Broadway

Next Stop, Nightmare at ABC No Rio

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Every night there are a seemingly infinite number of things to do in NYC. Of course, most of those events are hard to discover, or evaluate in advance.

Lois and I go to Broadway shows on occasion (always with friends), but we don’t typically seek out plays. We spend most of our free time (whatever that means) attending musical events. One of the completely unexpected benefits of attending so many shows was meeting a group of like-minded music-lovers that we now count as friends!

Two of those people are Jason Black and Shannon Black (yes, they’re married). We met them at a Livestrong fundraiser, and I wrote a post about that night. In addition to having a day job, Jason is also a playwright. At a musical show in July, Jason told me that one of his plays would be presented on August 12th and 13th. I told him that we’d be there!

The evening was billed as An Hour of Theatre and was presented at ABC No Rio. Two plays were presented with a 10-minute intermission between them, all fitting into one hour, start-to-finish. It’s a nice concept!

JoshMedskerJasonBlack

Jason’s was the second of the evening, called Next Stop, Nightmare. I’ll start with that one because it’s the reason we went. Jason wrote and directed.

The title gives away the entire plot, but I won’t. 😉

In roughly 20 minutes, Jason and his five actors (Shannon was the lead actor!) take us on a trip. It’s mostly a comedy, but dotted with reasonably dramatic moments. Many clever lines (delivered well and with good timing) that had nearly every person in the audience laughing pretty hard.

When it ended, I was sure it was the end, but no one in the audience (including me) clapped. That’s because even though the ending was satisfying, everyone was absorbed in the story, and it could have continued seamlessly and I believe everyone was waiting (and perhaps hoping a bit) to see if it would!

Jason had to announce from the back corner: “It’s over folks, that’s it!”. At that point a very long round of applause began, and didn’t end until all five actors had left the room.

I already knew that Jason was smart and funny, but now I know that he can translate that innate ability to the written page, as well as direct others to ensure that his vision is delivered to the audience. Bravo!

Shannon Lyne Black as Mandi (Shannon was excellent, but now I won’t be able to trust anything she says, since I know she can act) 😉

Jimmy Juste as Driver

Annie Briggs as Candi

Christopher Wharton as Passenger

Rory A. McEvoy as Rusty

All of the above were very good!

ShannonBlackRoryAMcEvoyJimmyJusteChristopherWhartonAnnieBriggs

The first play was written and directed by Josh Medsker, called Spenard. It’s a one-person show (in this case a female actor) playing six separate roles.

I am not a fan of multi-role one-person plays. One of Lois’ favorite shows on Broadway was Patrick Stewart doing all 35 roles in A Christmas Carol. It was torture for me, and I love Patrick Stewart and love A Christmas Carol as well. Unfortunately, Spenard didn’t change my opinion of the genre.

It’s a gritty look at six different characters who share Alaska as their common thread. Each has their own problems and each has their own ambitions. Each is talking to an imaginary character to tell us their story in dialogue form.

I think that the actor, Betsy Bell did as good a job as one could expect, but like I said, it’s not really my cup of tea. Still, I was exposed to something new, and it lasted 25 minutes, so it wasn’t hard to get through.

ABC No Rio may have a number of different rooms, but we were in a relatively small one with no physical stage. There were roughly 35 folding chairs out and all of them filled up in a few minutes. Jason had to bring out more and stick them in front of the first row and along the wall, so that the last few people in were practically sharing the stage with the cast.

They couldn’t have asked for a better turnout or a more enthusiastic audience.

I know it’s late to be saying this, but they’re doing it again tonight (August 13th, 2010), so if you are reading this seconds after I post it, you still have time to get there (assuming you live near NYC that is…). 😉

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.

Wicked20100811

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. 🙂

Happy Birthday Lois

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I’ve mentioned that Lois just had a birthday in May in three separate posts:

The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel at Mercury Lounge

The Addams Family

Ian Axel and Joey Ryan at Rockwood Music Hall

In fact, many of our friends (and family) had May birthdays, at least one even more significant than Lois’ (see below). Because of the many celebrations, and that thing we don’t like to mention (or think about), work, I haven’t had the time to post about the actual celebration we held for Lois.

