It’s a good show, not a phenomenal one. Of course nothing could live up to the hype. It’s great that it’s bringing new people in to see musical theatre (as long as they’re rich enough to spend a ridiculous amount of money on tickets!)
The cast was wonderful. Their voices were clearly better than on the original cast album.
Act 2 is better than Act 1. I’m not a big rap fan, so factor that in, but Act 1 just seemed like a mixed bag, trying to fit in a LOT of lyrics without any real high points.
The songs in Act 2 are really good. The songs here are in a wide variety of styles from patter songs to jazz.
The problem is that while the show is an excellent history lesson, there is no story structure. Hamilton is rash, but the show never confronts that fact in any way, so it’s not clear that’s why it is a tragedy.
The relationship between Hamilton and Burr is a bit like Jesus and Judas, but unlike in Jesus Christ Superstar, you don’t have an emotional attachment to either of them, so their fates feel empty in the end. There is no equivalent to the “So long Judas, poor old Judas number,” just Burr’s one line about how he has become the villain in the story, which could have been the most powerful line in the show, but is lost in other business.
Eliza becomes the central character in the last number, but it feels like an epilogue full of exposition, because her character wasn’t developed earlier.
All that said, it’s a rousing show, an excellent history lesson, and was staged, sung, acted and danced brilliantly.
Last night Dani and I saw War Paint at the Goodman Theatre. It’s an excellent show starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole about the rivalry between Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. It opened in Chicago a couple of months ago, and we were lucky that it extended its run by two weeks allowing me to grab two front row seats of what was a sold out house.
The show is presumably in tryouts for a Broadway run, because the sets and lighting were quite extraordinary, and couldn’t possibly have been paid for with the revenues from a limited run at the Goodman.
The central cast of four characters were all Tony nominees, and the stars had four Tonys between them, so the talent was top notch.
I really liked the score, which has many songs, all very accessible, some quite complex, and which was rendered by the largest pit orchestra I’ve heard in some time.
As with most shows in tryouts, changes are being made. I understand 20 minutes has been cut already, which was a good thing because the show was the right length.
The problem the show faces is that the two main characters, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden⏤who are on separate sides of the stage almost continuously for the whole show⏤never actually met in real life. The show invents a scene at the end where they do meet, and it works surprisingly well. However the number at the end of the first act sets up the idea that they think maybe they should meet, and another almost 30 years elapses before that last scene. That’s a long time to wait for the payoff. I would probably cut that number from the end of Act 1, and find something to cut from Act 2 to speed it along, perhaps the number with the two costars, which didn’t really advance the story.
I would probably cut that number from the end of Act 1, and also find something to cut from Act 2 to speed it along, perhaps the number with the two costars, which didn’t really advance the story. I’m sure it’s difficult to decide what to cut when you have so much good material, and such great talent performing it.
Although makeup isn’t a topic that interests me, The show is really about starting with nothing and creating a successful business. The show’s challenge will be to find a way to connect with a mass audience, as younger people have never heard of the two women who were literally the first female titans of industry.
This anniversary trip to New York City features a lot of fine dining, but it started because of Waitress, a new musical based on the movie, and with a score by Sara Bareilles. Dani asked for tickets for Christmas, and I was able to get them prior to opening night.
Sara tells the story of how she became involved with the show in her biography, Sounds Like Me. At the time she didn’t know the director, Diane Paulus, was quite famous, and she hadn’t seen the movie. But when offered the job she went home and watched it, and immediately wrote the first song for it.
That song and most of the others are on an album, What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, that she released last year, and which Dani and I have been listening to in heavy rotation. It’s a great album, but it’s very, um, Sara-ish. So it was with some trepidation that we went to see the show, since not many people can sing—or even play—a song the way Sarah Bareilles does.
I’m pleased to report that: 1) this cast—and especially the lead, Jessie Mueller—can sing them that way; 2) the onstage band is on top of it; 3) this is an amazing Broadway show, not just some pop songs set to a movie. In fact, the songs fit so perfectly that, having not seen the movie, I can’t really imagine it without the songs.
What’s remarkable is how polished the show and cast are given that we saw it on the second night of previews. There might have been one song in act 2 that I would have cut, but other than that I wouldn’t change a thing. The audience agreed, and was wildly enthusiastic from the moment the lights dimmed. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a more enthusiastic audience.
I was struck by how much of Sara’s album made it into the show, although one great song, Door Number Three, didn’t make it in recognizable form. But for the most part her album will give you a great idea of what this show sounds like, even if you can’t exactly figure out who will be singing what number.
Needless to say, we loved the show, and if I could see it again tonight, I would!
Alexander Sage Oyen is a young composer of Broadway-style music. He first came to my attention when a few of Dani’s friends sang on his debut album, released shortly after his graduation for Dr. Phillips High School. Since then I’ve purchase two more of his albums, which include many excellent numbers that could easily come from a musical in the style of Songs for a New World or The Last Five Years.
Last year Dani, Linda and I attended a revue of his songs at The Abbey, and the year before that, Hunter and I saw a reading of his musical, Moneyshot! It’s about a girl who goes to Los Angeles to be an actress and ends up as a porn star.
That reading of the show had a number of good songs, but the plot and pacing didn’t quite work. I sent Alex a couple of pages of notes about it, and he sent me unreleased recordings of the score. So it was with great interest that I went last night to see the opening of the show at the Orlando Fringe Festival.
The first thing I noticed on the poster was that the book had been rewritten by a different author, so I expected a different approach to the story. Indeed, that was the case. The previous slow start, prior to going to LA, was completely cut, as was a drawn out chase scene in the ending (which would never have worked onstage).
The middle part was less changed, although the plot is advanced more through songs and less through dialogue, a good move. The show still has two fundamental problems, though.
The first problem is that it revolves around a love story between the lead and a guy she meets on her first day in LA and moves in with. Their relationship is never developed, and just doesn’t ring true. In fact, since his part has been pared down and his roommate’s part bolstered, I kept expecting her to fall for the roommate instead.
The second problem is that this is a show about a girl who becomes a porn star, but to avoid any nudity (not a requirement of the Fringe, but appropriate for a show rated PG13) her entire career has been skipped. She goes for an interview, and then, except for a couple of arguments, we skip forward five years and she’s thinking of quitting. This simply doesn’t work. We don’t see why she likes the job at first, why she grows tired of it, or why it causes the arguments. And since the arguments are about a relationship that never developed, it leaves the whole thing looking for a convincing story line.
That said, Alex’s music is excellent. I noted many of the songs had changed. I wish he’d left in a couple of the catchier ones, but there were also some good new ones.
The talent was top notch. All three leads were excellent singers and actors, and the choreography and pacing were terrific. Clever use of rolling chairs, tables and couches made for lightning fast set changes.
Music was prerecorded, and very well produced, and the main cast members had fairly good radio mics. At times it was hard to hear the ten or so person chorus.
Four lighting towers topped with robotic lights provided a stunning light show during the overture. I wish this had been saved for a big finale, because the show sort of trails off at the end. It could have used that final boost and a bigger production number to finish off, but that’s going to depend on yet another try at finding a compelling story.
It’s really impressive how quickly they load in these shows, as Fringe has the same theater scheduled back to back to back.
The audience was large and appreciative. Given the care with which this production was put together, I’m sure this is one of this year’s top Fringe shows.
This trip we fit in four shows: three new ones and one favorite.
This Disney show is based upon a movie from the 90s that flopped but became a fan favorite. The Alan Menken score was resurrected and Harvey Fierstein added story, including a love interest, in what was to be a touring company show that could later be offered to school productions. But its out of town opening was so well received they decided to take it to Broadway. On broadway it received two Tonys, and has been playing more than a year.
With that build up, I was expecting more. The plot was extremely trite, shallow and formulaic, there was no character development, and the songs are only passable. The dancing and energetic (and large cast) was great, though. But it’s definitely not a show I’d sit through again.
Norah Ephron’s last project was this dramatic play about Mike McAlary, the New York reporter and columnist. I don’t usually go for contemporary dramas, but this one featured Tom Hank’s Broadway debut, so we gave it a try. It’s a great production, with a wonderful cast, and surprisingly interesting material. The New Yorkers who comprised the audience obviously good even more out of it than we did. Hanks is an amazing actor, especially in person. It was also neat to see a Broadway show where the performers had to actually projects, as they weren’t miked.
The Book of Mormon
This is the most disgusting, irreverent, profane abomination I’ve ever seen. We loved it. I’d already listened to the soundtrack album and envisioned how it would be staged, and it was pretty much as I’d imagined it. Basically, it’s South Park about Mormons with music. If you think a show about female circumcision would make a good musical… well, you need help. But it does.
I think this was my 15th time seeing this show, so I’ve seen strong and weak performances in every role. The Broadway version is usually best, since the sets are bigger and better, and it often attracts the best talent. Not tonight, though. It was like watching a high school production. Glinda was being played by the standby, and she threw away every one of her funny lines. But she wasn’t the only problem. Fiero also seemed like a high school student, with no depth of character, and extremely awkward dance movements. Elphaba had a beautiful singing voice, but no chemistry with the other performers. I wouldn’t have said it was possible for this show to contain so little humor and so little emotional impact. The audience still loved it, but it left us bemused. Thank goodness it’s not always like this!
Linda and I spent today on our own while our friends were off doing other stuff. We slept in and then found a nearby teeny tiny Japanese restaurant, Ichi-Ricki, for lunch. I’m glad the reviews I’d read warned me it was nothing but a door with a paper sign, because otherwise we’d have missed it. The restaurant is actually in the basement, and has only six tables. The sushi was very good.
After lunch we visited Westminster Abbey, which somehow we’ve missed in all our trips to London. There are a lot of people buried here who spent their lives living off public funds. There are also a few people who actually did something useful.
Outside, we walked through the cloisters, the museum and the garden. One of the more interesting sights was England’s oldest door, which apparently dates from 1050 AD, and appears to still be functional. I looked for a Home Depot sticker, but didn’t see one.
In the evening we walked to Her Majesty’s Theatre to see Phantom of the Opera in its original venue. God, I hate that show. Great music, good staging, completely ineffective story telling. My third time seeing it, and I like it a bit less each time, I guess because it seems like such a missed opportunity to tell a great story. The original movie with Charles Laughton is actually much more moving. It paled next to BIlly Elliot, that’s for sure. Not helped by the fact the audience was full of drunk Chinese who couldn’t follow it. The downside of going to a famous show, I guess.
