Wicked

A Wicked Birthday

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Today is Lois’ birthday (Happy Birthday Lois!).

We had expected to be in VA all of May. Unfortunately, a few details got in the way and we returned to NY this week and will remain here for the rest of the month.

If we were down in Richmond, we’d likely have gotten together with a bunch of people for dinner tonight, but that too will have to wait until later this summer.

So, what’s a couple to do to celebrate? We don’t exchange gifts, so I just asked Lois if there was anything she wanted to do. She wondered whether I’d be interested in seeing Wicked again.

Given that it’s been 1,207 days since we last saw it (but who’s counting?), it couldn’t have been a serious question. I immediately grabbed two tickets and we were both very excited to see it again.

For those of you who have lost count, Lois did too. 😉

For a couple that rarely disagrees, we were both sure we knew how many times we had previously seen Wicked. I said 13, Lois said 14. She has given me permission to officially call this one 14, since I blogged that it was 13 the last time we saw it. That doesn’t mean she believes that I was correct (then or now)…

Here’s a link to that blog. As you can see, we loved it then.

Today’s verdict?

Spectacular!

As always, some nits could be picked, but the two witches (both new to us) were fantastic:

Caroline Bowman as Elphaba

and

Kara Lindsay as Glinda.

One highlight (of many): the final song, For Good, has occasionally been a weak point (for me) even in otherwise terrific shows. It’s a trickier song to nail than it appears, especially to get both witches to perform it perfectly, individually and in harmony. Today: flawless and chill-inducing!

I’ll close with a series of three photos with a few words between them. (You can click on any image to see a larger version.)

I title the first Inviting. Here you see Caroline/Elphaba and Kara/Glinda inviting the rest of the cast to join them in what was a rousing standing ovation.


No matter how successful we are, individually or as a couple (in their case, individually and as a couple of witches), the achievement comes with the help of every single other person on and off the stage.

We should never forget to invite everyone who helped us, to join in whatever praise we may earn.

Next is titled Bowing. Receiving praise is wonderful, but we should never forget to give the most heartfelt thanks for that praise. Never forget that even if you deserve the praise, people (in this case an audience) don’t have to lend you their attention to begin with, so be grateful for their attention first, and for the opportunity to earn their praise.


Finally, Waving. You’ve been praised, you’ve returned thanks, now take one final moment to share in the joy collectively.


Lois and I never lose sight of these principles, even on the few days a year that are not either of our birthdays.

But, especially on a day like today, we invite everyone who helped create the wonderful life we live to hold our hands. Collectively, we offer our gratitude (via a bow) to everyone who has given us any amount of love.

We send out a smile and a wave to those who are still on the journey with us.

Wicked Season

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The title that sprang to mind was Season of the Witch(es). While clever (at least to me), given our recent cluster of attendances, I couldn’t bring myself to drop Wicked from the title.

Yes, we seem to be knee deep in Wicked Season. Yesterday we went for our 13th time. If only we could have pulled that off last week, on Friday the 13th, who knows what magic/wickedness would have occurred.

WickedPoster

There are two reasons for us to see Wicked over-and-over:

  1. It’s that awesome, and we enjoy it as much (truth be told, more) each time
  2. The shared experience of going with friends on their first time is joyous to us

#2 is the reason that gets us to the theater, as the opportunity to share it with friends makes us schedule it. But, #1 is what makes it the easiest decision in the world when our friends make their availability known to us. Smile

Such was the case yesterday, when two friends who are nearly impossible to schedule time with together both said “Let’s do it!”.

There was a real first for us. In the 12 previous times, Elphaba’s father was played by the same actor (pretty incredible, since our first time was in 2006!). Yesterday, someone else played that role (I think he was an understudy, and our guy will be back). The sub (Brian Munn) was excellent, but we both missed Michael DeVries.

The two leads were the same as the last few performances, Chandra Lee Schwartz and Jackie Burns as the witches. We love them, so that was great. I have been able to nitpick tiny parts of each of their performances in the past (more the singing than the acting) and that was true again. Their awesomeness so far outweighs the nits that I highly encourage everyone to see Wicked while they’re still in it, before the dice get rolled again.

WickedCast

If you can watch Chandra’s performance and not laugh out loud, multiple times, then I fear that your soul was crushed at some point in your life and is badly in need of some loving and healing.

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We both continue to be charmed by Tom McGowan as The Wizard.

Another wonderfully successful outing to the Gershwin Theatre. Do I hear 14?!?

Not that we need signs to validate our decision to keep seeing Wicked, but we walked right by this place on way home from the theater. Winking smile

Wichcraft

A Wicked Christmas Weekend

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We love so many people that we consider family. However, there are a few full families that are truly our extended family in every possible way. One of those families lives in Leesburg, VA. They (parents plus three children) were supposed to spend Thanksgiving with us in NYC. Unfortunately, life intervened and they had more urgent business to attend. Thankfully, we were able to reschedule to get them up for Christmas.