Now that May is officially behind us, I’ll do that here, and throw in two other May birthday celebrations for good measure. 🙂

In the last of the three posts linked above, I mentioned that we had a weekend-long celebration which included The Addams Family and a wonderful dinner at the Peking Duck House. More than just another incredible meal and fellowship at the Duck House, the gathering there was also meant to spring a wonderful surprise on Lois.

Time to rewind… Our friends in Richmond, VA and Birmingham, AL coordinated to come up to NYC and spend the weekend. That much Lois knew. What she didn’t know is that one of them, Sally Ann, in consultation with the others, came up with a great idea.

She designed a custom T-Shirt, using a photo of Lois from her teaching days, and invited all of us to submit sayings that we’ve learned from Lois throughout the years. From that list she chose 10 sayings to print on the back of the T-Shirt.

The idea wasn’t to present Lois with a T-Shirt, but rather to have her friends take photos of themselves in the shirt and have the results printed and put into an album for Lois. In addition, those that wanted could write a personal note to Lois for inclusion in the book as well.

I was blown away by the idea, knowing that it was the perfect gift for Lois. The southern crew ordered their own shirts and took their photos. I ordered a bunch of shirts and handed a few out locally, but mostly FedEx’ed T-Shirts all over the globe (yes, more money was spent shipping the shirts than ordering them!). 😉

The furthest photo came from a family in Tokyo that Lois befriended 16 years ago.

Sachi

The stealth involved for me to sneak out and create nearly 30 separate FedEx packages and ship them, over the course of three days went off nearly without a hitch. When I tried to make a physical handoff at a restaurant to our friends who live in Thailand, but were in town for one last night, she nearly caught me. I couldn’t explain my erratic behavior to her satisfaction and it was a point of irritation (and comedy) between us for a few weeks until I could finally explain what happened.

A similar thing happened when someone else emailed her with a subject line that I thought meant that the T-Shirt photo was attached (it wasn’t). I panicked and started yelling that she shouldn’t open the email. She looked at me like I had three heads. I couldn’t explain that either.

So, she knew something was up, but she had no clue, until the actual reveal, of exactly what was up, since it was such a creative surprise!

The reveal came in two stages. Everyone else went to the Duck House before we did. They claimed they wanted to walk, and Lois wanted to take a cab, so no misdirection was needed! When they got to the Duck House, they all had their T-Shirts on for Lois to see when we walked in. It was awesome.

TheBigReveal

Here are two close-ups of the front and back:

Front Back

Stage one was complete, and of course, Lois thought that was the entire surprise. After the cake was served stage two was sprung on her, the book itself, with photos of people she never dreamed I would remember to contact! As predicted, Lois was crying non-stop as she flipped the pages. 🙂

LoisAlex LoisCake

My thanks to everyone who participated, with extra special thanks going to Sally Ann and Laura, not only for conceiving and shepherding the process, for their tireless work in producing the actual book, with gorgeous arrangements and reformatting of the notes and letters. It was truly an amazing work of art!

ClearlyDrunk VillageOnDeck

Two more May birthdays to recount (though there were more, that I apologize for not mentioning specifically). The very next weekend we were down in Richmond, VA for a 90th birthday party. It was awesome, and there is little that I can hope for in life more than to be just like Vivian when I’m 90! We love you Vivian, and it was an honor and a pleasure to celebrate with you!

Vivian

Finally, we ended May with a bang. Our wonderful Trevor turned 12 and the entire family came up for the Memorial Day weekend to celebrate. They went to the Statue of Liberty on Saturday (before they got to our apartment).