After the show we cabbed it to Clos Maggiore, three times voted London’s most romantic restaurant. My third visit, and it always wows. Not terribly expensive, great wine list, great food and service. Everyone loved it.
We had a 2007 Ramonet Gevrey Chambertin Blanc and a 1999 Pommard by Ferdinand Laurent Pillot. Both excellent. Martin also had a 1995 Rieussec by the glass with his foie gras. But the 1965 Castarde Bas Armagnac I finished with blew them all away. Great meal.
We’re off to London for a few days before heading out of Southampton on a twelve night wine cruise. This was Linda’s first experience with the airline beds that recline all the way, and they certainly make a difference; we both got about five hours of sleep, and arrived in London already on schedule (although the afternoon nap always helps, too).
Linda claims the food on Delta was the best she’s had on a plane, but I skipped it, except for the salad and pumpkin soup (which I admit was exceptional). We were lucky to make our connection in Atlanta. The only reason we did is because the receptionist in the Delta lounge bumped us to an early flight out of Orlando. Unfortunately his attempt to bump our luggage failed, and it didn’t show up until after dinner.
We used Eddie Manning Limo to pick us up at the airport. We’re traveling with Audrey and Emilio, and Martin, none of whom have been to London before, and the three parties all had different planes distributed between two airports. Eddie was able to react to a 5-hour delay and put another limo on the job with just one email. I used them before and will use them again because they’re so accommodating.
I’m very impressed with our hotel. It’s The Sanctuary House in Westminster, just south of St. James Park. The rooms are spacious by London standards, and everything is brand new or freshly painted. The only downside is extremely creaky floors. For $240 a night it is a steal. We had lunch in the Fuller’s pub downstairs.
Before dinner we showed our friends how to use the underground by taking a ride from the conveniently close St. James Park station to Embankment, and from there walked up into Covent Garden and through the theatre district. The area around Leicester Square has become quite the casino district now that you don’t need to be a member to go into the casinos. It’s lit up like a mini Las Vegas.
Our destination was l’Atelier, one of our favorite restaurants in the world. Because of our large party (and possible our inability to dress for dinner, having no luggage) we weren’t able to sit at the counter, but instead ate upstairs in La Cuisine, which offers the same food but without the interaction with the people behind the counter. The multi-course tasting menu and matching wines were superb, and everyone enjoyed the three-hour experience.
After dinner, Audrey and Emilio were more than ready for bed (as they were the ones with the five hour flight delay) but Martin was game to stroll back through Piccadilly Circus and have a midnight Champagne cocktail with us at a trendy looking Italian restaurant and bar.
On Wednesday we met at 11am and headed for the British Museum. Near the museum we found a little Korean place called Han Kang that had good reviews and indeed we had an excellent lunch.
The British Museum was just a few blocks away, and we spent a pleasant three hours looking at dead people and the things they used to own.
After resting up back at the hotel it was time for the evening’s entertainment. The underground stairs are hard on Audrey’s knee, so she and Emilio took a cab to the Victoria Palace Theatre, but Linda and Martin and I walked, a pleasant half mile stroll.
Billy Elliot is one of my favorite shows, and it’s better here in London than anywhere else. Great, as always. It was fun for Martin to see how much better a show is in its original theatre, and a treat for Audrey and Emilio to experience it for the first time.
After dinner we took a cab to Kensington to an Indian restaurant we like called Zaika, where a snippy receptionist informed us that because we were 15 minutes late the kitchen was closed. I guess it would have been the bum’s rush anyway, so we instead had a nice dinner at the nearby Strada Cucina Italiano, a well-disguised member of a massive chain that is much nicer than the website suggests.
A busy couple of days to start off our trip, but we’re on-schedule and ready for more.
We just got back from Spider-Man. This is the second time we’ve seen a show before and after they fixed it (The Addams Family was the first). The original version was so bad it prompted me to write a review entitled Spiderman: Turn Off the Suck. This version of Spider-Man is nearly a total rewrite. I’d say more than half the dialogue was new. They added 30 minutes of exposition to explain the plot and motivations, rearranged some confusing scenes, re-staged most scenes, cut several subplots that didn’t work, made much better use of their moving video walls, and essentially discarded the original act 2, nearly in its entirety. They also got rid of the “geek” chorus, the spiders with mannequin legs and the lonely guitarists standing at the edge of the stage.
In the original version, the main villain, the Green Goblin, died very early in the show, and the second act was incomprehensible nonsense about a spider goddess making Peter Parker think New York had been destroyed so he would fall in love with her. Thankfully, that is gone, and now the Green Goblin survives until the very end. Because he was so funny, they have given him several opportunities to essentially do a standup schtick with the audience, and there is a hysterical bit where he tries to navigate a voice mail system to leave a threatening message. This also moves the climactic battle to the end of the show. Duh. These changes have upgraded the show from a D- to a B+. It was an expensive but shrewd move to close this show for six weeks, dump director Julie Taymor and start over. I applaud those who had the guts to take a chance on it.
Some Broadway shows have plots so convoluted that it requires advance study to follow them. This is a not a problem for Priscilla Queen of the Desert. The entire plot may be summarized as: three drag queens and a bus.
That’s not to say the show isn’t fun. It is. Filled with stunning costumes (cupcakes, human paint brushes, a dress made of flip flops), top notch musical performances, and a collection of pop hits from the 70s and 80s, the show will delight anyone who enjoyed La Cage Aux Folles (although that show actually has a deep story).
As good as the cast was, they were at times upstaged by the bus. It twirls, spins, opens up, hangs over the front rows of the audience, serves as an anchor for a twenty foot long high-heeled shoe, and eventually every surface of it is revealed to be a video wall. If it sounds tacky, it is, but all in good fun. The audience ate it up.
Earlier in the day we had lunch at Jean Georges, one of our favorites, and New York’s best lunch deal. It was a novelty to simply walk downstairs from our room to go to the restaurant.
Then we went for a long walk in Central Park. I’d never really had a chance to explore before, and we climbed to the top of Belvedere Castle. It was fun, but hot, and we all needed showers when we got back to the room.
Our late dinner after the show was at db Bistro Moderne. So nice to be in a town where you can make an 11pm dinner reservation and not be keeping the waiters up late.
When we first planned this trip to New York, I asked Ron if there were any Broadway shows he wanted to see, and he mentioned Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. Having heard how awful the show was, and that it was by far the most expensive Broadway show ever produced, I admit to a morbid fascination to see just how bad it was. So we got tickets to see it. When we purchased them, American Express insisted on reading a warning that many purchasers had been unhappy with the show and that there would be no refunds. Not a good sign when you’re spending $300 a seat!
We knew the show had never officially “opened.” technically it is still in previews, the longest any show has ever remained so, and a sure sign of trouble. Nevertheless, it continues to be sold out. Since the day we bought the tickets there have been two other interesting developments: the director, Julie Taymor, was essentially fired, and they’ve announced the show will close to for a month or two to be reworked. In fact, today is its last day.
With all that going against it, I was expecting it to be bad, and I wasn’t disappointed. It might not be the worst Broadway show ever, but it’s in contention. If you factor in production cost, it’s a clear winner.
The main reason it sucks is the usual one: story. It seems as if they couldn’t bear to just retell Spiderman’s origin, so they layered two incomprehensible plotlines on top of it.
Incomprehensible plot line number 1: Four unidentified teens are attempting to come up with a Spiderman story that is essentially this show. The story is… a retelling of Spiderman’s origin, combined with incomprehensible plot line number 2.
Incomprehensible plot line number 2: Arachne is a mythical character who committed suicide and became an immortal spider. Now she is in love with Peter Parker and is creating imaginary versions of his past villains and convincing everyone on the planet that the world is being destroyed (or not) to convince Peter to be with her rather than Mary Jane. If that sounds like it makes no sense, it’s because it makes no sense. It is, however, a good excuse for having lots of people dressed as spiders dangling from cables.
The first half of Act 1 is so bad that the audience was giggling in embarrassment over how bad it was! I’ve never experienced that before.
The other huge problem with the show is the dull, repetitive and poor music by Bono and U2. There might be five halfway decent songs, and that’s being generous.
A lot of people have said they don’t know where the 70 or 80 million bucks went for this show, but I didn’t feel that way. There are tons of giant moving things: set pieces, video walls, ramps, lifts, hoists, plus a rigging system that can fly two people over the audience as they fight. It looks expensive.
The show has exactly two things going for it: those giant moving things, and the impressive arial work of the eight stuntmen dressed as Spiderman. I’ve seen a lot of over-audience flying, but this is truly impressive. It’s also the reason the audience applauds at the end, although there was no unanimous standing ovation, the first time in a while I’ve seen that.
If they can continue to pack the theater after they rework (and presumably officially “open”) they may, at $300, eventually pay back the investment, but this show can’t travel, which limits its revenues. If you take away the gimmicks that are clearly not portable, it would be unbearable.
The show sucks mainly because Julie Taymor, who co-wrote and directed, is a mask designer, not a writer or director. She won a Tony for directing Lion King, but that already had a story and a score, and she won the Tony because it was her idea to design cool masks and put them on top of characters’ heads instead of over their faces. That doesn’t make her a writer or director. Obviously.
So now that they’ve called in others to fix it, what will they do? Will they have the guts to discard the two incomprehensible plot lines and all but five songs? That seems unlikely. As a result, I’m betting that the Spectacular Spiderman will continue to suck, but perhaps just not so spectacularly.
The touring production of West Side Story visited Orlando this week, and Linda and I saw it on our season ticket subscription to Broadway Across America. Of all the hundreds of musicals we’ve seen, it’s curious that neither of us had ever seen this show onstage. Of course, we’ve seen the movie, but the show’s complex orchestral score must be beyond the talents of regional theaters, so we had to wait for this revival.
Surely no other fifty-year-old musical stands up as well as this one. Even today the orchestration is fresh, cutting edge, and unlike anything else. And the choreography is simply the best we’ve seen, easily outdoing other famous “dance” musicals such as Oklahoma. The extremely young troupe put incredible energy into each number, and it was easy to believe they were two teen gangs; they were!
The voices in this show were good, particularly Michelle Aravena as Anita. (We saw her on Broadway in 2006 in A Chorus Line.) Ali Ewoldt as Maria was also good. Sadly, the lead for Tony was sick, and his understudy wasn’t at the level of the other performers; he seemed more like he belonged in a (good) school production of the show.
Amazingly, the Bob Carr acoustics failed to defeat the sound engineer, perhaps because the levels were lower than most shows. As a result, the orchestra sounded great. Most of the lyrics were also clear, although America was inexplicably unintelligible.
