Broadway

A very Wicked Sunday :-)

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If you read my last post, you know that the highlight of yesterday was going to see Wicked for our fifth time. In addition to that specific highlight, the day turned out to be spectacular in a number of other ways. Therefore, this post will likely be very long, and I apologize if you’re only tuning in to hear what we thought of the two leads in Wicked. You can either search or skim to find out the $64k answer to that question. πŸ˜‰

Amazingly enough, I have checked off every single category that I have previously used in this one post. Well, it’s only amazing because there is something about each category in this post. Clearly, I could just check them all off every time if I felt like it. πŸ˜‰

We debated going in on Saturday night, but that decision ended up being made for us when I won a free entry into the nightly 7pm Omaha Hi-Lo tourney, which I played in the house. Since we’re less than a week away from the monthly poker update, I’ll just say that I came 10th (they paid the top 10 only), so it was a “good” result, but economically, far from first place (first was 15 times larger than the prize I won!). Also, because of Wicked on Sunday, this was going to be the fourth straight week that I would not be around to even try and play in the big Sunday weekly tourney. OK, that accounts for the Poker and Gambling categories being in this one.

When we woke up on Sunday, we both checked email on our Treos, and neither of us turned on our laptops. When we got home, we didn’t turn them on either. That made yesterday one of the only days in recent memory when we were in NY, didn’t have company, and both of use chose not to log on the entire day. Not sure it ever happened before, but if so, it’s a rarity. That also meant that there was no poker played yesterday, which is also unusual for a day in NY without company, but not as rare as not logging on. So, this qualifies as being in the Computers, Poker and Gambling categories.

We drove in on the early side, straight to the apartment. On the way, we listened to the latest CD from Girlyman (previously reviewed here) Joyful Sign, and loved it the entire way in. Shortly after arriving at the apartment, I went on my 8+ mile walk around the city. The weather was nearly perfect. 100% cloud cover (the sun didn’t even peek out for a second), and not too hot or too humid. Ten degrees cooler and it would have been perfect. My typical time (average would be a misnomer here) is 2 hours and 15 minutes. Yesterday it took me only 2 hours and 5 minutes, so the cool weather helped. Of course, I listened to my iPod the entire way, and it didn’t freeze this time, adding to the nice day. This qualifies for adding Music as a category, and of course, the entire post qualifies for Personal.

After a shower, we relaxed and watch Friday night’s episode of Monk (on the DVR). We always love Monk, but this episode was weak in comparison to most. We still enjoyed it, but aside from sharing with you what we did the entire day, it also qualified as one of only two things during the day that also correctly put this post into the Frustration category.

We debated what to do about lunch. Both of us were hungry enough to do a big meal, but after the gorging that we did last weekend, we were both glad to have slowed down this week (amazingly, I lost all of the weight I gained last weekend!). So, we also didn’t want to go too crazy. We finally decided to go to the Palm, across from the theater, but not over do it. Yeah, right. πŸ˜‰

We got to the theater, picked up our tickets at the Will Call, and crossed the street, only to find out that the Palm doesn’t open for lunch on Sundays. Perhaps they don’t open for dinner either, but a passerby told us they did, so they might. Marginally disappointed, we decided to find another restaurant. I spotted an Applebees 1/2 a block away on Broadway and 50th. We decided to head there. Serendipitously, when we got to the corner, I spotted the other Ruby Foos on the corner of Broadway and 49th. I previously blogged about how great Ruby Foos is, though I’ve only eaten at the uptown one before. Clearly, we both felt that we were meant to eat there. πŸ™‚

The menu is identical to the uptown location, and the decor is as well. The building itself uptown is two floors, so the layout inside is much more opulent, but there’s nothing wrong with this location. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals. That’s not entirely true. Lois actually didn’t like the filler and sauce for her main dish, but we so enjoyed the calamari appetizer, that eating just the grilled shrimp and scallops off of the top of her dish was good enough. This paragraph qualifies for the Food and Dining categories.

At the end of the meal, our waitress asked us if we were going to see a show. When we told her it was Wicked, she said that she was really interested in seeing it, because whenever her sister comes to visit her in NYC, she goes. Her sister has seen it five times, but our waitress was working each time, and hasn’t gotten to go yet. Omens anyone? I mentioned to the waitress that we were about to catch up to her sister. πŸ™‚

We strolled over to the theater, and were blown away by how good our seats were. It turns out that EE is actually the 4th row, not the 5th, as the AA row is only right and left orchestra. Essentially, the real orchestra is in row AA. πŸ˜‰

Of course, the omen of EE (5-5) for our fifth time, wasn’t lost on me. πŸ˜‰

We knew we would love the seats, and the performance, but we were both nervous about the abilities of the stars. I don’t want to turn this into a mystery novel, so I’ll dispense with the suspense. We knew within the first few notes that Glinda (played by Kendra Kassebaum) sang, that she was not going to cut it, by our standards. She has an excellent voice, but she doesn’t put it together for this role. Not even all that close. She’s by no means awful (like the understudy I wrote about), but it was passable, at best. OK, we still had anticipation of how Elphaba would sound.