Arrival1 Arrival2

After dinner at Jackson Hole (amazing burgers) we all went to the Top of the Rock. It was a gorgeous night and we all had a great time there. We let the boys stay up too late and watched National Treasure 2, and enjoyed every second of it (other than the boys squealing whenever someone kissed on screen). 😉

TrevorCentralPark GarretTrevorHadar

LightShow1 LightShow2 LightShow3

Sunday was the big day. The boys, their dad, Lois and I went to see the Yankees play the Indians. We got there very early. While the boys were unable to get any autographs (apparently that doesn’t happen much any longer due to security concerns), they got something nearly as good. Derek Jeter hit a ball deep into the outfield during batting practice. The dad asked one of the Cleveland Indians players if he could retrieve it, and he was kind enough to do it. Cool!

TheBall TrevorDadGarret

The Yankees were down 3-0. In the bottom of the seventh, with two outs and two strikes, Derek Jeter hit a single which scored two runs. Following a double by Granderson, again with two strikes (obviously still two outs), Mark Teixeira hit a 3-run homer putting the Yankees up 5-3. They scored two more in the eighth, and then Mariano Rivera shut the Indians down in the ninth. It was awesome, and the crowd was in ecstasy (as were the boys!).

GarretHadarTrevor HomeRun

The girls (other than Lois, who I still consider to be my girl) went to see Mary Poppins. They loved that too, so all seven of us had a delightful day.

We capped the night off with a wonderful Mexican meal at El Rio Grande followed by watching the original Karate Kid movie. The next day the family spent the day at Ground Zero and Battery Park, nearly walking all the way back to the apartment (until one of the kids cried uncle). After lunch on the deck, they hit the road back to VA, and even though it was Memorial Day, had no traffic and an excellent ride.

UsKids

An excellent end to a month-long celebration of wonderful people’s birthdays, Lois included. 🙂

The Addams Family

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In a recent post I mentioned that it was Lois’ birthday this month. The celebration continued throughout this weekend, when 11 of our closest friends from Richmond and Birmingham came to spend the weekend.

On Friday night, 13 of us went to see The Addams Family on Broadway. One of the leaders of the visitors worked some magic and got us 13 contiguous seats in the front row of the mezzanine (there are only 14 seats in the row). The seats were incredible.

As I understand it, the reviews have been less-than-kind, but the show continues to sell out and get strong word-of-mouth. I believe that only Wicked outsells Addams, and considering that Wicked is our favorite show of all time, and that we’ve seen it eight times, I don’t begrudge their continued strong sales. 😉

The only way that The Addams Family can get a poor review (in my opinion) is if your expectations are completely mismatched. If you’ve never seen (or heard of) the original TV show, or the movie versions, and you think you’re coming to see some deep drama or weighty philosophical musical, you’ll give it a low grade.

If you realize you’re coming to see a farce, based on the original premise, but updated to a more modern story (working in homages to the original throughout), then you can’t help but laugh out loud quite a number of times, and chuckle constantly the remainder of the show.

Addams moves along at a nice pace. Most of the singing is excellent. While many of the songs are funny, none are memorable musically (not really surprising). A few even feel forced, given that they likely need to have a certain number of songs to feel good about calling it a musical.

Nathan Lane is fantastic in everything he does and this is no exception. Bebe Neuwirth does a terrific job acting. While her singing was good (entirely on key), of all of the cast, her singing was the weakest and most inconsistent.

Uncle Fester (played by Kevin Chamberlin) was perfectly cast. He looks the role, sings wonderfully and delivers all of his lines deliciously.

Grandma (played by Jackie Hoffman) was also perfectly cast.

The kids were very good, the understudy who filled in for the Pugsley character that night (Matthew Gumley) and Krysta Rodriguez who plays Wednesday.

The set was highly imaginative. They represented different parts of the house by shifting around the staircases and reconfiguring them.

If you want a light-hearted night out, with a fair number of laughs, I recommend The Addams Family.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at The Public Theater

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I am about to be pretty harsh in my review of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson which we saw last night at The Public Theater.

If you’re a fan of the show, you might want to turn away now. If you don’t like reading anything critical of anything or anybody, turn away now. I will only have one spoiler, and that has been covered in other public reviews as well.

In fact, if you want a balanced review by a trained professional that I largely agree with (in a purely artistic sense), please read The New York Times Review of the show instead of this one.