This show mixes fairly extensive Spanish dialogue and lyrics with English, which works great and adds to the believability of the antagonistic relationship between the Sharks and Jets. Because the plot is conveyed through the action, no translation is needed. An excellent show.
For a decade we held season tickets to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, which hosted some of the best productions in the Southeast, but then they terminated their affiliation with Broadway Across America, and stopped getting the interesting touring companies. So, for the past two years, we’ve subscribed to the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center in Orlando, a theater with worse acoustics than the average 7-Eleven restroom.
Once again last night, the Bob Carr soundly defeated the audio system (pun intended). But the touring show Rock of Ages has far worse problems than audio. With the exception of the female lead, this was the most untalented cast I’ve ever heard in a national touring company. And her ability to sing and act simply made everyone else look even worse. Honestly, I’ve seen many high school casts better than this one. As the Orlando Sentinel critic noted, we couldn’t tell if they were paying homage to the songs, or parodying them.
The song choices themselves were good, and the on-stage musicians played them fine. But the songs have so little relationship to the show that, even if they had been well sung, they could have provided no emotional tug.
Like In The Heights, the show attracts non-theatregoers. The misanthropes next to me appeared to have never been to a cultural event, talking through the show and occasionally shouting at the players.
While some in the audience did laugh at the bits of dialogue they could understand, it had the feeling of nervous laughter, since the book writer seems to have simply thrown in every idea that came to him (again quoting from the Sentinel) with an emphasis on middle school references to sexual anatomy.
The best thing about the show was the second act, because we were at home, asleep.
Tonight we had dinner at Thai Blossom in Winter Garden, a restaurant in the Edgewater Hotel around the corner from The Chef’s Table. The Thai food was mostly quite good, and the place was packed by the time we left. Our wine was opened by the owner, who then left to get ready to be in the show playing across the street at the Garden Theatre.
After dinner we listened to the jazz band that plays on the fourth Friday of every month, then strolled to the theatre and chatted with Becky Stafford, its president, who is the mother of a boy Dani performed with at Trinity.
Then we went in to see the play, a farce called Noises Off. It was entertaining, at times frenetic, but never quite the uproarious comedy intended. It’s divided into three acts, each of which contains the same play-within-a-play. In the first act it is being rehearsed by a band of fairly inept actors. In the second act the set is reversed, and we watch them fight backstage during a performance. In the final act things are flipped back around, but the production comes completely unglued. Good fun.
It’s been more than a couple of years since we’ve been to Del Frisco’s, and it was near the Shakespeare Center, so we decided to have an early dinner there on Friday. Since our last visit they’ve completed the seamless connection of two different buildings, and created a new, large entry hall between them.
I still think Del Frisco’s is the best steakhouse in Orlando, even with the explosion of competitors in recent years. The difference is that red-hot metal plate that lets you finish cooking your sliced prime strip steak any way you like (and the butter all over it doesn’t hurt, either). The spinach, sauteed onions, and house salad are really better than the other steakhouses’ also. It’s not a low-cal place, and it’s even more expensive than Morton’s, but when you want the best steak, it’s the place to go.
The 39 Steps is a comedic version of the classic Alfred Hitchcock film. It combines the original (fairly inane) plot with zany action made even zanier by the fact that four people have to play all the roles. It becomes increasingly manic, and by the end some of the characters are having conversations with themselves. Monty Python meets Alfred Hitchcock is a fairly good description. One fun aspect of the play was trying to find all the references to Hitchcock’s other films (in the scene at right, he’s about to climb through the “Rear Window”). It was quite amusing, although perhaps not quite as gut-bustingly hysterical as claimed.
After the always superb lunch at Jean Georges (perhaps my favorite restaurant in the world), we strolled down Broadway, which becomes a giant flea market closed to traffic on Saturdays. Then, in the evening, on the spur of the moment, we went to the revival of La Cage Aux Folles starring Kelsey Grammer. It was fun, as always, but I wasn’t sure it deserved its Tonys; I couldn’t help thinking that parts of the Trinity High School production had been better!
For dinner we walked to Hell’s Kitchen and had an nice French meal in the darkly romantic and jazzy Chez Josephine‘s, with live piano and trumpet jazz. Occasionally a patron would play a set; an elderly black woman really impressed with her sultry voice and lightning riffs.
Sunday morning our three-week adventure came to an end, with Dani winging her way back to Chicago and Linda and I headed back to Orlando.
When we saw The Addams Family in Chicago during its test run, the songs were good, but the show was pretty poor. So poor we couldn’t imagine how it made it to Broadway (admittedly we saw it when its star, Nathan Lane was out sick). So, gluttons for punishment, we decided to see it on Broadway. I purchased tickets early enough that even though the theatre was sold out, we had front row seats.
From the first note it was clear that the entire show had been reworked. The first act was completely rewritten, with lame numbers cut, and an almost entirely new book. A new plot (one that actually made sense) had replaced much of the old, with The Addams Family now aware that they are strange, and attempting to be normal for one night (and failing miserably, of course). The songs mostly remained. The audience loved it, and certainly we loved the first act. Less work had been done on the second act, so the show only ended up being good, not great, but it was an amazing improvement. And Nathan Lane is indeed a comedic genius.
Afterward we went to our traditional post-theatre dinner at Sardi’s, which never changes.
A large hallway connects the bedroom and living room.
It’s the nicest we’ve stayed at in the theatre district, with upscale furnishings in the lobby and rooms, and a very spacious one bedroom suite at a reasonable price. It’s just off 7th Avenue at 51st street, so an easy walk to all the theatres and to Columbus Circle for our lunch at Jean Georges.
It looks like this is the closest we’re going to get to Iceland. Although we can’t really detect it on the ship, apparently there is a 35 knot wind blowing across the harbor entrance, which makes it impossible to dock. So another port scratched off the itinerary.
Years ago we sailed on the Norway (once the liner The France) and they did complete Broadway shows in their theatre. That’s probably the last time I really enjoyed a cruise ships entertainment program. Usually I just skip it. Linda tried one show on this ship and came to the same conclusion.
But this ship did have a lounge pianist, Eric Stone, who was in the original cast of A Chorus Line, and he was very good. Linda spent every night there. If you asked for a Broadway tune he would do a ten minute version of the whole show, with explanations of the plot!
A highlight of this cruise was that John Maxtone-Graham was on board, and delivered five very entertaining lectures about the history of ocean liners. I made sure not to miss any of those.
For the past month I’ve had sinus headaches and jaw aches, but when I went to my dentist at Starbase Dental last week he couldn’t identify a particular tooth that was the problem. He prescribed antibiotics and told me to check back after vacation. But the problem has been getting worse, with hot or cold foods causing a headache. The trouble is that nothing hurts except when I’m having the problem, which occurs only every few hours (or as soon as I lie down). Now I’m fairly sure the cause was my upper left wisdom tooth because that one hurt (but only when I was having a headache) if I wiggled it.
So rather than put up with another three weeks of sleep deprivation and headaches, today I went to the Carnaby Street Dentist and had it pulled. What a great place that is, with really friendly people; Sarah, who offered me several options, pulled it with absolutely no pain. She sent me off with hand-written instructions and some antibiotics. I’m sure it will hurt again later, but right now my head feels better than it has in a month.
Dani likes this sign because it’s the name of a Star Trek DS9 character. Well, the character’s name is Curzon Dax, not Curzon Plaza.
Earlier today we went to lunch at Nobu, the famous sushi place. We had… sushi. It was… sushi. Hmmm…. I must be missing something. Why is this famous?
Tonight we had theatre tickets to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new show, Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. (Full disclosure: I’ve always thought that Phantom was a dumb show with good music and staging.) In this version the Phantom has moved to New York’s Coney Island, and guess who happens to also show up there? This was an odd show that has proven to be unpopular, as shown by the half empty theatre. Defying the odds, I liked it the best of the three of us. The voices were superb, much better than any other Phantom production I’ve seen. Dani hated the music, but I thought most of the second half was very good. The problem is that the first act sucks dead toads. Then, weirdly, the second act manages to tell a more cohesive story than Phantom ever did. Unfortunately, it’s a tragedy. Between that and the rework needed on the first act, we’re betting it never opens on Broadway. Then again, we made the same bet about The Addams Family.
We had a late supper at Clos Maggiore in the theatre district, a romantic little restaurant with good food, a fantastic winelist and disjointed service. Then home to bed, my toothlessness still not a problem. Yay!
I was awakened by Linda informing me it was 11:30AM and we were about to miss our lunch reservation! A quick shower and short cab ride took us to Petrus, one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, where we had a leisurely, expensive, pleasant but not remarkable lunch. The room and service were great, and I’m glad we had a chance to check it out at one fourth of the insane dinner prices.
Afterward, I was proud of myself for successfully navigating the surrounding residential area to take us straight to Harrods, where we laughed at the prices and bought some cheese, ham and bread for a picnic.
In the evening we went to our favorite London venue, the enchanting Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. There’s something magical about theatre in the woods, all the more so since the show was Into the Woods! We enjoyed a bottle of wine, some stinky cheese and French bread at a picnic table and then went in to the show, where we had front row seats due to our extreme advance planning. This is the fourth show we’ve seen here, and while all were good, this was superb. As always, Sondheim’s material is challenging to both performers and audience, and the second half of this show is somewhat expendable, but the cast was fantastic, and the direction was genius. In fact, the director discovered a whole second show in the role of the narrator, who he cast as a young boy lost in the woods, telling the story using his toys. Wow!
I made orange rolls for breakfast, in my ongoing effort to clear out the fridge for vacation. Then for lunch we walked down to Addis Abeba and had a platter of mostly vegetarian offerings — very tasty. On the way back we passed the interesting chair sculptures in Raymond Park and stopped at Vinic to buy some chardonnay.
Tonight was the final program in the summer season at the Northwestern Interpretive Center, An Evening With Stephen Schwartz. It was definitely the highlight of the series. In a half hour interview before the show, Mr. Schwartz played and sang two of his songs, and discussed the development process. Then there was a two hour review put on by the NU orchestra and six musical theatre majors. It featured songs from all of Mr. Schwartz’s shows.
A highlight was a segment where Mr. Schwartz discussed the development of the song The Wizard and I from Wicked, and played and sang the two versions of Making Good that preceded it in the development process. Shoshana Bean, the second Broadway Elphaba, was a special guest, and performed a half dozen numbers, ending with Defying Gravity.
We were also delighted that the fifteen songwriters we saw last night had an opportunity to perform four of the songs we enjoyed most, and this time I got them on video.