OurExtendedFamily

On Friday (when they arrived), after having a fantastic meal at Jackson Hole (probably still our favorite burger place in NYC, though there are so many spectacular ones), we did something unusual for us (and them as well). We split up completely!

AtJacksonHole

The parents took the 5-year-old girl to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. They reported that it was fantastic and the girl was mesmerized throughout!

Lois took the 13-year-old to see the new Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Neither was too enamored with the movie. If a 13-year-old boy doesn’t come back raving about such a movie, that’s all I need to know about it. Winking smile

I took the 11-year-old to see Blue Man Group. It was my third time, his first. It’s been quite a while since I last saw it, so I was quite excited to go again. I was really pleased to see that while the basic show was the same, they created a few new acts, replacing some others, while keeping some real crowd pleasers. In other words, even I got to enjoy some new things (I enjoyed the original material as well).

Needless to say, the 11-year-old was thrilled and had many mind-blowing guffaws during the show. The toilet paper part (a staple) will probably live with him forever. Smile

All seven of us met up at our favorite NYC restaurant for dinner: The Peking Duck House. The parents had been there twice before, but this was a first for all three kids. The meal was a huge success (it never isn’t, but I feel compelled to report on it nonetheless). Even though everyone professed to be stuffed to the gills, when offered ice cream for dessert, amazingly, everyone found an extra spot to stick it in. Smile

TheKidsAtThePekingDuckHouse

Not to slight any other activity, because the weekend was 100% incredible, but the main event (and hence the title) was all seven of us going to see Wicked on Saturday afternoon. It was our (Lois and my) 12th time. It was a first for everyone else. I will admit to being a bit nervous as to whether the kids would like it.

PreparingForWickedChristmasFinest

AtWicked

When we looked at our programs and saw that the two leads were the same ones we saw last time: Jackie Burns and Chandra Lee Schwartz, Lois and I knew that at a minimum, we would be enthralled. Thankfully, all seven of us loved the show.

WickedStandingOvation

To be honest, the two ladies were even better this time than last time (and they were amazing last time). The only weakness in either of their performances came in the the last big number, For Good, which they had trouble with the previous time as well. This time it was better. Each had trouble with their solo, but they came together beautifully for their harmonies (not so last time). Otherwise, their acting and singing were pretty much flawless.

There were two other changes in significant characters. Madame Morrible was played by someone we hadn’t seen before. Neither Lois nor I liked her performance. In fact, Lois thought her acting threw Jackie Burns off a time or two (I think she might be right). She wasn’t bad, and if it was my first time I probably wouldn’t have known better. Still, practically every other Madame Morrible we’ve seen was better, including the last one, who we particularly liked.

Fiyero was new to us as well. I think that last time we saw an understudy for this one. I found his acting not quite as loose as some of the others (including the last one), but his singing was good. In particular, he nailed the difficult duet with Elphaba in the woods (As Long As You’re Mine). So much so, that Jackie Burns nailed her part. I dinged her a bit on that number the last time out.

The Wizard (Tom McGowan) was as wonderful as he has been each time we’ve seen him.

So, a huge success (like I said, every activity was, except for possibly Mission Impossible).

TheTimeDragonClock

We walked to the theater, having lunch at Z Deli around the corner. Afterward we walked back and headed straight to The Capital Grille. I like a lot of steak houses, The Capital Grille among them. While I’ve been there many times, this might have been my best meal there. It would be hard to imagine a more pleasant way to spend time with family on Christmas Eve!

LoveIsInTheAirClassingUpTheJointSharingASecret

AtTheCapitalGrille

AfterDinner

After dinner I watched The Matrix with the boys (their first time). We paused a bunch of times early on to discuss the mind-bending plot. Once the real martial arts scenes kicked in, they were done discussing and were more intrigued by the acrobatics. Smile

We got to spend more quality time with everyone on Christmas morning, then they hit the road back to Leesburg. As sad as we were to see them go, our hearts were full from a literally perfect weekend with loved ones.

Rather than collapse, we continued the weekend festivities by meeting another good friend for lunch. I can’t speak for the ladies (each of whom ordered eggs), but my tuna melt was as good as it gets. So was our conversation, which we lingered over long after the meal was done.

P.S. The 11-year-old was enamored with my toy (my You Rock Guitar). He couldn’t put it down the entire weekend. Smile

YouRockGuitarYouRockGuitarContinued

Wicked Continues to Rule

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On the 11th month, of the 11th year, (7 days after the 11th day), there is but one thing to do: See Wicked for the 11th time! Smile

We had friends in from out of town. We’ve been targeting one of them for three years now to see Wicked with us and we finally made it happen last night.

