Friday, August 10, 2018

A Broadway Trio

The Play That Goes Wrong Set
Because I'm not so great at planning, I somehow managed to book two trips to New York within 5 days of each other. During these trips, I saw four fantastic and fabulous Broadway shows (one of which is so awesome, it deserves its own post which will be up later this week...) It was a pretty wonderful theatre week if I do say so myself.

The Play that Goes Wrong

I've been dying to see this mad-cap farce for months now but for one reason or another, I never got around to it. But when they announced that they were closing, it became required viewing. The show is as funny - probably funnier - as all the reviews say.

When you enter a theater, and the main actors are wandering the theater asking the audience if they’ve seen “a small dog named Winston” and welcoming them to “Cornley College”, you know you’re in for a good time. From start to finish, every single portion of the show is fabulously choreographed to bring the maximum number of laughs. I’ve truly never laughed as hard or as continuously as I did during this production.

The actors are playing serious actors in the middle of comedic madness. So not only do they need to play it straight, but they must also act surprised when everything goes wrong. It takes comedic mastery for sure. Mark Evans, who I fell for in Me & My Girl, played the director of the piece, as well as the lead actor who is playing the Detective Inspector investigating the murder. His annoyance at every one of his castmates and his reactions to each mishap brought all the laughs. (At one point, I laughed  so loudly while no one else was laughing, I turned all sorts of red…)

Sadly, this fantastic show will be closing soon, but luckily, it’s earned its US tour. While most plays go a bit deep and emotional, this beyond laugh out loud funny production is the perfect antidote for the dog days of summer (or any of the other seasons as well…)


Yes, I’ve seen this show twice already. Yes, I sorta hated it the first time I saw it. No, I don’t usually see shows I’m not in love with multiple times. But here’s the thing. I love me some Erich Bergen, and I’m pretty smitten with the character of Dr. Pomatter, and when you mix the two, I get kinda giddy. Bergen is as spectacular in the part as I thought he’d be. His nervous but sweet Dr. Pomatter has the perfect chemistry with Katherine McPhee’s Jenna (who I liked a bit more this time around.) Katie Lowes and her husband Adam Shapiro were also pretty wonderful as Dawn and her love Ogie.

Upon third viewing, I must say the show has changed a bit for me. I still hate Earl (Jenna’s awful husband). He’s a terribly written character with absolutely no redeeming qualities. However, the show holds up. It may not be appropriate for young girls (as it’s marketed) but it is a fun production for a girl's weekend. It boasts an impressive lineup so if the powers that be can continue drawing talented and lovely people, I think it will continue to do well. Though I’m still annoyed that other better shows have failed while this one is still hanging on…

Pretty Woman

I’m still on the fence about shows that are based on movies. While Groundhog Day was fabulous, Mean Girls was less than perfect. I can’t decide if they’re a good idea or purely a way to make money. This goes especially for such classics like Pretty Woman. However, Andy Karl and Orfeh were enough of a draw for me to give it a try. While also not perfect, it is pretty fantastic. The songs are a wee bit corny. In my opinion they went a little too far into the 80s pop-rock sound. But the chemistry between Samantha Barks and Andy Karl is as close to that of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere as one would hope. I also think that will be their major flaw. While wonderfully charming and a heck of a singer, Barks is not Julia Roberts.

Though if audiences can get past that, there’s a lot to like. The musical includes many of audience’s favorite scenes such as the bathtub scene and the couple’s evening at the opera. It’s fun to see how these iconic moments translated to the stage. While most of it is a rehash of the movie, there are a few new surprises that I won’t ruin here, but rest assured they appear. One specific moment may have been unscripted. As the show is still in previews, Andy Karl may have added his own flair to the finale. It was hard to tell if his giggling fit was caused by a new on the spot addition or if he just thought the bit was a little too ludicrous. (I’d love to hear from someone seeing it after opening to discuss…) The supporting cast is also fantastic. Each and every time I hear Orfeh sing, I can’t get over her beyond amazing voice. I cannot believe she’s not a bigger star than she is. She deserves a showcase production where she can stand directly in the spotlight. Jason Danieley is also lovely – however, he’s much too lovely to be saddled playing Edward’s awful lawyer. Though he manages to carry the character’s sleaziness throughout the show admirably. Also, Eric Anderson is a knockout. I loved each moment he is on stage. He has that same twinkle in his eye that Hector Elizondo brought to the movie.

