Au revoir, Les Miserables
The beloved Broadway show Les Miserables succumbed to declining New York City tourism. The curtain will fall on March 15, but the play will enjoy new life as a school production.
"Les Miz" turned Victor Hugo's novel into a blockbuster production, with magnificent sets and a nearly three-hour running time. The story of Jean Valjean's flight from Inspector Javert amid political revolution struck a chord with millions. Many Christians saw the classic story as good pre-evangelism.
This show's student version was launched this year and 70 high schools have scheduled it for this school year. It runs 40 minutes shorter. All songs have been retained with some lyrics trimmed.
It will close as Broadway's second-longest-running show, which started in 1987 and ends after 6,612 performances. (Cameron Mackintosh produced both Les Miserables and the record-holder, Cats.)
Could future shows of this caliber succeed, since tourists aren't as plentiful in Manhattan? Broadway could turn more toward projects that attract New Yorkers but lack appeal to the rest of the world.
As for Les Miserables, the touring company is still criss-crossing America and soundtrack albums remain available. All told, the show cost $4.5 million to produce, yet grossed more than $390 million.
As questions loom about Martha Stewart's finances, her name carries on as a giant American brand. But profits are down.
The scandal concerns Martha Stewart's personal finances-specifically, the controversial sale of ImClone stock-not Martha Stewart Omnimedia. But the publicly traded company that bears the decorating entrepreneur's name reported a sharp drop in quarterly earnings last month. It also announced plans for a new magazine called Everyday Food that debuts without the founder's name.
Ms. Stewart has denied any wrongdoing, but the SEC plans to recommend civil securities fraud charges. The Justice Department is considering criminal charges. Ms. Stewart resigned in October from the New York Stock Exchange's board of directors.
Ms. Stewart's status as a big-name Democratic donor also is shaky. Chellie Pingree, a Senate candidate in Maine, gave back a $2,000 Stewart contribution. She lost anyway.
What was TV personality and former pro football star Deion Sanders-a high-profile Christian convert-doing taking part in the controversial Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on CBS television? Many critics labeled the show soft-core porn because of its scantily clad models. Mr. Sanders told Charisma News Service he was just a "journalist" doing his job: "To go in there and get the story out."
"In there" was backstage with lingerie models, a location that on the air he called a "honeycomb hideout." And "the story" included a discussion with one model about "showing your birthday suit."
"It's a little bit discouraging that one who would profess the gospel of Jesus Christ would also be involved in the solicitation of pornographic broadcasts," said Randy Sharp of the American Family Association. Jan LaRue of Concerned Women for America called the program a "high-tech strip show."
Mr. Sanders said he took his wife along on the assignment, and she didn't think the show demeaned women. He said he had discussed the assignment with his pastor-Bishop T.D. Jakes in Dallas-and he didn't voice disapproval.
Mr. Sanders is a CBS sports commentator. He hosted the Miss USA pageant in March. He became a Christian five years ago after what he says was a failed suicide attempt. Charisma News Service ended its story with a quote from Mr. Sanders in a recent New Man interview: "My problem was women, and we're still fighting today.... If I don't get my Word in me and keep it in me continuously, I shall fall back into the old lifestyle I once lived."
Senate chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie, 72, informed Senate leaders he will retire in March. The evangelical Presbyterian minister said he will return to California to help care for his wife, Mary Jane, who is under treatment for a serious lung ailment.
Rev. Ogilvie became the Senate's 61st chaplain in March 1995. He opens each day of the session with a prayer, provides spiritual counseling to senators, family members, and staff, and leads Bible study groups. He has written books and before coming to Washington hosted a TV ministry and led Hollywood Presbyterian Church in California for more than 20 years.
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott said the minister had brought Senate members closer together, despite disparate political philosophies and faiths. "We have prayed together, studied the Scripture together, and together grown close to the ways of the Lord."
On the Senate's last day of business Wednesday, Rev. Ogilvie noted in his prayer that recent weeks in Congress had seen "disagreements, heated debate, and the bittersweet mixture of defeats and victories of legislative life."
He added: "Help us to forgive and forget any memories of strained relationships and debilitating differences." | Edward E. Plowman
Wheels of progress
Inventor Dean Kamen may open avenues for the disabled that the Americans with Disabilities Act couldn't begin to open. Mr. Kamen's latest invention--a wheelchair that can climb stairs--is on the FDA's fast-track review toward approval.
Mr. Kamen's iBOT 3000 mobility system has wheels that are all the same size (instead of the standard big back wheels and small front wheels.) The wheels rotate up and over one another to go up and down steps. Sensors and gyroscopes help maintain balance. The iBOT can also shift into four-wheel drive to scoot uphill. Its booster power elevates its occupant to ease conversation and reaching shelves.
Once given FDA approval, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary called Independence Technology will make the chair. Initially, at least, the iBOT will be expensive, with an expected $29,000 price tag. The FDA is also likely to require both a prescription and a training course for users.
Researchers say the iBOT will be a great help to those who can use it. A panel of FDA advisers unanimously approved it, which means it has strong prospects. Part of the iBOT's application process involved a two-week test to see if it was safe enough for the average person. Scientists tracked 20 test users on both experimental and regular wheelchairs. This included a road test with grassy hills, bumpy sidewalks, high shelves, and steep stairs. | Chris Stamper
A better way to buy?
Is it a step toward a cashless society or is it high-tech overkill? Bank of America wants to put its card on customers' keychains with a new project called QuickWave.
The QuickWave card resembles the small membership cards of some video stores and supermarket discount programs. The customer scans his card, and then a receipt quickly pops out of the register. There's nothing to sign and no PIN code to enter.
Yet QuickWave is neither a credit, debit, nor smart card. The user links the QuickWave to a bank credit card or debit card and the charges show up on the customer's bank statement. QuickWave users can also set spending limits and restrict use to certain merchants.
The market test for QuickWave is going on now near the bank's headquarters in Charlotte. The bank equipped two dozen downtown businesses to accept the card and gave cards to 10,000 employees to use while shopping or buying lunch. Next year, bank executives will decide whether to go national with QuickWave.
Skeptics of QuickWave note that consumers already have multiple ways to pay for products. But similar cards are already a big hit for ExxonMobil under the name Speedpass. These keychain danglers let people quickly fill up at the gas pump or buy convenience store items without fumbling in their wallets. | Chris Stamper