I’ve written about each other performance, so I won’t go into specific show details. Feel free to search for “Wicked” up top and find the other 10 write-ups.

Instead, I’ll just briefly review the performances of the main characters and explain an insight I had last night.

I always worry about the two leads (usually, unnecessarily). I typically check them out before buying tickets. Since we didn’t have leeway this time, I just bought without looking them up.

Both were new to us, which is exciting and frightening at the same time.

Jackie Burns as Elphaba. Jackie was nearly flawless. You can’t expect, nor even hope for flawless, so I was completely happy/satisfied with her performance.

Jackie’s acting was fantastic. I noticed a few nuances that I had either missed in earlier performances, or that Jackie brought a fresh take on. Her voice is extraordinary.

My nits were in a few of the harmonies and a tiny amount of styling (singing a song reasonably different than the original cast album version).

Chandra Lee Schwartz as Glinda. Chandra was fantastic, though a bit less flawless than Jackie. I was still completely happy with the performance.

Chandra’s acting was equal to Jackie’s. Her comedic timing and physical gestures were up there with the best Glinda’s we’ve seen, while never being too over-the-top (they’re supposed be somewhat over-the-top, by design).

She has a stunning voice, but it’s not completely consistent across all ranges. For the most part, the harmonies with Jackie were great, but there were a few notable exceptions, which I also counted against Jackie (in my mind).

In particular, the big finale with both of them, For Good, caused them a bit of a problem (probably unrecognizable to a first-timer). This song often seems to cause a problem. I don’t know if it’s trickier than the rest or whether they’re exhausted and it’s difficult to keep up the concentration and energy by then.

To be clear, it was still excellent, but with meaningfully noticeable issues.

They are paired well and I’d happily seem them again.

The rest of the cast was excellent with one very minor exception. Fiyero was a substitute last night (Constantine Rousouli). He was delightful throughout. The exception was in the forest scene with Elphaba where they sing together sitting on the stage. He struggled a bit when he was singing his solo parts and a bit when he sang harmony with Jackie.

Now my insight. I know that practically everyone who knows me thinks I’m crazy to have seen Wicked as often as I have. I would bet that the people that have seen it with me, even the ones who loved it, think that the most (meaning, they can’t imagine wanting to see it 11 times).

That wasn’t the insight. Winking smile

The insight is that the more often I see it, the easier it is to soak in the total majesty (and occasionally notice new things, which happens every time), because I know every note and every word. The point is that I don’t have to sit on the edge of my seat hoping to catch the next clever line (spoken or sung). I enjoy them (like they’re second nature), but can concentrate on anything else I want without missing the joke, the melody, the harmony, etc.

The first time around, you have to really pay attention to the dialog and the singing, so closely, or you will miss a key piece of the story, or a hysterical pun/joke.

OK, so it’s not deep, but it’s still accurate.

After the bows (to a standing ovation when Chandra and Jackie came out), the entire cast stayed on stage.

WickedStandingOvation

Chandra came forward and announced that this was one of the two times a year that all of Broadway raises money for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS.

ChandraLeeSchwartzAIDSAnnouncementWickedCastBroadwayCares

I gave money (as I always do) when we walked out. Our schedule must be predicable, because this is at least the 6th time in our 11 trips that it’s been one of the two times a year. I’m now suspicious that the two times are the first 180 days, and the second 180 days, or the two times are whenever Hadar is in the theater. Winking smile

Before the show, five of us ate at Bar Americain which is just two blocks from the theater. Everything about our meal was great. The food (appetizers, entrees and desserts), the company and the service. In fact, the banter and helpful recommendations from our waitress were a key part of the enjoyment.

That said, I’m not sure if I can explain why it wouldn’t be at the top of my list to return to (I don’t have a single complaint about any aspect of the evening!). Just a feeling that some other places that I’ve been to leave me more excited to return. Plus, there are the thousands of places I’ve never tried before either…

Our Tenth Wicked is still the Charm

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Our godson (David) and his wife (Rebecca) were coming up to spend their first weekend with us as a married couple. They were to arrive on Friday night when the festivities were to begin. Unfortunately, the Wicked witch was in control on Friday, and after hearing every excuse in the book, their flight was canceled.

The Good witch took over (you can’t reverse a spell) and got them out the next morning (yesterday), but since the evil spell had been cast, they were forced to wake up at 3am to catch a 5:30 flight. It all went well and after an amazing lunch at the Palm West, we headed over to see Wicked across the street (their choice).