There’s a lot to like about the production. But while the show is still in previews, it’s hard to say how audiences and critics will react. I assume it will stick around for a bit thanks to the unbelievable talent on the stage. I only wish the writers had been a bit more creative with their adaptation. If I wanted to see every scene from the movie, I’d just watch the movie. It’s cheaper.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Theatre Field Trip: 'The Waves' at Powerhouse Theater

The cast of The Waves - Powerhouse Theater

As a big fan of both Alice Ripley and Raul Esparza, I was excited to learn that they'd be starring alongside each other in The Waves at Powerhouse Theater (also known as Hamilton’s workshop venue before it went off to the Public.) I figured the field trip would be a fun way to see something brand new that may never make it to New York, while visiting a Hamilton landmark. The weekend - while maybe not as chock-full of fabulousness as I'd hoped - provided one beautiful evening of theatre.

The Waves is based on the Virginia Woolf novel of the same name. It follows 6 friends throughout their lives - which may or may not take place in a single day. Almost every word from the novel is set to music by composers David Bucknam and Lisa Peterson. The original piece played a short engagement in New York in the 90s. It closed quickly and sat on a shelf for many years after the death of Bucknam. Thanks to a meeting of talents, The Waves gained a new life through Powerhouse's Mainstage summer season.

Virginia Woolf's words are beautiful, but when set to music they take on more of a lyrical quality. It's easy to see why Bucknam and Peterson developed the story this way. In my often-linear brain, I had a hard time picturing how a book could be translated word for word into music. Wouldn't the lack of rhyming or the fluidity of the words be difficult to understand in this manner?

It appears I had nothing to worry about. The performance in a single word was stunning. There was something about the use of minimal set design, and costume that allowed the actors voices and the author's words to come alive. From the moment it began, I was invested in the lives of these 6 friends. I may not have understood everything in the story, but the overall product affected me on so many levels.

My pre-conceived notion - with very little research - was that the characters were in fact the titular waves splashing in on the tide and leaving again when the tides changed. However, the friends go off to school and live real lives so I no longer think that's the case. If you ignore the last line of the description, the story is a beautiful depiction of a friendship from beginning to end. 

Costumes changing from all white at the characters’ birth through grays of their lives, then to all black at the end, showed the passage of time in a creative and effective manner. Though, the story fully rested on the backs of these talented actors. From start to finish their performances were perfect. In such a small space, the gorgeous voices of these actors combined to create stunning harmony. Whether the actors were singing in pairs, trios or all together, their voices blended beautifully. It’s a testament to the talent of these 6 actors that they were able to tell such a compelling story with very little but their voices and their relationships with each other.

While I doubt a small show such as this will ever make it to New York, I can continue to hope that it will make its way to a slightly larger audience. It’s beauty and poetry reminded me a lot of The Band’s Visit which has rightfully been given its moment to shine. While Broadway is often overshadowed by bigger and bolder shows, it’s often the smaller shows that have more heart and resonate more with theatre audiences. And in the case of The Waves, this small show about the lives of six friends has a heart larger than most. Not to mention, almost everyone can relate to the relationship between old friends. Beautifully creative shows like these deserve their chance in the sun too. With the talent behind this show, I only hope it may find it.  

Monday, July 9, 2018

Museum Wandering: The Jim Henson Exhibition

When you're in New York City, and it's super hot and you have no Broadway tickets, you look for indoor activities that are fun and most importantly, will keep you cool. This is how we happened upon the awesome Museum of the Moving Image and the fabulous Jim Henson Exhibition. 