One lasting impression was that each of the fifteen student songwriters, their three mentors and Mr. Schartz are all talented musicians and singers in their own right, which is contrary to my previous concept of musical songwriters.
It’s been interesting that the only two programs we would have skipped during this summer theatre series were the two that were theatre! All three concerts have been terrific.
We had a late night pizza at Lou Malnati’s, closing the place up at 11pm.
We had a quiet day of reading. We went to Kansaku for lunch and had the salmon ceviche roll again. We also had a north shore blvd roll, which was rolled in soy paper rather then seaweed, something I never had before. We had dinner at The Stained Glass, and then went to see Not Wanted on the Voyage at NU.
The show was unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. The score is beautiful, the casting great, the performers flawless, the set and lighting design interesting, costumes great, and direction thoughtful and inventive. The result was terrible. A hundred ideas, none of them integrated, all coming together in a meaningless train wreck. I can’t say one bad thing about the production. It simply should never have been made. I can’t imagine how so much talent could be applied without a foundation. Weird.
We went to Chicago for lunch, a play and dinner. Lunch was at Petterino’s, in the heart of the theatre district. It’s a lot like Sardi’s, right down to the decor.
After lunch we walked across the street to see Billy Elliot at the Oriental Theater. It was interesting to see it in America after seeing the original London production several times. Minor changes to the presentation and blocking had been made throughout, and there was some background provided in the introductory film clip. All of these changes worked well. The only thing that didn’t quite work was the accents, which seemed to come and go. Overall, the cast was very good, and it’s an excellent show that was very well received by the audience.
After the show we went to Moto, which is just an incredibly fun restaurant, where molecular gastronomy turns things into completely different things, all tasty, and served without any stuffy pretense. It was nice to see them very busy, they deserve it.
Dani and I went to see The Sins of Sor Juana at the Goodman Theatre. It’s a drama based upon the real life of a 17th century woman scholar and writer in Mexico. It was directed by the same person who directed a production of it at Northwestern two years ago, and was very professionally done. Afterward we had dinner at the nearby Catch 35, delicious as always.
My diverticulosis has been acting up, this time on my left side, so I took it easy today. We walked up to the theatre to see a student production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. They did a good job with the show, which, given the weak material, was as good as it could be. My side is still bothering me, so we’re getting dinner delivered by Thai Sookdee, (which has terrible food, but this weird dish they call Pad Thai that isn’t Pad Thai but is quite tasty!) It’s hard to get used to being able to order food in at 9:30.
Today was pretty quiet, working at home. I walked up to the Theatre and Interpretation Center to exchange some tickets because Dani wants to go to a drama in Chicago this weekend. On the way home I dodged a troop of kids being shepherded on bicycles (there seem to be a lot of kids’ activities in town and at Northwestern) and swung past Whole Foods to get ingredients for several dinners. Tonight I made shrimp and pasta primavera, which turned out pretty good.
Dani and I walked down to Main Street, about a mile south, and explored. We found an impressive rock shop, Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop, that had what must be a multi-million dollar fossil collection / museum in the basement. We had a good lunch at a Japanese restaurant, Kuni, and stopped at a delightfully dusty old used book store, Book Den, before picking up some groceries (not the good-for-you organic kind they have at Whole Foods) at Jewel, and walking home.
In the evening we went to what I thought was going to be a play, the first in the Northwestern summer series. But it turned out to be a jazz concert by Luis Rosen and Capathia Jenkins. Dani and I both enjoyed it, and we bought two of their CDs, which they signed. Dani liked South Side Stories for its storytelling, and I liked The Ache of Possibility for its jazz chords and bass riffs.
Afterward, we went to the Celtic Knot for a late dinner. It’s one of the few places in Evanston that’s open after 10pm.
We scheduled this extended trip to the UK to coincide with Dani and her friends from Trinity Prep performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Dani departed ahead of us, on Tuesday, July 29th, with her school group. They spent a couple of days in London and then took the train to Edinburgh to prepare for their run in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It’s one of over 2000(!) shows running in this year’s Fringe Festival. Here’s what they did before Linda and I left Orlando:
Wednesday, July 30th Arrival, Half day panoramic tour of London, Check in
Thursday, July 31st Workshop at Shakespeare’s Globe and attend “Billy Elliot”
Friday, August 1st Early train to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Orlando to London
Linda and I departed on Delta through Atlanta. Dani was already in Edinburgh with the 30+ person group from Trinity Prep, getting ready to perform A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. We’ll join them in Edinburgh in a few days, although we’re doing our own thing.
Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, Dani and her troup had a Technical Rehearsal.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Upon arrival we took the Gattwick Express Victoria Station, and walked about four blocks to the Goring Hotel. It’s a very nice hotel located very conveniently to Buckingham Palace, The victoria Place Theatre and Victoria Station. I wasn’t feeling well, so we took it easy the rest of the day, and had a late night dinner in the basement bar: roast beef and horseradish sandwiches, and smoked salmon, both delicious.
From Janine Papin, Director of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum:
A wonderful day. Our group was one of two that got to ride on the top of the open bus and sing as the Cavalcade paraded down the main streets of Edinburgh. They had a great sound system on the bus plus microphones and we had a few tracks that Peter (our sound guy) had recorded after the last rehearsal at Trinity. The crowd clapped along while they sang Comedy Tonight while some of our ensemble gave out post cards advertising our show.
It was a HUGE parade and the streets of Edinburgh were packed! After that we performed on the the Royal Mile, our group sang a few songs and successfully attracted a nice crowd to perform to.
Last night was a big dance (pronounced Kaley, even though it is not at all spelled like that). The kids were taught traditional Scottish dances and had a blast! Our kids were among the last to leave and overall participated more than the other kids in the other schools. I am so proud of all my boys that wanted to learn and were such enthusiastic participants! The kids are excited and nervous but I am sure that it will be wonderful.
Monday, August 4, 2008
We met Henry at Le Gavroche for lunch. It was totally forgettable, like a different restaurant from our last two visits, hardly what you’d expect of a Michelin two star. Because of the week dollar, everything in London is very expensive — about double the US price. So it was kind of Henry to pick up the cost of this meal, and we’ll treat him to the show and dinner.
In the evening we walked the two blocks from our hotel to the Victoria Palace Theatre to meet Henry and saw Billy Elliot. We had the front row of the dress circle, which is the first balcony, and it was really neat to be able to see the stage. At previous shows we’d had close seats in the orchestra, but the stage floor was above eye level, which is weird for a dancing show. This Billy was older and slightly darker than the others we’ve seen. His voice wasn’t as high or good, but his dancing was better.
Afterwards we had a delicious pizza at Bella, a tourist restaurant next to the theatre. It was better than lunch!
In Edinburgh, Forum opened and the cast attended another show, too.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
We took a cab to Train Station, our first good experience with a London cab driver. The train ride to Edinburgh is 4-1/2 hours, with just a few stops. The track is smooth, the seats spacious, and you have a table to work on, free wireless internet and even electrical outlets. If only air travel were like this!
The scenery was lovely: rolling pastures, farmhouses, cattle, and for a while we skirted the coast. In Edinburgh the Balmoral is adjacent to Edinburgh Station, but if you have suitcases you have to go out and around, up a really steep hill to get to the front door. There were people everywhere, here for the Fringe Festival.
The Balmoral is an exceptional hotel. The staff are extraordinarily helpful, and our room is spacious, and has a great view of Edinburgh castle. It’s really expensive, thought, so after four days we’ll move to The Knight Residence, where we can also do the laundry for the second half of the trip.
In the evening we had dinner at the Balmoral’s Michelin one star, restaurant Number One. It was the equal of any dinner we’ve had. The Chef’s seven course tasting menu was creative and superb, light enough not to be overwhelming, and at fifty pounds it was a bargain. The wines with each course were the most perfect food pairings we’ve ever experienced.
From Janine Papin:
The days are so busy and wonderful! We opened Forum successfully and the the kids did beautifully! We climbed Arthur’s seat (a inactive volcano) and saw the Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. We have seen more shows, shopped, had afternoon tea, and have spent time laughing and talking.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Dani called this morning (well, she woke us up at about 11:30!) and we got caught up. It sounds like they’re having a great time.
The day was drizzly. We walked a few block to a restaurant out concierge recommended called The Dome. It’s actually a converted home, if you classify the Parthenon as a home. There are two restaurants there. The Grill Room is fancier and has a glass dome. We ate in the cozier Club Room, where we had that traditional Scottish dish, Nachos. They were excellent and huge, so we didn’t order anything else. We ended up in a long conversation with a delightful English couple whose daughter lives in Edinburgh. They were very well traveled, and we spent an out or so swapping stories.
On the way back, Linda did a bit of shoe shopping at the decrepit Princes Mall next to the hotel. About 60% of the storefront are vacant, and the rest are closeout places. Weird, in such a central and upscale part of town.
For dinner we went to Martin Wishard, the eponymous restaurant of Scotland’s number one celebrity chef. It’s also a Michelin one star, so we were expecting a lot, but it failed to deliver. Although there were a couple of notable dishes, the chef’s tasting menu paled in comparison to last night’s dinner at Number One, and the wine matching can only be described as oafish. Not only were the wines odd, the wine service was bizarre, with the wines poured in the kitchen and then described by someone with a thick German accent. Not recommended.
Our cab driver for our return trip was a lot of fun. He was really the first person we’ve encountered with a Scottish accent thick enough that we couldn’t completely understand him. Most of the service industry people we’ve encountered have actually been Eastern European, a reflection of the service level skilled labor shortage in the UK.
Meanwhile, Trinity performed Forum at 6pm to rave reviews:
A review of Forum:
Roman Farce Unleashed with Youthful Zeal
4 Stars A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum
(2008) American High School Theatre Festival Church Hill Theatre. 4th-8th August. Various Times (1h30)
A strong old Broadway warhorse,”A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” originally opened with Zero Mostel in the lead followed by Frankie Howerd in the UK. A mixed bag of plot lines from Plautus are woven into a finely honed hit – it ran for years.
This production from the American High School Theatre Festival deserves to run just as long. It’s a bubbling, vibrant production played with consumate skills by actors still in their teens. Every farcical device is employed – cheating on wives, transgressed taboos, desire – and what could easily turn into a confused mess is neatly and cleanly played out.
The performance bubbled with energy, the direction was tight and inventive and the choreography caught the spirit of the piece. James Everett as Pseudolus directed the traffic of the piece with fine comic timing and Alex Ferguson as Lycus was outstanding.