LunchAtThePalmWest

The last time we saw Wicked, I ended my post with the following:

At some point in the not-too-distant future, we’ll hit double digits. It was roughly 11 months since the last time we saw Wicked, so it might not be right around the corner, but it’s coming, I can feel it. :-)

We wanted to make sure that David and Rebecca didn’t pick Wicked thinking we weren’t willing to see anything else, but they insisted that they were really interested, so no further arm twisting was necessary. We saw it with our mutual friends Wes and Jacklyn who came up from Philly for the weekend. We bought the tickets about a month ago, so we couldn’t get six together. Each couple sat together but we were clustered close enough to each other.

The last time we saw Wicked, Katie Rose Clarke played Glinda. She was in yesterday’s show again and was as spectacular this time as last. There was no letdown in the last number either, so this was actually a better performance (her comedy is still a touch over-the-top, but it really works, so perhaps I’ll stop saying that if we see her again). Smile

Teal Wicks as Elphaba. We made the mistake of watching a YouTube video of her singing Defying Gravity, on Broadway, from a February 2011 show. It was awful. Thankfully, that’s not the way she came across yesterday. I can easily quibble with a few things, particularly in her first number, The Wizard and I, but they were so minor and the rest of her performance was fantastic.

She hits the highest notes in Defying Gravity so crisply, cleanly and powerfully, it’s a thing to behold (and hear). My last quibble is that she’s not as forceful in a number of her duets, where it feels like she’s holding back in order to be generous to her co-star (both Glinda and Fiyero), but her voice gets a bit lost at those moments.

Nevertheless, I’d happily go see Teal again. She delivered the spoken parts of the show perfectly (including her acting).

Tom McGowan was The Wizard. I’m a big fan of his TV work. He was in 42 episodes of Frasier and 17 of Everybody Loves Raymond (and I’ve seen every one of them, probably at least twice). He did a marvelous job yesterday, including his singing.

Kathy Fitzgerald played Madame Morrible. Excellent!

The Governor of Munchkinland was the same actor we’ve seen all 10 times. That’s over a 4-year period and impresses the heck out of me. He’s great every single time.

Almost everyone in the ensemble has been the same (I can’t even believe how familiar they are to me, but I guess 10 times shouldn’t have me so surprised).

The rousing standing ovation from the sold-out crowd for the leads seemed to overwhelm them (in the positive sense), but then again, they’re both fine actresses, so who knows. Winking smile

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Lois scooted home in a cab to prepare for the continuing weekend festivities, while the five of us walked back leisurely (the weather was spectacular) and arrived just as all the food was being delivered. Perfect timing. The rest of the evening will be covered in the next post.

Wicked Still Rules

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Having previously seen Wicked eight times, it generally takes an external event to get us to go again. Of course, we are constantly on the lookout for such events, so it’s not hard to get us to go. 🙂

A few weeks ago, friends of ours mentioned that seeing Wicked was high on their list. Our lookout sensors kicked into gear and we picked a mutually agreed date, which turned out to be yesterday’s matinee.

My only criteria for pre-show excitement level is the quality of the two leads, Elphaba and Glinda. We’ve seen awesome ones (in both roles), and horrible ones (more so some of the Elphabas than the Glindas).

I hadn’t seen either of the current leads. I read a short review in the NY Times. I also watched a YouTube video of each doing one signature number. The voices sounded good, the acting wasn’t as good.

I am happy to say that they’ve either gotten way better as actresses, or the videos were somehow wildly unrepresentative of their abilities.

Katie Rose Clarke played Glinda. Her voice is magnificent. I could quibble that she’s a little over-the-top in her comedic acting, but it all worked, so I’m contradicting myself. The only (extremely minor) letdown in her performance was a relatively flat (not off key, but rather affect) in the song For Good. Not in my top three Glindas (this was, after all, our ninth time), but she’s spectacular.

Mandy Gonzalez played Elphaba. Her voice is also magnificent. Her acting was weaker than Katie and other Elphabas, but not bad in the least. A few too many smiles in scenes where smiles didn’t feel called for.

Both women hit the high notes crisply, cleanly and with power. Lovely!

The rest of the cast was very good, including the Wizard, who was either a stand-in, or so new to the cast that he wasn’t printed in the Playbill yet.

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I loved every minute of the performance, even the quibbles mentioned above (they’re more notes for my own recollection than critiques).

At some point in the not-too-distant future, we’ll hit double digits. It was roughly 11 months since the last time we saw Wicked, so it might not be right around the corner, but it’s coming, I can feel it. 🙂

Wicked Again

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Yes, last night, we were Wicked again (oh, I mean we saw Wicked again). 😉

It was our eighth time (yes, we love it that much). We were taken by our wonderful goddaughter and her wonderful husband, dinner included (more on that after a quick review of the show). Thanks!