She comes on in the second song, but doesn’t sing until the third. In the second song, it was obvious that Elphaba (played by Julia Murney) was an excellent actress. We were not disappointed in the acting of any of the previous leads (other than the understudy), but we typically sat much further back, so you don’t really appreciate facial expressions, etc. In fact, everything was far more interesting this close up, and I was painfully aware that it would be easy to get trapped into only wanting to see shows where the seats were this good. Given how much we’ve enjoyed so many other shows, and Wicked in particular, from much worse seats, that would be a real mistake!

Then we got to song #3, the first of many that showcase (or can) Elphaba’s talent and range, “The Wizard and I”. As with Glinda, it was obvious in the first few notes that Julia didn’t have it. She’s not bad either (though I believe that the raw vocal talent between the two lies in Kendra, not Julia). There are two problems with Julia’s voice:

  1. She can’t transition ranges smoothly. She might be able to sing in a particular range (high or low) reasonably well, but when she switches (which this role does frequently), her voice often cracks, or does something else that is less than stellar.
  2. She has no power, and when she pushed the notes that require it, I felt badly for her. Also, she couldn’t hit the highest of notes required by the role.

The last problem, though it was relatively minor, is that each of them brought their own special little styling or phrasing to their solos. None was over the top (as was the case with the oft-mentioned understudy), but it’s annoying nonetheless (I’ll expound momentarily on that theme). That said, one surprising positive note was that there was little fooling around when they sang harmonies together, and for the most part, it was pleasant and reasonably done, but most certainly not spine chilling!

The closest I’ve ever sat before yesterday was 22 rows back (so 18 rows further than yesterday). Lois had a single seat in row L once, when we bought an extra ticket for a surprise visitor from England. I sat with our other two friends in the balcony that day. Even in row L, which was only 12 rows further than yesterday, Lois says she saw so many new things from the close-up seats. That’s not a major statement though, since those of you who know Lois, know she’s essentially legally blind (no, for those of who don’t know Lois, that’s not a joke, or a crack at my wife). So, she was particularly thrilled to see things that I had easily seen before, even from far away. I think it made the performance magical for her, even though she felt the same way (if not even more critical) about the singing of the leads.

Now my exposition on styling and phrasing. Feel free to skip this rant, or the rest of the post, if all you came for was a review on this performance of Wicked. You’ve gotten that already. πŸ˜‰

I completely understand (but don’t like!) when a musical group that has been around for ages gets tired of playing the hits in exactly the same way each and every day. From my perspective, it’s still incumbent upon them to deliver what their paying audiences expect, but at least I understand it.

In some cases, they have good reasons/excuses. Bruce Hornsby is now teamed with Ricky Skaggs. When they perform, it’s mostly a Bluegrass theme, and it gave Bruce the opportunity to update some of his big hits in a radical way, but perhaps still appreciated by the fans who came to hear Bluegrass!

For a different perspective, I always love to listen to the live version of Mr. Bojangles by David Bromberg. The song was written by Jerry Jeff Walker. As an aside, Lois and I attended a benefit in Austin, TX in May 2006, with a lot of famous people presenting and/or performing. One was Jerry Jeff, who sang Mr. Bojangles (wonderfully!), and we were about 15 feet away from him! David tells (in the middle of the song) how he and Jerry Jeff used to play the song together live every night (forever), and how he (David) never tired of it. On the other hand, Jerry Jeff did, and after they would perform it for the audience, they’d play it for themselves, and “do horrible things to it“, so I really do understand.

The other excuse/reason to muck with a song would be if you were playing it to the same audience frequently, and you might expect that they would appreciate hearing it differently.

Unfortunately, none of those situations applies to a Broadway play. The overwhelming majority of theater goers are seeing any given show for the first time (and likely only time for that show). Second, the cast didn’t write the songs, and rarely have been in a given role for that long, and shouldn’t have the need for artistic freedom with the piece. Not to mention that there is (or should be!) a director involved, ensuring the quality.