An audience member writes in review:
Look at the way it is today, things are getting out of hand – there’s no decorum in the forum 07 Aug 2008
Frankie Howard would have loved this. The vaudeville elements were performed stunningly. The best scene? Everybody Ought To Have A Maid – it was fantastically impressive. I’ve never seen the play before but now that i have the film and the CD pales into insignificance. James Everett as Pseudolus held the story together masterfully. Alex Ferguson as Marcus Lycus was brilliant – move over Phil Silvers. And Gabe Gonzales as Hysterium – well, he was just amazing. A comic actor of the highest order. Other special mentions go to Christine Pappas as Domina and Kyra Bloom as Philia. Great actors and wonderful singers. All in all a great show. It was certainly worth getting soaked to the skin in the Edinburgh rain to watch this.
reviewer: Yahadriel, Cornwall (yeah i know we haven’t got independence yet but it’s a matter of time)
The review from The Scotsmen, Scotland’s number one paper:
Musicals & Opera: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
CHURCH HILL THEATRE (VENUE 137)
I DON’T know about the forum, but plenty of funny things happened on stage, courtesy of Florida’s Trinity Preparatory School. These are schoolkids? Never mind the voice, you have to be pretty bright to get the best out of a Stephen Sondheim score. And many a professional actor has fallen flat on their face tackling farce.
But not these teens – they stride on to the stage with huge self-confidence and make the 2,000-year-old tales of Plautus live. Songs aren’t so much delivered as presented with flowers and chocolate. It helps that the script, by Burt Shevelove and Larry (M*A*S*H) Gelbart, has zingy one-liners by the score.
James Everett as Pseudolus the slave is terribly funny as he drives the action. Matthew Prast is dashing and Kyra Bloom sweet as young lovers Hero and Phylia. But stealing a show in which there’s no weak link is Gabe Gonzalez as Hysterium, the loyal house servant and reluctant cross-dresser.
A presentation of the American High School Theatre Festival, this is a tad away from the centre of the Fringe, but if you like musicals even a bit, make the effort. The cast, band and crew will make your day.
Until today, 6:15pm
Thursday, August 7, 2008
We rose early — well, early in the afternoon, anyway — and decided to return to The Club Room at The Dome, as it’s one of the few nice places that serve lunch at 3:00 in the afternoon. It was still drizzly, so on the way back we spent an hour at the Royal Scottish Academy, which is almost next to our hotel. They have a special exhibit of impressionist paintings, and it was almost overwhelming to see so many paintings by all of the master impressionists. I was actually most impressed by a painter new to me, Sir John Lavery, an Irish Impressionist.
We had a casual late dinner at the hotel’s Hadrian’s Brasserie. Nothing special.
Friday, August 8, 2008
I hadn’t quite drifted off to sleep last night when the fire alarm summoned everyone to the lobby for an amusing pajama party. After about fifteen minutes it was determined to be a false alarm. The hotel sent out a note of apology in the morning.
We picked up our tickets for tonight’s final performance of Forum and then walked to Oloroso, a restaurant on top of an office building in New Town. I’d made a reservation for inside, but since the rain had cleared off we ate on the terrace, which had a more casual menu that was fine but nothing special. But the weather was great, with occasional sun, and temperatures in the high 60s. The terrace has a wonderful view in almost every direction including Edinburgh Castle.
In the evening we took a cab a few miles to the Church Hill Theatre for the closing night performance of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Because of the good reviews, word of mouth, and the patronage of other American High School Theatre groups, there was a good crowd of about 150 people. The theatre was perfect for the show, with a real orchestra pit and excellent acoustics.
Both the show and audience were high energy, feeding off of each other, and it was easily the best of the run, with thunderous applause and cheering after many of the numbers. Outside the kids received more cheering as they emerged from backstage to board their bus. I’m sure there were many bittersweet moments as they realized they’ll never perform together again, as much of the cast disperses to different colleges across the country in a few weeks. But what a great way to go out!
Saturday, August 9, 2008
We checked out of The Balmoral and took a cab from New Town to Old Town, where we checked into The Knight Residence. What a fabulous place for an extended stay! It’s too bad we’ll only be here until Monday.
The building is brand new, with 19 lovely flats. Ours is a spacious one bedroom. It’s beautifully decorated and comes with CDs, DVDs, breakfast foods, a fully outfitted kitchen, teeny washer/dryer (our reason for staying here) and more. The charming Christopher runs the front desk. I had previously corresponded with him by email, and he was every bit as gracious in person. At about one third the price of the Balmoral it’s a real find.
The Knight Residence is in an interesting area. It’s just a couple of blocks from the Royal Mile, the concatenation of four streets that run from Edinburgh castle to The Palace of Holyroodhouse. In the same block as the hotel are six antique books stores and three strip clubs (yes, there’s lap dancing in Scotland).
Indeed, it’s very close to Edinburgh Castle. We strolled through the Grass Market, where they were having a rummage sale, and climbed the hill to the castle. The road is lined with old stone buildings that are now tourist shops. The street was filled with Fringe performers and visitors. Near the entrance to the castle is The Witchery, a fine dining restaurant where we had a cordial but not particularly noteworthy lunch. The couple next to us happened to also be American parents whose daughter is in another of the high school productions. Small world.
Next to the Witchery is the Whisky Heritage Centre, where we went on a dark ride called The Scotch Whisky Experience. The story was well conveyed, with good on-board audio and well done lighting and set decoration. The vehicles were wire guided, and moved only about 6 inches per second. It was surprising that many of the set pieces — including some quite delicate objects — where within inches as we passed, yet everything seemed to be unmolested. Afterwards we were served a dram of Tormore 12 year old Speyside Single Malt, which was excellent: caramel and fruit nose, very smooth. Even Linda liked it.
After a quiet afternoon experimenting with the washer/dryer (we found French and German manuals online — it’s very complicated) we strolled through the rain to the Grass Market, where we had a pleasant Italian meal. Things were still hopping well past midnight.
Dani Spent the day with her group, sightseeing outside the city.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
In the morning we took a cab over to Pollock Halls and picked up Dani’s luggage. We had lunch at a baguette shop and Linda spent the afternoon doing one teeny tiny load of laundry after another.
We enjoyed an authentic French dinner at Petit Paris, a small bistro at the Grass Market.
Dani attended the closing ceremony for the high school groups, where she was selected to deliver a speech to all of the various schools participating, and then went to Fringe Sunday at the Meadows and had dinner with her friends before we picked her up near midnight.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Edinburgh to London
We sort of slept in, although this being Monday, the construction site across the street was gearing back up. We checked out at noon and took a taxi to Waverly Station for our return trip to London. Once again I was able to get a lot done on the train. We arrived at King’s Cross Station at 6:30pm — a good time, because the cross town cab ride took only about 20 minutes to get us to Hammersmith, and the Novotel London West. It’s an enormous and fairly nice hotel in a great district for restaurants.
We walked about a mile down King Street to Indian Zing, a place I found online, and it didn’t disappoint. The weather was temperate and it was a great evening for a stroll.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Dani has a bit of a cold, so we spent a lazy day in Hammersmith. Linda and I walked a couple of blocks to a pub for lunch, and then in the evening we all took the tube to see They’re Playing Our Song at the The Menier Chocolate Factory, a converted factory building in the interesting district just south of London Bridge. Linda and I saw this show with the original Broadway cast, Kevin Klein and Lucy Arnaz, when we were first married, thirty years ago, and it’s always been one of my favorites. Although it’s never been revived, we all knew the music and were anxious to see it.
The Chocolate Factory is an interesting place. You enter through a restaurant, and then negotiate a random assortment of steps, up and down, to access the theatre, an intimate space with padded bleachers that seat about 150. Despite a tepid review, the show was sold out. Most of the audience were in their sixties, and seemed to have seen the show in its original London run almost thirty years ago.
The show was performed as a period piece. I felt the material held up well, although the two leads lacked the comedic timing to make it funny. However their singing was superb, and the staging, which used the floor as a giant revolving LP, was inventive and fun. It was definitely worth the reasonable 25 pound admission price.
Back at the hotel, Linda and I had a late supper in the bar while Dani went off to bed.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
We decided to skip the city tour of London and relax today so that Dani can get over her cold. It’s not like we haven’t seen St. Pauls, the changing of the guard and so on. In an effort to avoid pub food, Linda and I walked to a Thai restaurant for lunch.
On the spur of the moment, we decided to see if we could get tickets tot he new musical Zorro. Somehow we ended up in the fifth row, even though the show was sold out. It was lavishly staged, with great talent and excellent songs. Somehow it didn’t quite work for us, but it seemed fixable. And since it received four stars from virtually all of the press, and it’s sold out on a Wednesday night, it may do well. It just needs more story and a bit less Flamenco stomping, but the talent is certainly there.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Today we met our Globus tour group and our guide, Liz, and set out on our tour. It’s easy to see whose currencies are up and whose are down: the tour is more than half Australians and New Zealanders.
The first stop was Henry the Eighth’s old house, Hampton Court, where we walked through the gardens.
Then it was on to Stonehenge, which Linda hadn’t seen before. None of the stones had moved since our last visit.
We retraced our steps to Salisbury for a mediocre pub lunch. It would have been better to simply press on the Bath, which was our next stop anyway. The Roman baths are really interesting, and we spent almost two hours on the self guided tour, leaving just enough time for some scenic portraits overlooking the Avon.
It was a short drive to Bristol, where we had a lovely room at the Jury’s hotel overlooking the water. There was a welcome dinner for the group (let’s just say it was food as only the English can prepare it), and then we called an end to a long day.
Friday, August 15, 2008
This morning I had lots of catching up on my online classes, and a high speed Internet line, so I skipped breakfast. We left the hotel at 8am for the drive to Cardiff and a fairly pointless stop outside the castle, plus a stroll through the mall, just like 500,000 other malls. Then we crossed into Wales. Southern Wales is a country of rolling green hills, scattered farms and villages, and many cows.
Gaelic is the official second language of Wales. Although we didn’t hear it spoken, the government certainly is promoting it, with mandatory education. It’s also a second language on all the highway signs. Its absence from all commercial signs and billboards is telling, though.
After a long drive and a snack at a rest stop we finally arrived on the western coast town of Fishguard where the entire tour bus drove onto the ferry. The crossing was calm, and we spent the time in the sports bar ignoring the Summer Olympics. Dani has started work on a second novel, now that she’s finished The Last Telepath. In just a few hours she’s almost finished structuring it, defining characters and writing her outline.