There was a brief time when Wicked was the live performance that we had seen more than any other. That’s long past, as we’re in double digits for Girlyman and the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub, so, I think that Laura and Chris felt that they needed to help us jumpstart the official catch-up race.

The last time we saw Wicked, here’s what I wrote. As you can see, I can be pretty picky about the leads (Glinda and Elphaba). Even when I’m disappointed in one or the other, I still love the show overall, but I definitely go each time with a little nervousness.

A friend of ours went a few months ago alone, and raved about the two leads. She’s a huge Wicked fan, but only from the CD, having never seen the show. So, I was very encouraged, but I was also afraid that she didn’t have a frame of reference. After hearing her rave, I looked up the leads on YouTube, and I too was impressed (most of the YouTube videos for the people I was disappointed in clearly pointed out their inability to perform the role as intended!).

The same women were in the show last night, so my expectations were high.

Playing the part of Glinda was Erin Mackey. Dee Roscioli played Elphaba. OK, you can stop holding your breath now, both of these ladies are spectacular, in every respect. Amazing voices, terrific acting, perfect comedic timing, etc.

Lois felt that Dee was the best Elphaba we’ve seen live (we never saw Idina). I wouldn’t argue hard, but if she wasn’t the best, she was a coin flip away from Eden Espinosa.

I was completely blown away by Erin Mackey. Her range was unbelievable, hitting the highest highs effortlessly (at least it appeared effortless), holding those notes as long as she liked. Her comedic timing and acting was flawless.

With all that, I declare her tied as the best Glinda we’ve seen, since I can’t find a single flaw in any of the four performances we saw Kate Reinders in, nor the two times we saw Annaleigh Ashford. That means we’ve had better luck with the Glinda role, as seven of eight performances were flawless. Either the Elphaba role is much harder, or they don’t cast as carefully for Elphaba…

Anyway, last night was another magical performance, and as long as these two are in the starring roles, we’ll be delighted to go back again with any of our friends who are curious as to what drives us mad about this show!

Oh, I should mentioned that our tickets were fourth row, dead center orchestra. Holy cow, you could see beads of sweat on their foreheads if you cared to look that carefully. 😉

Wicked Cast

Wicked Cast

Before the show, we met Laura and Chris at a restaurant that they chose, that none of us had been to before. It’s a chain called Ted’s Montana Grill that just recently opened it’s first location in NYC.

I hadn’t done any research (other than checking out the menu online) before showing up there. We got there a minute before Laura, and were seated at a table for four. Seated opposite Lois, with his back to her, was a distinguished looking gentleman.

A minute later, he stood up, and Lois, involuntarily, said “You’re Ted Turner!” (yes, out loud). He said “Yes, thanks for stopping by Ted’s!”. Ah, so that’s the Ted in Ted’s Montana Grill! 🙂

Here’s what he looked like to us when we first sat down:

Ted Turner

Ted Turner

We had an excellent meal there (I had the New Mexico Burger, highly recommended!). The only complaint in our group was that some of the dishes were salted a little too heavily.

At the end of our meal, Ted came by and asked what we thought of it, and he got four thumbs up. 🙂

They are trying to be very green as well, which is laudable, and they don’t sacrifice any of the experience you might otherwise expect in order to achieve that. Again, kudos to Ted and the entire organization there.

After the show, the four of us strolled back to the apartment, amongst the chaos that is NYC during the UN General Assembly week. It was a perfect evening, from the minute we sat down in the restaurant, until the minute we set foot back in the apartment.

Thanks again to Laura and Chris for conceiving and executing (and treating) a night that we will never forget! 🙂

Forty Years or One Day?

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This was a very big year for two of our dearest friends. In fact, the past 40 days alone have seen a number of milestones and celebrations.

The wife just had a big birthday (had a zero at the end), their first grandchild turned one, the husband had a birthday, and to cap it off, they just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary!

For her birthday, the husband and their kids pulled off a fantastic surprise party in Richmond. More than 100 people were there to share in the festivities, including Lois and me. You would think that this would be enough, and for most husbands, it would be.

But, this is no ordinary couple. Everyone who knows them, loves them, no exceptions. That’s true of them as individuals, and as a couple. That would be extraordinary (and it is), except that it’s topped by their love for each other. That’s why I titled this post Forty Years or One Day?

If you met them today, you might think that they met recently and fell madly in love and you are getting to witness that wonderful (typically all-too-short) period when a couple’s love is so obvious, and explodes all around, because it can’t be contained.

So, while they make sure to show their love each and every day, they also enjoy making a big deal out of milestones (not just big ones). 40 years of marriage certainly qualifies as a milestone, and as a big one at that.