Final disclaimer before I dive in. I know that to many who read this I will come across as prudish and close-minded. For sure, I will come across as humorless. In fact, I have a completely puerile sense of humor. I laugh at the crudest jokes. Andrew Dice Clay used to kill me (as disgusting and misogynistic as he was/is).

Cursing doesn’t bother me. Bathroom humor cracks me up. In fact, I am the easiest target of most comedians, because I give full credit to whatever I perceive as the concept of the joke, even when the delivery/implementation flops.

So, what makes Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson the worst thing I’ve ever seen performed? Laziness and a general lack of creativity (though there are sparks of it hiding here and there).

The play/musical starts off with a bang. The first words out of the mouth of Andrew Jackson are a sexual vulgarity aimed at the specific audience watching that performance. Since it has no connection to the story, it serves two purposes (I will stop adding In My Opinion after this one, as I hope it is obvious that everything I say is my own, uneducated opinion):

  1. Shock the audience (possibly getting some titillating laughs in the process)
  2. Set the mood to allow an anything goes mindset for the rest of the show

It was downhill from there! Basically, the author has no idea what he wants to convey. That was poorly phrased. The author has no idea how to convey what was in his mind. The entire show is a disjointed collection of every known trick/technique for getting a rise out of an audience.

Every few seconds there is a vulgarity (not just garden variety ones, but some choice phrases that would perhaps even have Andrew Dice Clay blushing a bit).

Every few seconds there is some anachronistic device. Most are repeated until they have been beaten to death, even the ones that might otherwise have been clever. In almost every case, they add nothing to your understanding of the scene, they are merely gags.

Here is my one spoiler alert. It is fully covered in The New York Times review above, so if you read that, I’m not giving away anything. Even so, it has nothing to do with the story (though it is a setup for another joke at the end of the play).

There is a narrator for a part of the story. The narrator is in an electric wheelchair (one of the anachronistic devices). At some point Andrew Jackson tires of the narrator telling his tale, so he shoots her in the neck and she dies. Ha ha, we shot a cripple, aren’t we cool? No wait, I’m sure it was meant to show us just how Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson really was…

The anti-Indian humor is excessive and vulgar. Every person in the play is an overdrawn caricature. The majority of the men are portrayed as gay, or more effeminate than 95% of the gay male population is today, with our substantially more open attitudes.

Not to leave the women out of it, there is a very long kiss between two women on stage, just in case you weren’t titillated enough by the language and all of the pelvic thrusting throughout the rest of the show.

So, the playwright takes on disabled people, Indians, homosexuals, politicians, Spaniards, British, etc., all irreverently. If only it came across as irreverence, it might actually have been funny. Instead, it seems to be more of a stream of consciousness rant about Political Correctness.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the rant is meant to convey. Is it supposed to show us that PC is so deeply entrenched that we can’t help laugh (nervously?) when we abandon it completely? Or, are we meant to see how hurtful it is when we don’t practice PC?

Personally, I think that Political Correctness does more harm than good. It’s not used to educate narrow minded people about some of the hurtful things that they say (that would be great), it’s used to control and punish those who behave differently than what the people in charge determine to be acceptable.

If you spit on a Christian, burn the flag and ban Christmas, you’re exercising your right to free speech (you might even get a parade in your honor). Say one word about someone from Bora Bora and you’ll be sued, vilified, have your children suspended from school, etc.

Presumably, the ultimate point of this work is to make some strong political points about some very trying times during the early years of our Nation. That one may draw some strong parallels to some of the more difficult issues of our day (including the last decade or two) could also be interesting.

If you strung together those historical lessons and stripped them of the vulgarity, anachronisms and PC gags, the play might have lasted 10-15 minutes (no, I’m not kidding!). It would seem that a more effective writer could have taught some more lasting lessons by swapping the gags and history, still keeping a light-hearted sense of humor along the way.

To me, the story of Andrew Jackson’s rise was a plot device meant to loosely string together the most sophomoric, disconnected one-liners and sight gags ever collected in one place. Animal House is high art in comparison (yes, I think Animal House is a classically hysterical movie, so that wasn’t a put-down of Animal House!).