The museum itself is a fairly fun looking building from the outside; all nifty angles and mirrored glass. Inside, it looks a bit like a space ship. More mirrored glass and weird angles, all decorated in white. It holds a few exhibits on things such as video games and movie cameras, which were sort of interesting. But what we really wanted to see was the Jim Henson exhibit.

As a fan of all things Henson - from Sesame Street through Fraggle Rock, all the way to Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal - I've loved seeing his quirky characters come to life in new and exciting ways. 

Not only were there some of his most famous puppets - Big Bird, the Swedish Chef, even the Dozers had a spot - but there were also drawings and sketches Henson created as storyboards for new ideas. It was super neat to see how his creativity evolved over time.

We REALLY like the Fraggles!

We had a blast just wandering around and learning about this creative genius of an artist. While seeing the exhibition made me very happy, it also made me a little sad. Just think what he could have done had he not passed away at such a relatively young age. I'm positive he would have created all sorts of new and wonderful things for children and adults alike.

The Museum of the Moving Image
Astoria Queens
The Jim Henson Exhibition is a permanent exhibit 

Monday, July 2, 2018

June in Review

June Reads

As is most of the summer, June was a very good month for books!

All by Myself, Alone by Mary Higgins Clark: I'm a year behind on her books because I refuse to buy them in hardback anymore, yet I still get sucked into each and every one. They're all pretty much the same, but they're the perfect summer fare.

The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro: This is the second in a series of Young Adult - focused Sherlock Holmes stories. Each book is sort of like the original but with a modern twist. The series is fantastic!

Winterhouse by Ben Guterson: I wanted it to be as good as "Greenglass House", but it just wasn't. It was however, pretty entertaining.

The Summer Seaside Kitchen by Jenny Colgan: Colgan is my very favorite British author and I hope she continues to write for years and years to come. I get so engrossed in her stories of England, that my heart starts to yearn for Great Britain. This book was no different. I'm now secretly planning a trip back to Scotland in my head...

The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts by Annie Darling: I bought this last year when I was in England, and I have no idea why it took me so long to read it. I loved it and I'm happy to have realized that she has 3 more sequels in the works. (The very best thing about British writers is their ability to take the same characters and the same lovely settings and write fabulous sequels about them!)

June Travels

June was a month spent in Maryland for the most part. There was a quick day trip to New York City that included an ice cream festival though. The Ice Cream Festival in Bryant Park promising at least 20 different vendors was kind of a letdown. Most of the vendors - save for one or two independent sellers from the city - were giant chains, like Ben & Jerry's and Edy's. I expected to be wowed by all sorts of new and exciting ice cream, but all I got was a few new flavors that I will soon be able to purchase in a grocery store. What a bummer! 

However, the bright spot in the experience was a trip to Queens to see The Museum of the Moving Image. It was there that we were treated to the Jim Henson exhibit. It was totally awesome and warmed my Labyrinth and Fraggle Rock loving heart. As it was a super hot day, the hour spent roaming around this super cool space was quite enjoyable. Even more enjoyable was seeing some of Henson's first sketches and the original Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. The exhibit is now permanent and I'd highly recommend seeing it the next time you're in the City. As I learned, Queens is super easy to find - thank goodness for the subway!

June Eats

By far the best food I ate in June was at Carmine's in Washington DC. It's one of my very favorite places in NYC, and I was super excited to learn that there is one in DC - right near the Shakespeare Theatre Company where I spent most of last Saturday. Score! We spent a lovely hour positively gourging ourselves on Spaghetti and Meatballs and Chicken Parmigiana. The best part of Carmine's is that the food is served family style. This means that when you order one meal, you get enough food to feed a small army. It also means when two people have dinner together, you are treated to fabulous lunches for the next few days. It's a win-win for everyone!

Go Orioles! Even if they're not having the best season, they took the time to celebrate Pride!

June Shows

As theatre goes, June was a bit slow. I may have gotten a bit burned out over the last few months, so I've been trying to take it easy. At the start of the month, I saw Bullets over Broadway at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. Attending this show also gave me my first foray into ushering. I am scheduled to usher for their next 2 shows, and I plan to write all about my experiences in a witty but reflective post...  But let's just say, ushering is a great way to spend an evening. You work before the show, during intermission and at the end. And in the middle, you see the show for free!  I wish the show itself had been worth it. 