The husband decided to to craft a surprise trip to NY for his bride. Our first hint (which I missed, completely, even after the fact) was a Direct Message (DM) via Twitter, from their son, asking me for the address of The Peking Duck House (our favorite restaurant in NYC).  I replied immediately, and didn’t think about it.

Minutes later, Lois got an email from the husband, asking the same thing, but also explaining why, and inviting us to join them for dinner (this past Sunday). We were scheduled to be at Zope this week, but we cut our trip short and returned to be a part of this incredible experience.

The Duck House was just one part of the surprise trip. I’ll cover the rest in a sec. But first, it occurred to us that while the husband was doing all of the surprising, we might help pull off a bit of a surprise for him as well. Lois reached out to both of his kids and invited them to come up and be at the Duck House to surprise both of them as well.

Both couples had commitments for that night, but the son was able to shift his. Unfortunately, the daughter’s commitment involved five other couples, and was impossible to move.

The adventure began this past Sunday (their actual anniversary day). When they awoke, he told her that she needed to pack a bag, but he wouldn’t tell her where they were going. When they got to the airport in Richmond, he still didn’t tell her, so it wasn’t until they were at the gate that she new it was NYC.

When they landed, they went straight to the hotel. From there, he took her shopping for a new engagement ring. After ring shopping, he took her to see Wicked on Broadway. After the show, he suggested they eat at their favorite NY restaurant, the Duck House. Obviously, she didn’t resist.

Now we need to catch up a bit with the parallel story. Roughly the same time that the happy couple was heading to the airport in Richmond, their son, daughter-in-law and grandchild were doing the same thing. Luckily (and semi-accidentally!), they were on a different airline, flying in to a different airport in NYC.

We picked up the kids at LaGuardia and headed to our apartment. We had a wonderful lunch with Laura and Chris as well (who had also been invited on that first day to join for dinner).

When the folks were at Wicked, the kids went to their hotel and arranged to have a hand-written, wonderful gift, from both of their children, placed into their room. They also arranged for Champagne and Strawberries to be delivered later that night to the room. Awesome!

While they were out, we got to play proxy grandparents. Lois fed the baby, and I put her down for a nap. Hadar, what did you put a one-year-old on/in to sleep safely? I’m glad you asked! A week earlier, Lois and I borrowed a crib from a friend of ours, and dropped it off at the apartment on our way to Zope. I set it up the night before our friends came to town, so we were all prepared, Mickey Mouse bedding included! 🙂

Feeding Time

Feeding Time

The Crib

The Crib

Shortly before 6pm, we all headed up to the Duck House. The happy couple arrived via bicycle rickshaw about 10 minutes later. What an incredible surprise. Of course, the mom started crying (but that wasn’t a surprise to us, which is why I said of course). 😉 The dad was surprised too, which was the whole point! Don’t believe me that the mom cried? Here you go:

Mama Crying

Mama Crying

One other person there was surprised. The baby was so happy to see grandma, as you can plainly see:

Surprised Both Ways

Surprised Both Ways

Earlier, Lois and daughter-in-law bought a fantastic cake and had the appropriate Happy Anniversary decorated on top. Yummy.

Aside from (understandably) missing their daughter, one other couple was missing from the festivities. Laura’s folks, who introduced us to this wonderful family, and introduced us to the Duck House as well! They were in South Africa finishing up a long and well earned vacation.

Does that distance stop our crowd? Nope! Even though it was 1:30am in South Africa, the husband (correctly) insisted that we get them to join the celebration in real-time. So, he pulled out his blackberry, and called South Africa. He put the blackberry on speaker phone, and we all had a long and wonderful conversation with our missing friends. Hopefully, they fell back asleep. 😉

We had our typically amazing meal. Here are all of us (minus Lois, the photographer) outside:

All of Us

All of Us

We all walked back to our apartment and relaxed and laughed and caught up on our deck. We encouraged the couple to leave a little earlier than they otherwise might have, because we all knew that there were more surprises awaiting them in the room. 🙂

The rest of us stayed up way too late, but had a great time, so the only complaint is how tired we still feel, days later…

The next morning we had a great breakfast on the deck with the kids.

Deck Breakfast

Deck Breakfast

Later that morning, they went to meet their folks to help finalize the ring selection. They then had lunch together and then headed over to FAO Schwartz for story time for the baby. From there, the folks headed to the airport, and back to Richmond.

The kids had a later flight, so they returned to the apartment. After relaxing a bit, we took over the proxy grandparent duties again, and guarded over the baby while she took a long nap (NYC is very tiring, at all ages!), and the parents got to explore the city a bit. At 6pm they got in a car and headed for the airport.

A whirlwind, but an absolutely wonderful one. We are blessed to be a part of their extended family and were thrilled to be able to arrange our schedule to fully participate.