I have no idea how a play like this gets produced and put on for public consumption. I imagine that it didn’t start off this bad. In fact, in my speculative universe, I suspect that the first time it was seen in public, it received a rather dry reception (you know, history bores most people, since it happened so long ago…).

I bet that a few of the zingers got laughs. The next time the play was shown, they added a vulgarity or two. Enough people howled (shock value can’t be underestimated), and people around them were embarrassed not to be laughing, or laughed contagiously, so that the next time the play was put on, more of that had to be added.

At some point, the original intent of the play was completely lost, and it regressed to a crass commercial attempt to sucker an audience into laughing at things they would be crucified for participating in if they were on the street.

To repeat, if anyone said the things that were acted on the stage anywhere in the real world, the thought police would ostracize them and shut them down. Those same people have no trouble laughing out loud when hearing/seeing the same thing portrayed as art. It’s wildly hypocritical to me.

We have court battles over the names of football teams (Redskins, The Tribe, Seminoles, etc.). If the people who bring those suits see this play, I have to wonder whether they too wouldn’t be hypocritical and laugh their heads off, putting it all down to clever writing

After all, it’s the PC crowd that brings those kinds of suits, and those are also the people who feel that in art, anything goes.

So, is there nothing redeemable in this production? No!

There are a few very talented actors. I don’t blame them for taking the job, it’s not like even great actors (especially up-and-coming ones) can pick or choose jobs at will (even non-paying ones!).

I was most impressed by Lucas Near-Verbrugghe who played Martin Van Buren. While he played Van Buren in the most overtly gay manner of all of the performances, he had some brilliant flashes that showed tremendous range.

Kate Cullen Roberts had the best of the voices (a good portion of the show is delivered through emo rock songs).

Michael Dunn played a variety of roles (most of the actors played multiple roles, with the exception of Benjamin Walker who played Andrew Jackson). I was impressed with Michael and his range as well.

Jeff Hiller was another standout. His comedic flair in undeniable.

No one was bad as an actor, though a small number of those that sang would be better served never trying that again in the future.

Finally, and for some this will be the only important point, clearly, the play is provocative. Here I am spending a good deal of time writing about it. We went with a group of six people, and we certainly discussed it a bunch afterward.

That would be perfect, if we were discussing the concepts conveyed, even if we wildly disagreed. Unfortunately, we were mostly discussing how far off the mark it was. Still, better than being instantly forgettable…

Mary Poppins

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Laura and Chris saw Mary Poppins on Broadway last year and raved about it. Aside from Wicked, we rarely see any shows unless we go with friends who are visiting NYC.

Chris’ parents are in town visiting them this week, and Chris and Laura bought four tickets to take them to see Mary Poppins. When they realized we would be around as well, they invited us to join, which we happily did.

Laura was able to get tickets at a nice discount, and even though she bought the tickets on separate days, we were able to get two tickets in the center orchestra, roughly 15 rows back, immediately in front of them.

Lois and I both felt that the sets were the most creative and technologically sophisticated of any show we’d seen on Broadway. Amazingly, Lois has never even seen the movie (Disney has long been searching for the one person in America who hasn’t!) so everything about the show was fresh to her!

The entire experience was delightful. Good moral tale, enough magic to please kids and adults alike, and excellent singing and dancing throughout. One very creative scene (when the stuffed animals come to life) is apparently being taken out of the show next week and replaced with something different. Considering how much I enjoyed that scene, I’m doubly glad we went last night!

The entire cast was wonderful, I didn’t feel that any of the performances were weak. That said, I feel it necessary to specifically call out the Mary Poppins actress, Scarlett Strallen, who was perfect in the role. While a few people (including Lois) rose to give the Bert character (Adam Fiorentino) a standing ovation, the entire audience rose to their feet when Scarlett came out for her bow.

It pays to have friends in high places. 😉 A good friend of Laura and Chris plays in the Mary Poppins orchestra and was in the pit last night. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting him and his wife and spending a wonderful day with them hiking in Bear Mountain.