An 80s show written by Woody Allen that sees the lead female character killed because "she's annoying" is not the best #MeToo era show to produce. But the cast was talented so at least there's that. The next day I saw How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying as part of the Kennedy Center's Broadway Centerstage. If you ever want to know how to put a modern spin on a show that could be seen as dated, get thee to the Kennedy Center immediately. This production was unbelievably fabulous! I loved everything about it! They managed to put a positive spin on songs that were most definitely written at a different time for women, while still managing to bring the laughs. It was a positively perfect production!

Can't resist a great pun
Later in the month, I saw The Miser in the courtyard of Reynold's Tavern courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Each year they pick a comedy to produce in this manner, and this year's was pretty hilarious. It's a great way to enjoy a beautiful summer evening and take in some theatre at the same time.  Later that week was Laughter on the 23rd Floor. Though I don't remember it becoming quite as dark, it was a pretty fun production.

Lastly, was Camelot at Shakespeare Theatre Company. I fell in love with that space the second I walked in. It's small and contained and the perfect place to enjoy a show. As I'm not usually a fan of the older shows, Camelot was quite wonderful. I've always been a sucker for the Arthurian legend, and seeing this spin on it was fun. Thought I don't recall a lot of the smaller details about the legend itself, so the show brought up a lot of questions that I'm definitely going to need to research... But all in all, it was fantastic!

We also saw Luke Bryan from the 5th row. You can't tell from this picture but he's SUPER DREAMY!

June Moves

I jumped into the world of online dating begrudgingly at the urging of everyone I know. I'm still not sure it's for me, but I've met a few gentlemen that are lovely so maybe we can see how it goes. Though, I only look at the app every few days because it stresses me out so much. It's a process... 

June also saw the Tony Awards and a viewing party at my house. This is an Olaf Cheeseball (Frozen) and Hummus and Pita chips (The Band's Visit)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thank You, Chef

Illustration - Eater
Up until about 15 years ago, I was the pickiest eater to ever eat. I'd avoid things I'd never tasted because they looked like something I wouldn't like. I'd only eat about 3 things for lunch. And many meals included something I would just leave on the plate. For most of my childhood and adolescence, this is how I lived. I loved to eat, but I preferred the food that my Dad cooked because he followed my food rules. 

Now don't get me wrong - I wasn't eating peanut butter and jelly each day. My Dad is a fabulous cook. So I was eating homemade Spaghetti or Stuffed Porkchops, and other delicious meals for dinner most nights. But in restaurants I stuck to basics and only ate things I knew. 

Then I read A Cook's Tour and my food-loving world opened up. 

While it is his least favorite book, Anthony Bourdain's account of his travels around the world, eating all sorts of new and interesting meals made me realize just how ridiculous I was being. Here he was eating the aortas of pigs and fruits that smelled like death (Thanks Tony for teaching me what Durian is!) and I couldn't even bring myself to try a brussel sprout. This book taught me more about the world's cuisine and the people that lived in it, than any other book I've ever read, and for that I'm eternally grateful to him. 

I took his account as a challenge.

I wanted to be like Bourdain. I didn't want to live in fear that I'd avoid an amazing food experience because I didn't like one of the ingredients.  Thanks in no small part to his adventurous spirit, I decided to live like him for a while. I created a rule for myself. Each time someone offered me a taste or a drink of something I would try it with an open mind. It's a rule I'm still trying to live today. Also, my friends exploit it mercilessly when it comes to alcohol - though, joke's on them, because I still don't like 95% of the ones they've made me taste. Though in regards to food I've fallen for Lobster, eggplant, zucchini, goat, non-fishy fishes, and a host of other delectable items that I would never have discovered a few years ago. I've also tried caviar which was awful, but you can't win them all.