The baby captured how we all felt about the occasion:

Smiling Baby

Smiling Baby

Want to know what we think of the bride? Lois and I wrote the lyrics to this song (music and vocals by Jack Kapanka) and her daughter and son-in-law put together this amazing slide show to go with the song:

Sneaky Wicked Surprise

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Our Richmond friends have had a very busy year, and it’s hardly over. In addition to graduating both of the kids (already reported) they have an upcoming wedding to produce.

Immediately after the wedding, the new couple is moving up to NYC (well, immediately after the honeymoon). 😉

That should be enough to keep anyone busy, but not our friends! 😉

Before the wedding date was set, they had a big family trip planned. It’s possible that this will be the last annual family trip where they can all be together, given where the kids are headed (geographically and career-wise). So, they will be spending 10 days in Thailand and Singapore.

Their flight to Singapore is from JFK, so they came up early to spend some time in NYC with us. Once we were sure what their flight info was, I decided to be sneaky and pull off a surprise. As reported a number of times in these pages, we had an aborted attempt to take them (the parents) to see Wicked with us.

I also reported that we weren’t likely to go again, unless they could make it too. You can read the three reasons that would get us to go again at the bottom of this post. Given that there were going to be three other guests, two of whom had seen the show (one of them, twice), coupled with the fact that I really wanted to get great seats for the parents (and it would be tough to get seven seats together at this late date), we decided to shoot for just two tickets.

I checked every day for a week, including places like StubHub, and finally, after no good choices for days, snagged two great seats toward the front of the orchestra. We said nothing until our guests arrived. After having a nice lunch together, we sent the parents on their way to enjoy the show. There is little doubt that they were surprised, but we were still nervous as to whether they would enjoy it.

While they were at the show, the rest of us went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It was mindless fun, with the key word being mindless. Seriously, one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever seen, but if you’ve enjoyed any of them before, you’ll probably want to see this one too, just for completeness sake. It still amazes me when the talent associated with making this kind of movie can spend this much time and money, and create something so unbelievably stupid.

We all met back at the apartment, and the parents got home shortly after we did, and they said that they loved the show. Whew! 🙂

We asked them to bring back a Playbill, so we could know who they saw. Elphaba was played by Stephanie J. Block. I reviewed the performance that we saw her in the post linked above. She was good, but not great in any way. Glinda was played by Kendra Kassebaum. We had seen her before too, and I just assumed (incorrectly) that we saw her with Stephanie J. Block. So, I raved about her to our friends, telling them that they saw someone really special.

Unfortunately, it gnawed at me for a bit, and this morning, I just checked my own blog, and I realized that it was Annaleigh Ashford who we saw twice, once with Stephanie, who was brilliant in the role. Kendra Kassebaum was not so good, as I reported in this post.

Oh well, now there are three possibilities:

  1. Our friends were being polite, and didn’t think highly of her
  2. They don’t have a frame of reference, and thoroughly enjoyed her performance
  3. She got better 😉

I still find the show awesome, even when the leads are clearly inferior to the great ones, so I can easily believe that our friends loved it as well.

In a small word irony, on the same weekend that our VA friends came to NYC on their way to Thailand, on Friday, I got an email from our friends who live in Thailand that they were passing through NYC on their way to a trade show. Reasonably amazing that they would all be in the city at the same time.

A Wicked Surprise

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For the past few weeks, Lois and I have mentioned to each other that we were itching to see Wicked again. This was probably more true for me, but I think she wouldn’t have minded too much. That said, we did nothing about that itch. I didn’t even check for ticket availability online, even just for fun.

Over the weekend, good friends of ours called to say that they were finally ready to take the Wicked plunge (we had been telling them for a while what lunatics we are with regard to this show). They asked us what might work in our crazy schedule. We offered up the upcoming Wednesday (last night) as the only day we could do it in the next month or so. They said that amazingly enough, that night worked for them too.

So, while we were still on the phone, I hopped on to Ticketmaster to see if there were any seats available. No regular seats, but they had premium seats (fifth or sixth row, center orchestra) available. I offered to grab them right then. They said that they were very friendly with a ticket broker, and they wanted the opportunity to contact him first.

They called back 30 minutes later and told us that they could get the tickets cheaper than the premium seat price, so we locked in the date.

We met for dinner at a restaurant we had never been to (or heard of), one block away from the theater, called Vice Versa. Beautiful place, extremely nice staff. The tables are crowded together, but offset like an interesting jigsaw puzzle, so there’s still a sense of privacy, even though there are lots of people right around you.

The food was superb, and for mid-town, theater district, reasonably priced (not cheap, but cheaper than most restaurants of this caliber). I feel the need to highlight the $10 lentil and chickpea soup that I had. Very generous portion, and wonderfully delicious. Everyone enjoyed their meal thoroughly.