After the show, we all met him outside the stage door, and he took us for a tour back stage. It was fantastic. We got to stand on the stage, and look out at the theater, and get a sense for what the actors feel like. Apologies, but I couldn’t get the red eye out of this photo…

On Stage at Mary Poppins

On Stage at Mary Poppins

Looking up at all of the cables and gadgets that make all the magic happen was wonderful too, and didn’t detract from the mystery in any way (since they were all sleeping at the time).

Cables Off Stage at Mary Poppins

Cables Off Stage at Mary Poppins

We then walked down in the orchestra pit itself, which was interesting too. It’s quite a maze down there, and all of us commented on how it was much warmer than we expected. At least they have a bunch of fans spread out for the musicians.

After the tour we walked back to the apartment at a leisurely pace, and had some of Laura’s award-winning (well, I don’t know if they’re formal awards, but they are from me!) apple pie on the deck. The weather in NYC yesterday could not have been more delightful.

Before heading to the show, we had dinner at Bobby Van’s (the one on 50th Street). Getting there was a bit of a nightmare, because the Pulaski Parade was still underway, and most of the cross streets were closed off. We enjoyed a terrific meal there, with excellent service, but had to rush out at the end to make the curtain. That worked out, as it left room for Laura’s apple pie, since we had to skip dessert at Bobby Van’s. 🙂

Bobby Van's

Bobby Van's

An absolutely delightful afternoon/evening with wonderful people. One of life’s true pleasures! Thanks all for including us!

Amy Rivard and Alex Berger at Waltz Astoria

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We attend a lot of live music. Just this week, we saw Red Molly and The Nields at Joe’s Pub on Sunday. On Monday we attended a Livestrong Fundraiser. On Wednesday we saw Wicked (for the 8th time!). Last night was supposed to be downtime, to recharge the batteries for an even more packed series of shows, some of which involve reasonably long drives to attend.

The best laid plans… On Monday, at the Fundraiser, we saw 11 performers (covered in this post). They were all terrific, but two of the standouts were Amy Rivard and Alex Berger. Alex is about to return to the UK for a number of months, so we thought that would be our last opportunity to see him for a while. The next day, Alex let me know that Amy and he had arranged for an impromptu show at a cafe in Astoria (Queens) called Waltz-Astoria.

One more opportunity to catch Alex before he left was reason enough to go, but if you read my previous post, then you know that we were both mesmerized by Amy’s performance on Monday, so the thought of not attending was ridiculous.

The show was scheduled for 8pm, and we got there at 7:30. That gave us some quality time to chat with Alex and Amy before the show started.

Alex Berger and Amy Rivard

Alex Berger and Amy Rivard

We had an extremely pleasant surprise when Shannon and Jason walked in as well (the Livestrong Fundraiser was organized by them!). We didn’t get a chance to meet them on Monday, so it was a treat to chat with them in a relaxed atmosphere last night.

Amy sang a number of classics last night, including Dream a Little Dream, Ain’t Misbehaving, etc. She also did Taylor the Latte Boy, which is what captivated us on Monday.

Amy Rivard

Amy Rivard

Lois and I have no doubt that we (and many of you!) will be seeing Amy on Broadway in the not-too-distant future. She’s a star, in every respect. It’s just a matter of time until someone who casts for Broadway will be thanking their lucky stars that they crossed paths with Amy! You heard it here folks!

After every few songs by Amy, all accompanied deliciously on a grand piano by Alex, Amy stepped aside and gave the stage over to Alex, who sang two songs solo at a time, before Amy returned.

Alex Berger

Alex Berger

Alex was incredible, including debuting a song he recently completed co-writing with Nate Campany (who was not there last night). The song was fantastic. You should definitely click on Nate’s name above, because the song that starts playing is excellent, and the video is incredibly creative (pay attention to the fades, in and out). 🙂

Now, we have to start following Nate as well. Our burden just grows every single day. Boo hoo for us… 😉

The show was terrific, start to finish. But, the evening was delightful beyond the wonderful music. Most of the shows we attend are structured, with little interaction between strangers in the audience, or any kind of quality time to chat with the performers.

