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Quick Takes: She's aces at the Beatles

January 27, 2011

A former Miss Canada finalist has become the first graduate of a Liverpool university's groundbreaking degree program based on analyzing the Beatles' music and their influence on Western culture.

Liverpool Hope University officials believe the master's program offers the first advanced degree based on the life and times of the Fab Four.

Mary-Lu Zahalan-Kennedy, a singer and actress, joined the program when it started in 2009 and graduated Wednesday. She is one of 12 full-time students of the program, "The Beatles, Popular Music and Society."

—Associated Press

Buffett 'well' after stage fall

Singer Jimmy Buffett was expected to be released from the hospital Thursday after falling off the stage during a concert in Sydney, Australia, according to a statement on his website Wednesday. It quoted his doctors as saying he was "doing well."

In video footage obtained by U.S. celebrity website TMZ.com, the 64-year-old singer is seen stepping off the front of the stage at Sydney's Hordern Pavilion and plummeting to the concrete floor.

It appeared Buffett had misjudged where the stage ended. Security officials immediately rushed to his side, but Buffett appeared to have been unconscious for 10 minutes, TMZ said.

—Reuters

Marquee names at British theater

A musical by singer-songwriter Tori Amos and a new play from Mike Leigh are among productions being staged by Britain's National Theatre over the next year.

Amos has written music and lyrics for a play based on "The Light Princess," a 19th century fairy tale by Scottish writer George MacDonald. The theater announced Wednesday that it will be staged at the London venue early in 2012.

Writer-director Leigh, who was nominated for an Academy Award this week for the screenplay to his film "Another Year," has started work with an ensemble of actors on a play that as yet has no script and no title and is due to open in September.

—Associated Press

Smith family adopts 'Annie'

First, Will Smith put his son, Jayden, in a remake of "The Karate Kid." Now the actor-producer is looking to create a star vehicle for his daughter, Willow, in the form of a new big-screen version of the stage musical "Annie."

Rumors of Smith's "Annie" movie have been circulating for a few weeks, but on Wednesday, Sony Pictures Entertainment officially confirmed the project as well as a larger joint venture between Smith, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter and others to develop and produce motion pictures. "Annie" will be the first film project of the joint venture, and the movie will be developed by Sony and produced by Jay-Z and Overbrook Entertainment (of which Smith is a partner with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith).

Smith and Jay-Z recently teamed up for the Broadway production of the musical "Fela!," which told the life of Nigerian musician and composer Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

"Annie" was adapted for the big screen in 1982 by director John Huston and starred Albert Finney, Ann Reinking, Carol Burnett and Aileen Quinn in the title role. A television version, directed by Rob Marshall, aired on ABC in 1999.

—David Ng

New views of Salinger

He had a reputation as a literary recluse, but a trove of previously unseen letters written by J.D. Salinger to a British friend reveals a sociable man who took bus trips to Niagara Falls, ate fast-food hamburgers, enjoyed watching tennis and claimed always to be writing new work.

The 50 letters and four postcards have been donated to a British university, which made them public Thursday on the first anniversary of the author's death at age 91.

They show that the enigmatic writer of "The Catcher in the Rye" was an affectionate friend who enjoyed gardening, trips to the theater and church suppers.

Chris Bigsby, professor of American studies at the letters' new home, the University of East Anglia, said they challenge Salinger's image as a near-hermit holed up in his New England home.

The letters were written to Donald Hartog, a Londoner who met Salinger in 1938 when both were teenagers in Vienna, sent by their families to learn German.

—Associated Press

Speech viewers fire up Fox

President Obama's State of the Union speech on Tuesday evidently fired up the opposition on Fox News.

An average of 5 million viewers watched the address on Fox, handily beating the 3 million for CNN and 2.5 million for MSNBC, according to the Nielsen Co.

Fox did even better with its post-speech analysis, which scored 5.4 million viewers and was largely critical of Obama. "The president didn't really offer much," Fox anchor Brit Hume said.

ABC, CBS and NBC were on a "sustaining" basis — that is, not commercially supported — and therefore did not have their ratings officially measured.

—Scott Collins

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