Three and a half hours later we drove off the ferry in Rosslare on the southeast coast of Ireland. Ireland is a country of rolling green hills, scattered farms and villages, and many cows.
An hour’s drive brought us to the city of Waterford, Ireland’s fourth largest. Our hotel is the somewhat seedy Tower, although our room is spacious by European standards and overlooks the river Suir (pronounced ‘shus,’ not ‘sever’) and the historic Tower for which the hotel is named. (Gaelic is also prevalent in Ireland. ) Dinner was decent, and we made it an early night after a long day of driving and many cows.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Waterford Factory and Blarney
We set out on a rainy morning for the nearby Waterford Crystal Factory. Having visited artisan glass works in Oslo and Venice, I was expecting more artists and less factory, but Waterford is indeed a factory. Although there are artists there who do custom engraving, most of the 700 workers are dedicated to churning out the stuff you see in department stores, which looks clunky and dated compared to the fine art of, say, Murano glass.
We then had a long drive through a country of rolling green hills, scattered farms and villages, and many wet cows. Reaching the west coast, we passed through Cork, Ireland’s second largest city, and on to Blarney Castle.
We were lucky, and the rain abated for our exploration of Blarney castle, where Dani enjoyed exploring the twisty stone stairways, cramped tunnels and caves. At the top of the six story climb she leaned out over the parapet backwards and kissed the Blarney stone, which is supposed to impart the gift of eloquence.
Afterwards we had lunch in the nearby pub and then drove on to Killarney in County Kerry, and an afternoon check in at the Scotts Hotel. There are many, many towns in Ireland that start with ‘kill’ because the Gaelic word for church is ‘cil. ‘
Much of our tour group went to an evening folklore event, but we’ve learned over the years that we’re allergic to contrived revelry, so we walked to Foley’s, a nice fish restaurant a few blocks away. In fact, we’re skipping all the optional excursions on this trip except for a tour of the royal yacht in Edinburgh.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Linda has Dani’s cold, so she opted to rest today. Our group set out on an approximately 100 mile loop called the Ring of Kerry, which circles County Kerry. The weather cooperated at first, and we got some nice vistas of lakes, mountains and rivers. But by 11am rain and mist had settled in.
The sheep didn’t mind. We passed thousands of them. Most looked a bit odd, because they’ve been spray pained with red or green markings to indicate ownership and parentage. We also passed several bogs, and saw peat that had been cut and stacked to dry.
After an ill-conceived lunch stop at a village with no open restaurants, we continued on to “the best view in Ireland,” which today consisted of a post shrouded in fog. Allegedly there was sea, peninsulas and islands somewhere out there. The drive back to Killarney was through much rockier terrain, as the road twisted down the mountains (at 3000 feet, the tallest in Ireland) and through the national park, where there were many scenic views of rivers, fairly large pines and oaks, and three large lakes.
We had a delicious dinner at a restaurant upstairs next to the hotel. It was called Lemon Grass, and offered a fusion of different Asian cuisines. My sushi appetizer was some of the best sushi I’ve ever had.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Limerick, Tiperary and Dublin
Today we drove across Ireland, from Killarney to Dublin, in just a few hours. It was another wet day. This is the wettest summer in Ireland, perhaps ever, and there were signs of flooding in several spots, and many swollen rivers. Last Saturday alone they got a whole month’s rainfall in a couple of hours.
We drove through Tiperary and Limerick (yes, there really are such places), and watched the names on the businesses alternate between all the cliche Irish names you’ve ever hear.
After another annoying lunch stop in a town with no open restaurants we drove on to the Irish National Stud, where we learned about thoroughbred racecourses and the economics of breeding them. A few of the random things I learned:
All horses change age on January 1st, so if you’re racing, say, two year olds, the could b anywhere from 731 to 1094 days old. So it’s a big advantage for your horse to be born right after the first of the year. As a result, they breed the horses in the first quarter, they foal in January, and then immediately are impregnated again.
Artificial insemination is not allowed. A stud will impregnate up to 190 different mares during the three month season.
One of the studs we saw has sired so many winners that his stud fee is $75,000. This is payable if the mare is pregnant on October 1. That particular stud was worth $60 Million, because he has about 15 years of service left.
As we drove on into Dublin we reached the first road that could be called a highway, with three lanes in each direction. Almost the entire rest of the country has been narrow two lane roads.
Ireland is definitely not the backward country it once was. In fact, it has been enjoying a real economic boom the past decade. This really started with the move into technology in the 1970s. In fact, after centuries of emigration, Irelands population is now growing through immigration, and is about 10% recent Polish arrivals!
The Hilton Dublin Kilmainham is a nice, modern hotel, with much better furnishings than most Hiltons. It’s across the street from the prison where the Irish rebels were executed in 1916, but it’s far from city centre.
It was really raining hard in the evening, so we had dinner at the hotel’s Cinnamon restaurant, which was surprisingly good.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
This morning we drove around the centre of Dublin. We had a different driver, as Bob was required by European driving laws to take the day off. Our replacement driver didn’t really have any experience with a manual transmission coach, so it was an interesting ride. The weather continues to be intermittently drizzly.
Dublin is a modification of Gaelic words that mean ‘black pool’. Dublin seems to be the only real ‘city’ in Ireland, as it looks typically European, and everywhere else we’ve been has been more along the lines of a village.
We visited a number of areas including statue-lined O’Connell Street, a couple of Georgian squares, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College, where we saw the 1,200-year-old Book of Kells and the Old Library. We then walked into the Grafton Street shopping district and found a tiny basement wine bar and French restaurant called called La Cave, where we had a nice traditional French lunch.
We returned to the hotel for the afternoon and relaxed, then walked to a nearby Italian restaurant, La Dolce Vita, for dinner.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
We took a high speed ferry back across the Irish Sea from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead on the Welsh Isle of Anglesey. This ship was a catamaran design, and made the crossing at a top speed of 40 knots, taking only two hours. Our first stop was at Llanfair(. . . ), a town that is a tourist attraction simply because its name contains 58 characters!
We drove along the scenic North Wales coast past abandoned shale mine, and rocky beaches. Its much more rugged than Southern Wales. Just across the boarder in England the Welsh disappeared from the highway signs. We stopped for a walk around Chester, a charming medieval walled city with some Roman remains, and many black and white halftimbered buildings. An unusual feature of the main street is the two-tiered arcades called the “Rows. “
We spent the night back in Wales at St. David’s Park, a nice hotel. The power to the whole area went out for a couple of hours just after we checked in, but the hotel rose to the occasion and catered sandwiches in the bar on the spur of the moment and it was really a fun evening.
Linda is recovering from her cold, but I have it now, hopefully not for long.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Lake District, Edinburgh
We took a beautiful drive through the Lake District, where we cruised for a half hour on Lake Windermere, namesake of our hometown. The town and surrounding hills are much more scenic than our own, with forested slopes and quaint stone buildings. In Grasmere we dodged rain and had a quick lunch, then returned to the motorway for the drive into Scotland. Just across the border we stopped at Gretna Green, where the blacksmith used to wed runaway couples. The scenery became progressively more beautiful as we made our way through the Lowland Hills to Edinburgh.
The Edinburgh Thistle is conveniently right across the street from the Balmoral, so it was easy to walk across for our dinner at Number One, which was superb, and virtually identical to our previous visit. They treated us like old friends.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Dani and I skipped the morning city tour but Linda went with the local guide on a visit to Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, both of which she enjoyed.
Dani and I had a walk down pedestrian Rose Street, and lunch at a Thai place.
Then we caught our only optional tour of the trip, a visit to the retired royal yacht Britannia, which was very well done. It was followed by a group dinner at a hotel on the Grass Market and a climb up the steps to the castle to see the ‘Tattoo,’ a marching band and bagpipe show that was much better than I was expecting. We were only briefly rained on during the show, and we were squeezed in so tightly there was no place for the water to go.
It was dry for the walk back to the hotel.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
For the first time in a month IT DIDN’T RAIN TODAY! This has been the wettest August in UK history.
Our drive southward began with a stop at Floors Castle, an enormous house that is still lived in seasonally by the family of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe. It’s how the other 0. 000001% live. Their backyard is about 65,000 acres.
W drove past the abbey ruins at Jedburgh and the house of Mary, Queen of Scots, and stopped near a section of Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman coast-to-coast defense against marauding northern tribes. It used to be 75 miles long and 15 feet high, but this fragment wouldn’t keep a sheep out.
Lunch was another ill-planned affair at a rest stop.
York is England’s most complete medieval city. It’s surrounded by its original wall, and it’s crammed higgledy-piggledy with oddly constructed buildings of all types, leaning and packed together at crazy angles. The main street used to be lined with butcher shops, and you can see the gutters designed for the blood to run down. Of course, now every building is a Starbucks, but the ambience is neat.
We stayed at the York Ramada, which is fairly nice, and had a decent group dinner.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Another almost rain-free day. We drove past Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest on the way to Coventry, where the ruins of the original cathedral were of some interest to Dani and me, because they feature in one of our favorite books, To Say Nothing Of The Dog by Connie Willis. The city was bombed in World War II and the cathedral burned. Iron girders, installed in the late 19th century melted in the heat and pulled down the upper part of the structure. Most of the stone walls, and even some of the stained glass survives. The ruin was left in place, and a new cathedral built next to it. An ironic aspect to the story is that the British had broken the German code, and knew the city was to be bombed, but could do nothing about it without giving away their secret.
We stopped briefly for a photo in front of the thatched roof cottage where Shakespeare’s wife, Ann Hathaway, lived, then drove on to Stratford-upon- Avon, where Dani was fascinated by a tour of Shakespeare’s birthplace.
We spent the night at the very conveniently located Holiday Inn, which is right next to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Had we known, we should have booked tickets.
Monday, August 25, 2008
It’s less than a three hour drive from Stratford to London. Along the way we stopped at spectacular Blenheim Palace, home of the 11th Duke of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. It was built by John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, a man with an ego even bigger than the palace. It’s filled with tapestries he had mad commemorating his victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. That’s why Queen Anne gave him the property, although she refused to give him the 60,000 pounds of cost overruns on his palace.
It was saved from ruin in the late 19th century by the 9th Duke’s loveless marriage to American railroad heiress and renowned beauty Consuelo Vanderbilt.
We arrived at the Hilton London Metropole at 2pm. It’s a comfortable and well located hotel where we’ve stayed several times before.