Last night, with Waltz-Astoria being a normal cafe, that happens to spotlight musicians and comedians regularly at night, the atmosphere was completely different.

We stayed roughly one hour after the show ended, talking with Shannon, Jason (her husband), Alex, Amy, a friend of Amy’s (Liz), but mostly, we got know another Jason (Whitfield), also a friend of Amy’s. Really great guy, and we look forward to meeting his fiancée soon (not just because she’s a Rockette!). 😉

Jason Whitfield and Amy Rivard

Jason Whitfield and Amy Rivard

We had a lot of laughs, learned a bunch of interesting things from and about a number of interesting people, and got to hear two amazing performers. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Of course, it was a little bit better than I described though. Here’s the link to the Waltz-Astoria Menu. You don’t need to click through, I’ll copy the description of their Carrot Cake:

One slice of our famous carrot is enough to share with a friend, or.. not. The cream cheese frosting is to die for!

An extremely accurate description. It was more than enough to share, and even though I offered some to Liz, she politely declined, so I got to experience the “or.. not” part. I gained a couple of pounds (seriously), but it was worth it! 🙂

We were back up at the house by 11:15pm, still talking about what a great night out it was. Missing out on a chance to just relax, turned out just fine! Thanks everyone for making it such a special evening!

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! 🙂

Richmond CenterStage

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The inaugural meeting of the CenterStage Foundation (organized to raise money for this amazing project) was held on September 11th, 2001. In an unplanned tribute to that meeting, a black-tie affair unofficially opening the Carpenter Theater to donors and dignitaries, was held on September 11, 2009.

The official grand opening of Richmond CenterStage was yesterday, September 12th, 2009, and what an opening it was! There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the afternoon, followed by a spectacular performance at night, including all nine resident performing groups.

For an excellent article covering the opening, including a video of a few of the highlights of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, read the coverage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

So, how did two life-long New Yorkers end up at both the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the grand opening performance? Simple, our closest friends are life-long Richmonders. Bob Mooney is the Vice Chairman of the CenterStage Foundation. He was instrumental, along with hundreds of other civic and artistic minded Richmonders, in working tirelessly, for eight years, to see this project to fruition.

There were five speakers at the podium before the actual ribbon cutting. Jim Ukrop (Chairman of the CenterStage Foundation), Dwight Jones (Mayor of Richmond), Tim Kaine (Governor of Virginia), Kathy Graziano (City Council Representative in Richmond) and Grant Mudge (Artistic Director for Richmond Shakespeare). All were rightfully bursting with pride over the birth of this wonderful Performing Arts center.

This was our first glimpse of the Mayor. Lois and I left extremely impressed with his presence and message. CenterStage is playing a small but important role in a sweeping revitalization of downtown Richmond, and we have faith that Mayor Jones is an excellent person to lead that transformation.

Note: All photos in this post can be clicked on to see larger versions.

Before and after pictures of the ribbon cutting ceremony:

Before Ribbon Cutting

Before Ribbon Cutting

After Ribbon Cutting

After Ribbon Cutting

As the ribbon was cut, dozens (perhaps as many as 200?) of the performers from the various resident companies burst through the doors, in what could only be described as a Mardi Gras style procession. The Jazz Band was incredible (leading the way), and all of the performers, in full regalia, mesmerized the crowd with their grace and infectuous smiles.

Processional

Processional

Confetti then showered down on the crowd:

Confetti

Confetti

After the ceremony, everyone was invited to explore the entire CenterStage complex, including the Carpenter Theater, Rhythm Hall and the Libby Gottwald Community Playhouse. We were blown away by everything we saw. What was more amazing than our own reactions were the spontaneous gasps, oohs and ahs that were involuntarily uttered by practically everyone that walked into any of the spaces (most notably the Carpenter Theater and the Donors Lounge).

Carpenter Theater

Carpenter Theater

To top that off, there was such an incredible spirit of belonging (being a part of this magical place), that after finishing the gasps, strangers started talking to each other and gushing about the place. It was extraordinary!