Theater goers should easily fall into one of three categories:

  1. Never seen or heard the show/music before. While you can argue that they might like the stylized version, or least not know or care about the difference, I doubt you could argue that they would like the original (often Tony-winning!) version any less.
  2. Been to the show. Well, they’re coming back for more. πŸ˜‰ Unless they saw this specific cast, doing this specific stylized version, odds are that this group will be at least somewhat disappointed.
  3. Never been to the show, but listen to the CD. This might be the largest group, but certainly is second behind #1 if not. This group only knows the gold standard for how the music is meant to be sung. If they’ve listened to the CD more than once (or, in my case, over 1000 times, no exaggeration), they have no choice but to be disappointed. The correct version is imprinted on their brains. πŸ˜‰

There must be thousands, if not 10’s of thousands of ultra-talented actors/singers out there who would kill for an opportunity to star in Wicked. Here’s why I simply can’t comprehend the way the show is being performed (and I’m sure there has to be something wrong with me, or my thought process):

For the auditions, tell people that they have to listen to the Original Cast CD 1000 times, and come back when they can sing it note for note. Only then, do you audition for the acting part of the role.

What could be simpler? No styling, no phrasing, no ad-libing of any kind. You can either nail the songs or you can’t. If not, then Next!

But, for some reason, perhaps that the Director is bored hearing the same show every day, they allow the improvisations to continue, and they continue to recruit sub-par singers…

OK, it’s finally off my chest (sort of). Both Lois and I are decidedly against seeing it again with these two ladies in the lead. Here’s hoping they get swapped out sooner rather than later. That said, both of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience yesterday, and got to concentrate on other aspects of the show, which were delightful from our up-front perspective. I’m still laughing at the woman who reviewed the story as weak, the sets as weak, and the singing as fantastic. Oh well, that’s what makes the world interesting. πŸ™‚

So, is there a lesson learned here? Yes, trust YouTube! Seriously, it was obvious even from the really poor quality of the cell-phone made YouTube videos of both leads that this was not a role they could handle. The seats were too good, and everything else about the opportunity as it unfolded was awesome, that we really couldn’t pass it up. But, I know to trust my instincts in the future, and go with the force, Luke…

Both Fiyero and The Wizard were played by actors new to us in their respective roles. The Wizard is a character actor whom we’ve seen on TV hundreds of times! Both were outstanding, and added thoroughly to our enjoyment of the show.

The above obviously qualifies for both the Broadway and Music categories, thus rounding out all of my previous categories (with one exception, which I’ll get to next). Hopefully, it was obvious to you that the performances of the two leads was the second reason that this post qualified for the Frustration category…

If you needed any proof of why Lois and I are together after so many years, I’ll share an honest-to-goodness story from yesterday, which is not as uncommon as you might think. During the performance, I was thinking that if I were Bill Gates, I would rent out the theater on a Monday when it was dark, pay Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel (the two original leads, and both are on the Original Cast CD) to join the remainder of the current cast and chorus (or, if I really was Bill Gates, probably bring back the entire original cast for the night), and invite 2000 of my closest friends, to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime good time.

At intermission, Lois turns to me and says: “Wouldn’t it be great if we were rich, and we could pay Stephen Schwartz (the creator of the Wicked Musical) to get Kristin and/or Katie Kate Reinders back together with Idina or Eden Mendoza Espinosa (thanks very much to Steph for correcting my hurried mistakes in the comment below!), for just one night, and invite all of our friends?”

Folks, I’m not kidding. We’re too alike for our own good. The difference between us is that Lois only wished to be rich enough to pull it off. I wished to have the kind of money Bill Gates has, so that pulling it off wouldn’t make a dent, or seem even a little unusual for me to do. πŸ˜‰

I’m telling this next part out of order, because it is 100% inconsequential, other than it is a perfectly valid reason to tag this post with the final category, VoIP. πŸ™‚ While I was out walking, Lois called my cell phone, something she rarely does. She let me know that she couldn’t dial out normally from the apartment, but had to add a prefix of “9”, which routes through our external VoIP provider (see, a legitimate use of the VoIP category). Turns out that calls routed through our house line (which is our default) were failing because the house router got a new dynamic address from Verizon FIOS that was not in the previous ranges, and the firewall at the apartment didn’t like the new address. Problem solved easily this morning…

So, you think you’re done reading? I beg to differ. Our day was not over yet, as this was about Sunday, not just Wicked. πŸ˜‰

We went back to the apartment, packed up, and headed back to the house. On the way home, we listened to another Girlyman CD (Remember Who I am), and it too is excellent! Just as we were pulling in to our cul-de-sac, a car pulled in behind us. Our neighbors two doors down were coming home from the movies. We’re nuts about both of them (and their daughter), and even though we live 200 feet apart, we rarely get to spend quality time with them given each of our schedules.