For dinner, Linda picked a fantastic restaurant, Zaika, on Kensington High Street. We had a nine-course tasting menu with an Indian slant, and some interesting matching wines.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
We took advantage of our first chance to sleep in for two weeks. Then we spent the afternoon at Harrods. where we had a very overpriced sushi lunch and a late afternoon tea at LaDuree, which was good, but not as good as the Paris original.
After a convoluted tube ride back to the hotel due to a rush hour closure, we made our way to the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park for its wonderful ambience and a fabulous production of Gigi, starring Topol and the lead we saw last year in Mary Poppins. It was terrific, and we were in the front row, almost close enough to touch the actors.
Then it was back to the hotel for packing and a short sleep.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
London to Orlando
It takes a long time to get to Gatwick from London, so er were up at 5:30 for an 11:100 flight, and a five hour layover in Atlanta (a good thing, since it took an hour to get the bags) meant we didn’t arrive until 10pm. It was nice of Chastity to pick our remains up at the airport and rive us home for a long rest.
Thoughts About The Trip
I have mixed feelings about this trip. It was impacted by rain almost every day, but on the other hand, we were lucky, and were rarely out in it. On the third hand, it limited what we chose to do and see, especially in Ireland.
I was disappointed in Ireland. It’s a beautiful, green country that is much less developed than the rest of Europe, and it is enjoying an economic boom. But there were few ‘show stoppers’ in the week we spent there. Blarney Castle near Killarney was neat, and Dublin seems a nice city — the only city, really.
On the other hand, I loved Edinburgh. Even without the Fringe, it would be a great place to visit. It’s a great mix of new and old, and Scotland is geographically more diverse than the rest of the UK.
York might be a good stop for a couple of nights. It’s historical buildings are neat, but it’s basically a giant tourist mall.
Wales was just a place to drive through.
London, as always, was a mixed bag. It’s a great city to get around in via the tube. And with over 300 shows running every night, it’s a theatre lovers dream.
Food-wise, the UK is very odd. The vast majority of food is simply awful. And yet there are some amazing culinary treats, if you take the time to search them out, and are willing to pay for them.
And paying for them is a big part of the problem. All the prices looked reasonable — if only that pound sign were a dollar sign! But at worse than a two to one exchange rate, doing anything in the UK is very, very expensive. So while the tour, with its many included meals, was a good deal, nothing else was.
Finally, as we’ve noted in past years, this trip was a bit too long, especially for Dani, who was away for more than a month. The solution might be to bite the bullet on airfare using direct flights from Orlando, which make it easier to go more often for shorter periods.
The bottom line is that for those looking to explore the British Isles I think I’d look at a cruise, or just a Killarney/Edinburgh/London trip.
Handy Travel Packing List
Books Camera, interface cable, charger Clothes, short and long sleeved Dress Clothes, Sport coat & Tie Ear Plugs Electrical adapters, Extension cord Euros Folding Tote bag Guidebooks, Pocket Maps Hat Laptop, Ethernet cable, Broadband modem Mini London Map Microphone New shoes Passports, Travel Docs, Theatre Tickets Phone/iPod & charger Purell Robe Shoulder bag Sunglasses Sunscreen Toiletries Umbrella Vitamins, Medicine, Coldeez, Advil Warm Jacket Ziploc bags
The day mercifully didn’t start out at the crack of dawn. We had an 11:35 direct flight to New York. The flight was rescheduled to 11:20 so we were a little worried about being late, but upon arriving at the airport we learned that due to the outer bands of Hurricane Denis the flight had been delayed to 11:40 so it didn’t really matter.
Instead of flying Delta like we normally do we tried their new commuter airline Song. It was wonderful, there are touch screens in the seats to play with that offer 24 TV channels, games, movies, and a trivia game for all the passengers. Song also offers real food for lunch. Unfortunately also due to Denis there was a lot of mild turbulence so the food couldn’t be served until the end and we were in the back of the plane but C’est la vie.
Mom and Dad were playing the trivia game and losing terribly but not for lack of trying, or so I’m told. Every time they tried to hit one answer the plane would rock and they would miss the answer they had intended. Mom gave up after one round but Dad hung in there for the second half of the flight and won the game 3 seconds before we arrived at our New York terminal.
So that we wouldn’t have to mess with finding a cab we had asked the hotel to send a car for us once we arrived. The city is a little like Los Angeles only cleaner, safer and with less graffiti. The city is so TALL!!! It’s much taller than LA. As we were driving from JFK towards the city but hadn’t gone through the tunnel yet it looked a lot like I expected it to. Some twenty or thirty story buildings mixed in with some smaller ones, billboards for upcoming Broadway shows, and very dirty. But once we got onto Manhattan itself the city was beautiful. It was very clean by comparison and the buildings are so TALL!!! I think I’m in love with this city. Even though there are no patches of grass the city is much greener than I expected. A lot of the major streets have fairly large (fifteen or twenty foot) trees planted along them. It is a beautiful city.
We are staying at the Waldorf Towers, in the Presidential Suite no less. Well, that’s not exactly true. We’re staying in a “sub-Suite” of the Presidential Suite. There is a main door to the Presidential Suite but there is also another door that can be closed to make the whole wing part of the Suite. It’s a very nice room with twelve-foot ceilings and tasteful decorations. There is one king-sized bed and a rollaway that fits nicely in the corner.
We were offered a tour of the Presidential Suite after our luggage arrived. It is to say the least large, not including its two sub-Suites. Some of the more famous patrons of the Suite include:
Every President of the US (Since 1931)
Queen Elizabeth II, England
King Hussein, Jordan
King Saud, Saudi Arabia
General Charles de Gaulle, France
Chairman Nikita Krushchev, Soviet Union
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Israel
Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel
Premier Giulio Andreotti, Italy
President Valery Giscard D’Estaing, France
Emperor and Empress Hirohito, Japan
King Juan Carlos I, Spain
President Nicolae Ceausesch, Romania
King Olav V, Norway
King Faisal, Saudi Arabia
Mr. and Mrs. and Miss Alcorn, USA
Well okay, I made the last one up, but still. It’s pretty impressive.
Because we hadn’t eaten all day at 3:30 we decided to have a very late lunch. Given our disheveled appearance after 2 hours on a plane we elected to try the only restaurant in the hotel that would permit our (okay, my) blasphemous jeans to enter their premises, Oscar’s.
Big mistake. The food was okay but our waiter (his name tag actually said “bus boy”) Victor seemed to have been temporally slowed down to some degree. After sitting at our table for, oh, about half an hour he walked past and caught Dad’s meaningful glare and said with great surprise, “Oh, you’re ready to order now?”
The meal proceeded on along those lines until after 5:30. The people seated next to us, at his only other table, scarily enough, got up and left without signing their check, to our great amusement.
The thing that strikes me about New York is how expensive everything is. All I had was a hamburger and fries (the fries didn’t actually come with the hamburger, we ordered them separately). It cost 21 dollars!! After such a LATE lunch we didn’t see the point in dinner so we retired early to our room for a quiet evening.
Day 2, 7/10/05 Lion King
Dad and I ventured down to the 26th floor this morning for a continental breakfast. They had some good croissants (not La Duree, but hey) and some chocolate croissants filled with dark chocolate, good enough that a second one found its way onto my plate. We didn’t have too much time before lunch so we just went back up to the room.
Lunch was at a Parisian brasserie/bakery called Balthazar. It was a recommendation of Ron Siegel’s. Initially when we went in I was skeptical. There was not a soft surface in the place, so it echoed terribly. It was difficult to tell if it was old or just trying to look old. It had huge mirrors on all the walls that looked to be made out of a collection of old mirrors. None of them matched. I had the soup of the day, chilled carrot. It was delicious. Instantly all my skepticism evaporated. Mom had what she called “The best fois gras of my life” but I thought it was terrible. For our main course Dad and I had smoked salmon and Mom had beef stroganoff. The only weird thing about the whole meal was my coke; it tasted more like a drainage treatment solution than a fizzy beverage, but we had plenty of San Pelegrino. Dessert was a chocolate mousse that was to die for.
We had arrived early for lunch so we were done by 1:00. The Lion King tickets weren’t until 3:00 so we decided to stroll around the campus of NYU witch was only a block away. It was odd, without being told it was a campus I never would have guessed. It just seems like part of the city.
Mom had tried to find a pair of sunglasses that weren’t $65 at the hotel and failed, so she went into a grocery store at the campus. It was HOT out so Dad and I decided to check out the frozen food for a while. The only hint that we were in a college town was the fact that everything in the store was teenager sized. Mom also found some nice looking cheap sunglasses too.
After that it was time to head to the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway to see Disney’s The Lion King. When I was nine we saw Lion King in Toronto but this was going to be my first “real” Broadway experience. I was pretty calm and collected while we waited outside the theater doors but about ten minuets before they opened the excitement bubbled to the surface. At long last the doors opened and I got my first look at a real theater. It was beautiful. We had the best seats in the house: first row, center on the mezzanine. The wide sweeping ceilings had beautiful paintings and gilt, the seats were made of green velvet. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. When the lights finally dimmed and the curtain rose I think I was the happiest person on the continent.
The show was even better than I remembered. I had forgotten how good it was. The young Simba and Nala were exceptional! It was such a great show. There wasn’t an inch of the stage that didn’t do something. There were at least three trapdoors and a staircase (Pride Rock) would rise in and out of the floor. The back half of the stage would raise up to about a 25-degree angle. They had plants that would inflate out of the floor and steam jets too. It was amazing. The lighting was superb, too, and the costumes. There was one cheetah that was simply breathtaking. The way the head moved it really looked like a cheetah. It was incredible.
After the show we bough a program and a shirt that had a painting of Scar’s mask that says, “I’m surrounded by idiots”.
We had already wandered around Times Square so we just walked back to the hotel. Dad had been sick all through the last week so he was pretty tired. Instead of going out we had dinner at the Japanese place in the hotel. It was good, I had Chicken Teriyaki and a really weird dessert. It was called “White Chocolate Ice Berg Floating on Deep Blue Ocean”, no I’m not kidding. The ocean wasn’t very deep blue, it appeared to be Lime Jell-O with white chocolate mixed in. It was served in a dark blue bowl with a long curved stem that split into three. It should have been on Star Trek. The only thing normal about it was the iceberg (white chocolate mouse).
All in all it was a very good day.