After grabbing a quick dinner at home, we returned to the Carpenter Theater for the grand opening show. We arrived shortly after 7pm for an 8pm curtain. The place was buzzing with a ton of people there already. The Carpenter Theater seats 1,736 people, and it was sold out last night! That would be impressive any night, but was even more impressive considering that NASCAR was in Richmond on Saturday! A local hero won that race, so it was a big weekend all around for Richmond!

While the show was spectacular in general, what made it magical (a word heard very often on both Friday and Saturday nights at the Carpenter) was the eclectic mix of genres performed, and the ability to sample a smorgasbord of art forms in one sitting. Sheer genius. Kudos to the people who envisioned it and executed their vision to perfection.

Here’s a concrete example from me personally (I’m sure there were hundreds of analogous experiences, but perhaps with a different collection of likes and misconceptions). Prior to last night, it would have been difficult for someone to get me to attend the Ballet or the Opera. I had strong conceptions of what an evening at either would entail.

While the selection from La Boheme for the Opera piece didn’t change my mind on that, I was shocked at how much I was immersed in the Richmond Ballet performance (which was the finale of the evening). They performed Windows (Final Section), a ballet choreographed by the founding Artistic Director of the Richmond Ballet, Stoner Winslett (now in her 30th year in that position!).

Windows Richmond Ballet

Windows Richmond Ballet

The Richmond Symphony (who were incredible all night long) accompanied the Ballet playing an original work commissioned for this piece. The music was exceptional, and it restored my faith that brilliant classical pieces continue to be created now, even though they are creatively different than the masters of a few centuries ago.

I could fill a few more pages covering each of the performances in detail, but instead, I’ll conclude this portion by calling out one additional extraordinary musician, who also mesmerized me with his play.

Amadou Kouyate played the 21-string Kora. He performed with the Elegba Folklore Society who presented an excerpt from Marketplace Suite. All of the dancers and percussionists in the Elegba performance were excellent. Still, I can’t help but highlight Amadou directly. His fingers seemed to be barely moving, yet the richness of sound that came out of the Kora was beautiful and mind-boggling. It was a long piece, and he kept up his level of play throughout. Amazing!

Here’s a YouTube video of him singing (he did not sing last night). Aside from the fact that I like the song, it shows a number of people playing a Kora. In the video, most are sitting down. You also see someone playing the Kora while standing up, which is how Amadou played it last night.

After the show was over, all of the performers, the three people who conducted the Symphony throughout the evening, and the hosts, Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid all came out on stage for a group bow:

Performers at Richmond CenterStage Opening

Performers at Richmond CenterStage Opening

As we were walking up the aisle, we bumped into a good friend of ours that we hadn’t seen in a while. We chatted briefly, and as we were parting company, I heard our names called out from roughly 20 rows away. It was another couple whom we haven’t seen in a while. Here’s a shot of me with them standing in front of the amazing Donors Wall at CenterStage:

Friends at the CenterStage Donors Wall

Friends at the CenterStage Donors Wall

We then walked over to the after party. It was a wonderful scene, with most of the performers milling about (no longer dressed in costume) and quite a number of the patrons as well. The food (and drink) were exceptional, and we got to chat with a few people.

For me, the highlight was speaking to Stoner Winslett about the ballet piece. Lois got her to sign our program. Cool!

Hadar and Stoner Winslett

Hadar and Stoner Winslett

Stoner told me that the Richmond Ballet is coming to the Joyce Theater in NYC this spring (April  6th to the 11th, 2010). We are going to do our best to see that show. See, it is possible to open a mind, even mine! 😉

Then Lois chatted with the incredible hosts of the entire evening, Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid. While both had well-known TV careers, they have continued their artistic careers, and have supported new ones, through their VA-based production company.

Bob and Tim Reid

Bob and Tim Reid

Both of them were charming and gracious and also both signed our program! Score!

Earlier in the day, Lois pulled off another little coup, and got all of the major players in the ribbon-cutting ceremony to sign the afternoon’s program. Way to go Lois! 🙂

Ribbon Cutting Program

Ribbon Cutting Program

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: