little does Madea know, the trouble is coming for her. Fortunately, or not, she has her posse of Bam, Hattie and Joe to shield off ghosts and killer clowns.

More Madea? Also on January 31, following a nine-month nationwide tour, Tyler Perry’s Madea on the Run (The Play) will be available on Blu-ray (plus Digital HD), DVD, Digital HD and On Demand. On the run from the law, Madea hides out at Bam’s house, thinking she will lie low. Unfortunately, Bam’s house is packed with rambunctious family and friends, and Madea finds herself needing to lay down her own law and drop the hammer.

Return to the Black Hills Forest for a bewitching primal scream (or two) in “Witch Project”

A group of college students venture into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland to uncover the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of their friend’s sister, who many believe is connected to the legend of the Blair Witch.

At first the group is hopeful, especially when a pair of locals offer to act as guides through the dark and winding woods, but as the endless night wears on, the group is visited by a menacing presence. Slowly, they begin to realize the legend is all too real and more sinister than they could have imagined.

Nearly two decades after documentary filmmakers vanished in the groundbreaking film The Blair Witch Project, an investigative team searches for them and the truth behind their disappearance in Blair Witch. The flick has landed on Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and Digital HD), DVD, Digital HD and On Demand from Lionsgate. From acclaimed filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, Blair Witch stars James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Valorie Curry, Corbin Reid and Wes Robinson. An official selection of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, this much-buzzed-about film will haunt viewers far beyond the closing credits.

Also get buzzed with more than three hours of bonus features on the Blair Witch Blu-ray and Digital HD, including an audio commentary with director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett; the House of Horrors: Exploring the Set featurette; and a six-part making-of documentary, “Never Ending Night: The Making of Blair Witch”. The DVD release includes the audio commentary and the “House of Horrors: Exploring the Set” featurette. The Blu-ray Disc of Blair Witch will feature a Dolby Atmos soundtrack remixed specifically for the home theater environment to place and move audio anywhere in the room.

Quite bewitching, eh?


Time Life celebrates Johnny Carson, his late-night gem and his friends in a new DVD series

Before the Seinfeld sitcom success, it started with Johnny’s couch.
Revisit that time with The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends featuring Jerry Seinfeld. This DVD includes three classic ’80s episodes, complete with commercials! Jerry Seinfeld is on Carson chum; other shows include Arnold Schwarzenegger, an 18-year-old named Andre Agassi and Oprah’s first Tonight Show appearance. Save the date: The recollections begin on January 10.
Featuring the best episodes from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, the Johnny and Friends series will include some of the best loved guests from The Tonight Show. Each DVD features full episodes-including original commercials-that showcase an amazing talent and true American icon who, across 30 years and 4,000 shows, paved the way for a late night TV revolution in memorable fashion.
The inaugural release stars Jerry Seinfeld before his eponymous sitcom rewrote TV history.  After his first appearance (May 6, 1981), Carson was impressed and Seinfeld became a frequent guest on The Tonight Show. In 1989, Seinfeld debuted on NBC, and by its fourth season, it had become the most popular and successful sitcom on American television.  This Johnny and Friends release features  pre-Seinfeld episodes, allowing home audiences to watch the evolution of the iconic comedian.
Episodes include: 
  • Show 1 (June 27, 1985) A true classic is now released from The Tonight Show Vaults!  Not only does this show feature an appearance by Jerry Seinfeld early in his career, but it also includes one of Johnny’s most famous sketches by The Mighty Carson Art Players: Mr. Rambo’s Neighborhood.
  • Show 2 (February 21, 1986) In this historic show from 1986, Seinfeld is joined by drag racer Shirley Muldowney, and that’s not all, watch as the future “Queen of all Media” meets the “King of Late Night” during the first appearance of Oprah Winfrey on The Tonight Show.
  • Show 3 (June 9, 1988) A star studded evening closes this DVD as Johnny’s guests include Seinfeld, Schwarzenegger and Agassi. 

Petrucelli Picks the best in books, music and film . . . and then some