Day 3, 7/11/05 Sightseeing
Again Dad and I had a continental breakfast. Today was the only day we didn’t have a play so it was our sightseeing day. We all went down to the lobby and asked the concierge to recommend a tour. We ended up booking a two-hour boat trip that did a complete circle around Manhattan Island. It didn’t leave until 1:30 so we had some time for lunch. We wandered around for a while until we came to a Houston’s. It was very good. Mom and Dad ordered half-pound burgers. I, opting for something lighter, ordered a French dip sandwich au jus. Unfortunately I didn’t realize it was covered in mayonnaise. Dad and I switched orders and he says it was the best French diphe’s ever had. I’m happy for him.
We didn’t realize how much the previous day’s activities had taken out of Dad. He ended up opting out of our planned sightseeing for a quiet day in the room. Mom and I caught a cab at the front of the hotel with plenty of time. The cab driver got to the corner of our hotel, made a right turn and was pulled over by a cop. Apparently the road we were on was a thru fare on weekdays and we had made an illegal turn. The cops wanting to thoroughly assert their authority over him made us wait, and wait and wait. After about ten minuets with no sign of the cops, Mom decided to bail on our poor cab driver. Having not even made it past our hotel we simply walked through another door, through the lobby and out the front again. A very confused looking bellman hailed us another cab. Once we got in and told him we wanted pier 78 and had to be there in 15 minutes. Nearing the corner of our hotel cab driver number two looked like he was about to make the same turn our last poor driver made. Mom quickly explained the fate of our last driver and he said “Oh yeah, I fuggot abou’ tha’. ” Surveying the traffic he asked me where the cops were. I told him they had just gotten out of their car and were walking towards our poor cab driver. He located a very large delivery truck and hid behind it while making the same illegal turn.
Now unfortunately traffic was bumper to bumper. I said that our boat left at 1:30, well, we arrived and 1:28. We ran down the pier and thrust our tickets at the man. He said, “Oh you need boarding passes to get on. ” I ran to the ticket office line where he had said to get them and encountered a man in front of me who had no idea what he wanted. As I stood in line for five minuets trying to be patient with the absolute moron in front of me I was sure that the boat was going to leave without us. Finally he left and I obtained boarding passes. As Mom and I stepped onto the boat they shoved off. Phew!
It was sort of funny: our guide’s name on the boat tour was Noah.
He was very personable and cracked a lot of jokes, he also knew a LOT about New York. He made a lot of potentially dull information very interesting.
Because it was Cole’s birthday today I used my new cell phone to call her. We suffered from a bad connection and I had to redial her SIX TIMES!!
Dad was still pretty pooped when we got back to the hotel. We decided to cancel our dinner plans and have it at the Bull and Bear downstairs. It was delicious. I had a Queen cut of Prime Rib with garlic-mashed potatoes. Mom had a strip steak and Dad had Surf and Turf with some of the best lobster I’ve ever tasted. Desert was to die for. It was a real New York Cheesecake drizzled with strawberry sauce.
Another great day.
Day 4, 7/12/05 Spamalot
Yesterday the maid had accidentally turned on our alarm, it went off at 6:30. So Dad, planning ahead laszt night, turned the alarm to 10:00 instead, because we couldn’t figure how to turn it off. Still, it woke us up.
The continental breakfast is only served until 10:00 but there wasn’t much point anyway because we had a 12:00 lunch reservation at Jean Georges. Instead of having a normal menu it has a tasting menu at lunch so you pick two or three things to try. They looked so good we decided to try three. Amazingly, the courses were only $12 each.
This was the best meal I think any of us has ever had. Every dish was an explosion of flavor. My favorite was Dad’s scallop dish. Mom and Dad liked his sea bass. The meal was too good to express with words. There was a REAL cheese tray. Mom couldn’t remember the last time she had a real one. There were about twenty different cheeses to choose from. She was in heaven. I personally thought they stunk (well they did!).
Dessert was the most amazing part for Mom and I. It was a Jean Georges’ specialty, marshmallows, coffee, mint or vanilla. They were not exactly the consistency of a normal marshmallow they were a little softer. Dad turned his nose up but we thought they were great.
We returned to the hotel for a quiet afternoon.
At 6:30 we left the hotel headed for Spamalot, the hottest ticket on Broadway right now. I wasn’t as thrilled about it as I am about Wicked or I was about Lion King because it’s based on Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. Dad is the real Monty Python fan but Mom likes it okay, too.
Spamalot was playing in the Schubert Theater. The show stars Tim Curry as King Arthur, David Hyde Pierce (Niles from Frasier) as Gallahad, and Hank Azaria (voice of Homer Simpson) as Lancelot.
We had pretty good seats as far as location goes, they were second row balcony, but the seats were so uncomfortable!!! There was no leg room. And normally when someone tells you there was no leg room it means they only had a couple of inches between their knees and the seat in front of them but in this case “no leg room” means that my shins were digging into the seat in front of me. I bruised the right one from prolonged pressure. There were literally only seven inches between the seat and the one in front of it.
It turned out that the show was GREAT. We all loved it. We were all laughing so hard!! The cast was the original Broadway cast and you could tell, they had the audience in the palms of their hands. The show was just so funny. They had their timing down to a science. It was truly amazing that a line as simple as “Well, I guess we’d better go and find some Jews” could bring the house down.
Sarah Ramirez was incredible as the Lady of the Lake. Her range was amazing; there was no style she couldn’t sing in. She also had this really funny number called “The Diva’s Lament” in the middle of the 2nd act (she doesn’t have much to do in the 2nd act). In it she asks the audience “what happened to my part?”. It ends with her yelling for someone to call her agent. After haughtily finishing and stalking off stage the action continues as though uninterrupted. Reading her bio I discovered that among one of her less prodigious roles was the cashier in “You’ve Got Mail”.
Spamalot was the funniest show we’ve seen!!!
After purchasing a “Fechez la Vache” t-shirt, a pair of coconuts, a program and a killer rabbit puppet, we crossed the street and had dinner at an after Broadway standard, Sardi’s.
It was really good. I had Shrimp Sardi’s and Chicken. Mom and Dad both had cannelloni. The walls were lined with caricatures of famous Broadway stars. It was a really neat place. We all had a really good time.
Day 5, 7/13/05 Wicked
We woke up really late today (we didn’t start dinner until 10:00 last night). We elected to cancel our lunch reservation at the trendy La Bernardin and go to a tourist standard, Tavern on the Green.
Tavern on the Green has lots and lots of dining rooms. There is a hallway covered in stained glass and mirrors that curves around and eventually leads to a conveniently placed gift shop and several of the dining rooms. The one we ate in was pretty, with a view of the garden. It looked like we were eating inside an Easter egg. The colors were all pale yellow, pink, and blue. There were at least six miss-matched chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It was a nice meal.
Tavern on the Green is located in Central Park. We hadn’t intended to stay afterwards but there were carriage rides launching from outside the restaurant. We took a 45-minute ride around the park. We had a nice Irish driver and a horse named Jimmy. He told us all about Central Park and he drove us past the statue of Balto, the boat launching station (kayaks), and the rows of famous writer statues.
Jimmy had a very plodding gait until we were about two minutes from his stable. Then he didn’t understand why a simple red light ought to keep him from his oats. It was fun. The carriage was white with red velvet seats.
Central Park is nice, much nicer than I imagined. The trees are big, beautiful and green. It was quite a shock to see green after so much gray. I felt really safe while we were going around, and it didn’t have anything to do with the two-ton horse attached to our carriage. There are also some really scenic places in Central Park by the waterways. It was a really enjoyable afternoon.
We went back to the hotel around 4:30 to let Dad rest until Wicked. All afternoon I had been so excited I could barely sit still. After all, I have been waiting for more than 6 months to see this show. Finally at 6:30 I couldn’t take it anymore and started getting ready to go out.
It’s funny, no one seems to take Broadway seriously anymore. Everybody wants to go, but nobody wants to dress up for it. Admittedly Lion King is a kids’ show and we were going to a Sunday matinee but the dress for Spamalot was pathetic.
Well, even if no one else dresses up for Broadway, Wicked was my favorite show and I was going to look good for it. I silently kicked myself for forgetting my green blouse (get it?) but got dressed in a blue blouse, long black skirt, and black vest. The show was at 8:00 so we wanted to leave the hotel at 7:00 to allow plenty of time.
We encountered a problem downstairs. The theater was only eight blocks away but eight blocks in high heals seems like eighty, so we were going to take a cab, as were twelve other couples. At this point I started to panic, I was NOT going to miss the opening of Wicked. But luck was in our favor, a limo driver capitalizing on the lack of cabs in the vicinity offered to take us the eight blocks for $45 + tip. Okay, whatever, just get us there in time for the show.
It ended up being a good thing because, fishing for more business, he offered to pick us up from the hotel the next morning for our flight. We arrived at the theater with plenty of time to spare.
Our seats were REALLY GOOD!!! Third row, center section. OH MY GOD!!! We sat down and I was in shock. I knew we had good seats but this was unbelievable. This theater was more modern than the other theaters we’d been in. This one felt newer, the seats were wide with lots of leg room and it was a lot bigger.
The other shows’ sets somewhat extended into the theaters, but this one was just incredible. The whole proscenium was covered with gears. Some of the gears were decorative but others actually worked. There were also dead vines over everything. Elaborate sets on each side of the stage incorporated balconies and staircases. A huge tin dragon hung above the arch of the stage, animated by cables!!
Finally the show started, and WOW!! This was no longer the Broadway cast, but everyone was so good!! The lead was a look alike for Idina Menzel the original Elphaba. She sounded like her, and she looked just like her.
After listening to the music for six months I was still blown away by all the story that you can’t necessarily get from the music. It was so cool to see all of the acting that went into the songs that made them so great. All of the characters were so REAL. I have seen some great theater but if the best thing I ever saw was a 10 this was an 11. All of the talent that went into the show was just so good.
The number that really surprised me was “No Good Deed. ” On the CD it is a really good song, but live it stopped the show.
Because of where our seats were it felt like we were getting a private show for the first five rows of the audience. All of the major action of the show took place on the right side of the stage, literally ten feet in front of us. TEN FEET!! It was like they were telling this story to us. You could see all of their facial expressions and it was just so cool.
There were two wings of the stage that came out on either side of the orchestra pit and most of the major action happened on that wing right in front of us. I have never had an experience quite like this.
It was just a phenomenal show. I loved every minute of it. At the end of the show we would all have happily gone back in and watched it again.
After the show was over we loaded up on souvenirs, a Wicked shirt that says “Defy Gravity” on the back, a coffee cup, a program, a baseball hat, and a jacket.
My parents were hungry after the show so we went to the Stage Deli (recommended by Thomas) and they had sandwiches larger than their heads. I was too excited to eat.