So, after 10 seconds of schmoozing in the cul-de-sac, we unpacked our car and walked over to their house. We hung out for nearly 2 hours, and then got home and collapsed, watching two 1/2 hour comedies to unwind (both were hysterical), and then dropped off on the early side.

Finally, something not really related to Sunday. Aside from Wicked yesterday, which was a last minute thought, I have been unable to play in any of the weekly Sunday big tourneys in August so far. This has been marginally disappointing, given my excellent (if lucky) results in July. I did play in a number of qualifiers during the month, even knowing I couldn’t play that week, because you are permitted to unregister a seat, and get Tournament Dollars (TDs) which you can use to register into a future tournament. That said, since I knew I couldn’t play, I didn’t enter many qualifiers. I didn’t win the seat in any of them…

Today, while writing this blog, I decided to try my hand at a qualifier, given that I’m likely to be free (for the first time in a month!) this coming Sunday. I put up $15.50, and top three players out of 40 would win an entry. I came third, and won the seat! So, in the first try to win a seat in the first tournament that I can actually play in, for the least amount I could realistically spend to get in, I got the seat. Woo Hoo. Happy endings all around. πŸ™‚

P.S. Even though this post is incredibly long, somehow, I feel that I’ve left out something important from yesterday. Oh well, I should have logged on last night after all. πŸ˜‰

Can you count to 5? :-)

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I just checked, and while I mention our obsession with Wicked in 2 (or 3) postings, I have never blogged about Wicked directly. I was surprised, but it made sense when I thought about it for a second. I started this blog right after our last viewing of Wicked. Last? Yes, for the few of you out there who are woefully uninformed, Lois and I have seen Wicked 4 times already, all between July 5th, 2006 and December 29th, 2006.

It is far and away our favorite show of all time on Broadway, and between us, we have some shows that we’ve seriously loved, going back to Richard Kiley in Man of La Mancha, the original Fiddler on the Roof, etc. We’ve also loved some recent shows (including Brian Stokes Mitchell in Man of La Mancha, he was simply amazing!).

Of the fours times we’ve seen it, one had an understudy for Elphaba that was awful. Even so, not only wasn’t the show ruined for us, I still loved it! I have to say that I felt bad for the rest of the audience who was seeing it for the first time and thought that this is how it was supposed to be performed! πŸ™

Unfortunately, on that day we happened to take two very good friends with us, who happened to be filling in for two other good friends of ours who had to cancel at the last minute, and they really didn’t enjoy it as much as we expected they would. Perhaps if the lead Elphaba had been there, it would have made a difference…

You might wonder whether we had any desire to see it again? The definitive answer is yes. We haven’t gone (or even tried to go), because the two leads both changed on January 9th, 2007 (10 days after the last time we went), and the few YouTube videos of each of them doing their Wicked roles elsewhere were awful. I was wildly disappointed, because the thought of seeing fresh faces doing the leads was a positive thing for me.

I often think about how to find out whether they have settled in to the roles or not, and we are both itching to see it again. Today, out of the clear blue, I did a Google search for “wicked broadway review julia”. I found a review by someone in NJ who saw it this week. She (my assumption as to the gender) was wildly disappointed. That said, the review was the exact opposite of what I expected. She hated the story line (thought it was boring), hated the sets (thought they were boring), but (and this the point!), she got the chills when the two witches sang together.

All I was curious about is whether these ladies can sing. Of course, trusting someone who completely missed the beauty and depth of the storyline, and didn’t understand the simplicity and power of the set design, didn’t leave me in a very trusting mood…

So, off I went in search of more reviews. I found a NY Times site with 756 reviews of Wicked by users (not critics). A maximum of 5 stars, plus commentary. The average rating was 4.25 out of 5. So far, so good, but, how fresh were these reviews? Luckily, they are sorted in reverse chronological order, and the top 4 all had seen the two women I was interested in learning about. All 4 of them gave 5 stars, and all four wrote glowing reviews (which, aside from not knowing these particular leads, I completely agree with, every single word).

So, it would seem that either the YouTube videos were misleading, or they’ve gotten better now that they’ve been on Broadway for a long time, or, like the one night we had the awful understudy, the show overcomes inferior performances all on its own!