We tried to split the bill. We tried hard. At one point, I even thought we succeeded, since the other couple took my credit card. But, when the waiter came with the bill, the husband only gave his card, returned mine to me, and promised that we’ll split it “next time”. Oh well, we suffered with a great meal that didn’t cost us anything. Thanks guys, we loved the place and the food, and you’re not getting away with treating next time! 🙂

The tickets that they got were simply incredible. Third row, dead center orchestra. Wow. I have to get me a friend who is a ticket broker too. 😉 We paid less than the cost of premium seats (which is exactly what this row is considered), so I’m a little suspicious that our friends underwrote part of our ticket price, but I’m hoping that wasn’t the case!

For those who don’t regularly read this blog, this was our seventh time seeing Wicked, and I’ve written about it many times. The most recent writeup was here, which summarizes our general feelings about Wicked as a show, and specific cast members.

In that show, we saw Annaleigh Ashford for the first time. She was awesome. For regular readers, you know I can be particularly tough/harsh on the two lead roles. We missed Stephanie J. Block that night, as she off getting married to the then Fiyero (Sebastian Arcelus).

So, when we walked into the theater last night, both Lois and I were anxious to rip into the playbill to see if there were any critical understudies filling in. There were two: Jan Neuberger was playing Madame Morrible and Briana Yacavone was playing the Midwife. The Midwife is on stage for a few minutes, so I wasn’t nervous. Madame Morrible has a large role, so there was a twinge, but as long as the two leads are good, it would be hard to ruin the magic. It turns out that Jan did a wonderful job as Madame Morrible, so no worries there.

After their marriage, Sebastian Arcelus left the Broadway cast fairly quickly. Luckily for us, we had seen him once (before Stephanie joined the cast), and he was terrific. The understudy who covered for him while he was away getting married was wonderful too. We’ve been very happy with every Fiyero we’ve seen.

Last night was a new one, David Burham. He’s as cute as they come, looks the role and plays the spoken parts well. He isn’t as good as the others at the dancing parts (not that he’s bad), and he’s inconsistent (though never bad) in the singing parts. He was OK (nothing special) in his opening (signature!) number (Dancing Through Life), but was fantastic in the duet with Elphaba (As Long As You’re Mine). So, he has the voice, just not the consistency. We liked him though, so again, no problem.

On to the leads. Annaleigh was awesome, again. Aside from having a spectacular voice, to repeat my last post, her comedic timing is impeccable (that includes facial expressions, which can easily be seen from the third row). The only number that she didn’t shine in (this time, since she did it better last time) was the normally spine tingling For Good. She was flat in that number (not bad), and it’s possible that it was the interplay between her and Stephanie, but who knows what the real reason is.

Now the one that I was particularly nervous about, Stephanie J. Block. All-in-all, a good performance. She was notable in the acting parts of the role. She was more expressive than the previous Elphabas, and handled all of the speaking parts as well as one could hope for.

Vocally, nothing in her performance was disappointing (other than wanting every note to be perfect), but there was a vast difference between her and Idina Menzel or Eden Espinosa. Even Ana Gasteyer did a better job singing the role.

What was surprising to me though was that the hardest notes to hit, she hit flawlessly each time, and with wonderful controlled power. Specifically (but not exclusively) during the last few stanzas of Defying Gravity (perhaps the most challenging number for Elphaba), Stephanie completely nailed it. The same chills that run up and down your spine for the other great Elphabas appear for Stephanie here as well.

But, for the majority of the normal parts of the rest of the songs, she sings a little flatly. She hits all the notes, but with less power and clarity. So, she has all of the ingredients of being a great Elphaba, but it doesn’t all hang together (for me). I wasn’t disappointed, and most certainly didn’t feel like I have with the bad Elphabas we’ve seen, but she didn’t inspire like the great ones have.

As always, the crowd was nuts about the show. The applause were thunderous. The one (marginally) surprising thing was that while the crowd gave Annaleigh and Stephanie a very rousing standing ovation, they didn’t stand until those two came on the stage. In other words, they were very enthusiastic for the rest of the cast, but didn’t stand for them. At the majority of the shows we’ve been to before, the crowd typically stood up once someone like Madame Morrible came out, and stood from then on.

At this point, there are only a few things that will get us to the show again:

  1. Our Richmond friends finally setting a date to come see the show 😉
  2. Someone else that we’re close to begging us to go with them 😉
  3. The leads changing again, to someone that I have reason to believe might bring back the thrills and chills of seeing them perform the roles.

Other than that, we’re probably satiated at this point.

If you still haven’t seen Wicked, just go and do it already! 🙂