We’re up at the house for a slightly longer stretch than usual (what a blessing!). We have to be in the city Wednesday night and Thursday night this coming week. Lois asked me to check whether there were tickets available for either night. I laughed for two reasons:

  1. The show is typically sold out months in advance
  2. We have tickets to see Kenny Chesney on Thursday night, and I have dinner plans with a former colleague on Wednesday night

πŸ™‚

So, on a lark, I just searched for the next available dates. Amazingly, there were two tickets available in the orchestra for this Sunday’s matinΓ©e! I asked her if she wanted to “go for it”, and she was extremely enthusiastic about doing it! We never (and I need to emphasize, in case the bold lettering didn’t make the point, never) go into the city from the house for an activity by ourselves, and return to the house the same day. Yet, we’re about to do just that! πŸ™‚

Now, for the piΓ¨ce de rΓ©sistance, the seating. We got tickets in row EE, center orchestra. I told Lois that was possibly the last row, and she said she was fine with that. However, after paying for the seats, I discovered that it is the fifth row. We have never had seats this good in our previous times there, so we are quintuply excited (get it?). πŸ˜‰

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ll be sure to write up something small (or long) πŸ˜‰ when we finally get to see it for our fifth time.

Spamalot

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After our wonderful lunch at The Peking Duck House, we walked to Broadway to see a Sunday matinΓ©e of Spamalot. Eons ago, it was one of my favorite movies (Monty Python and the Holy Grail).

Given how much I loved the movie, and in general Monty Python, it’s a bit puzzling (to me) that I never took the time to go see this show. I wasn’t disinterested as much as just didn’t want to get out of my normal routine to go see it.

So, since this was destined to be a chock-full weekend of fun stuff to do, we scheduled this weeks in advance as well, and merrily walked over to the theater after lunch.

Like Curtains, this show is thoroughly entertaining. The music is fun and funny. The comedic acting is superb. Even Lois laughed a lot and enjoyed herself. This surprised me (quite a bit) because I would bet money that if she watched the movie (now or then), she would hate it.

While the show pays homage to the movie, and includes quite a number of the bits that were originated back then, it is not a one-for-one adaptation to the theater. In fact, there are some large themes that are completely new (and done very well). It is entirely in keeping with Monty Python style humor, so if you like that in general, you’ll be sure to enjoy the show.

The female lead was played by an understudy. We haven’t had much success with understudies lately (in particular, the ones from Wicked have disappointed mightily), but this one was amazing. Ironically, it left me wondering if the real lead is that much better, and if so, it could be worth it to go see her just to know.

All four of us loved the show (or so we all told each other) πŸ˜‰ and I am very happy to have finally made the effort to go see it. Recommended (not like Wicked, but like Curtains). πŸ™‚

Curtains The Musical

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Continuing on with our wonderful adventures this past weekend, after dinner at The Palm West on Saturday, we saw Curtains, the musical on Broadway. The main stars are David Hyde Pierce and Debra Monk. We went because our godson was interested in this, we had heard that it was pretty good, but mostly, because we love David Hyde Pierce!

It was thoroughly entertaining. The singing was mostly excellent, in particular when the entire chorus was singing together, but the songs were not memorable in any way. This was more about the story, and the comedic acting of a number of the cast, notably David and Debra. There were quite a number of laughs, and a few interesting plot twists as well.

All in all, a very pleasant evening, and I would recommend the show to anyone looking for a little mindless fun, in particular, if you liked Frasier and/or David Hyde Pierce in general.

P.S. For those who are NYPD Blue fans, Debra Monk played Katie Sipowicz for a number of seasons, in case you didn’t click over to her biography. We liked her in that role, but this role shows that she has real range, since there is zero resemblance to the Katie character, and yes, she can really sing!

P.P.S. The following doesn’t merit a post of its own, but does deserve a mention. Between lunch at Jackson Hole and dinner at The Palm West, the guys went to see the new movie Superbad. I am eternally grateful that Lois decided to skip this, as she would have been apoplectic in the first sentence (no joking whatsoever!). The F-word was said north of 10 times in one sentence…

In addition to non-stop cursing, the first 10-15 minutes are so prurient as to even make a geezer like me blush (and want to wretch!). While the remainder of the movie was still over-the-top in terms of cursing and overt sexual comments, it also got reasonably funny. In particular, all scenes with the police in them were hysterical. Also, there is a character named McLovin (I’m not ruining it, as all of the commercials show him). He does a wonderful job, again, in particular, in all of his interactions with the police. Finally, the ending is actually touching, and done in a reasonably good way, an attempt to redeem themselves a bit.

Bottom line, this movie is not recommended, but if you happen to see it, or happen to like this style of movie, there are quite a number of really hearty laughs in it.