After A Cook's Tour, I devoured his other books. While not my favorite, Kitchen Confidential taught me some very useful food rules, such as when not to order fish in a restaurant or to avoid lemons and hollandaise from most kitchens. It also introduced me to a host of chefs that he approved of; chefs he thought were doing the whole food thing "right". Reading Medium Raw and The Nasty Bits helped me to realize just how talented of a writer he was. He had a genuinely unique voice and I can't help but to be moved by the way he told stories. 

His death last week from suicide has shaken me. I can't get over the fact that his voice has been silenced. I've learned much of what I know about food and culture around the world from him. My Dad and I watched A Cook's Tour and Parts Unknown to see what he was eating and where he was going next. For all of his bravado, his interactions with the people he met were always sincere. Watching these programs, you felt like you were adventuring with a friend. 

That doesn't stop me from being angry at him as well. If you watched these programs, or any of the others he appeared on such as Top Chef or No Reservations, you know that one of his greatest friends and allies was Chef Eric Ripert. The two only seemed to have long, lanky and greying in common, yet their exploits were notorious. They both enjoyed the other's company and views, and  you could feel the friendship through the screen and the pages. I hate that Ripert was the one that found him after he died. It's a terrible burden to put on your closest friend. 

As someone who felt they knew him - based on reading all of his books and listening to pretty much every interview he's ever done - I'm also incredibly confused by his death. France was one of his favorite places. Eric Ripert was his closest friend. Working (traveling to other countries) was one of the great joys in his life. Why would he have chosen to end his life at that moment? I hate that he felt he had no other option.  I only wish he knew just how much his simple act of writing and sharing his stories meant to people. I wish he could have felt that love and affection. That's what hurts the most.

Friday, June 8, 2018

May in Review

May Reads

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle: I'm not a huge fan of his "Better Nate than Ever" series, so I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this one. But I loved it!  I raced my way through it and was super sad when it was over. I believe it's meant for young adults too so that's my young adult pick for the month of May.

Hello NY by Julia Rothman: This book is a New York City lover's dream. It's an illustrated guide to the best parts of the city - according to the author. I finished it in about an hour, but I just loved it.

And that right there is all I read in the month of May - super sad!  Though if we're counting, I bought the equivalent of a metric ton in books to read this summer. Does that count?

May Travels

May was spent mostly in Maryland with two side trips to New York City. The plan was to only take one overnight side trip, but when you manage to get tickets to The Boys in the Band AND Me and My Girl, you spring for the hotel room. Both were excellent!  And we had a little extra time to explore Chelsea Market. If you're looking for something to do on a super hot or rainy day, the market has expanded a bit making it the perfect place to explore and eat.

The next trip was a week later and had been planned for a while. During that trip I walked in AIDS Walk NYC, as well as took in some theatre. I saw The Band's Visit as well as Escape to Margaritaville. Both shows were fantastic!  The Band's Visit was definitely my favorite of the two, and was a bit deeper than Margaritaville, yet that didn't make Margarittaville any less fun.  The walk on the other hand was super inspiring. Thanks to my trusty camera, I had a pretty good spot to watch the opening ceremonies, and see the amazing crew work their magic.  It's definitely an event I'd love to repeat next year. After the walk, I had just enough time to grab a late brunch at my favorite place in Chelsea - Sullivan Street Bakery, and then some cupcakes for home at Empire Cake.  Two perfect trips!  Though, had it not been rainy and miserable on the Saturday before the Walk, I'd really have enjoyed it more...

May Eats

One of the very best things I ate this month was pizza at Ava's in St. Michael's MD. I've eaten at Ava's before, and it's always been a favorite. Whether it was because of the heat outside, or just that I was in a fabulous mood, the lunch I had was positively stellar. One of the things I love about Ava's is that they have Arnold Palmers on their drink menu - pricey but delicious! As an appetizer we had the meatballs which are always a hit, and then it was a deep dish pizza as the main course. To die for!  I'm usually a thin crust girl, but if all deep dish pizzas tasted like this, I would definitely switch over!

Though you can't tell - this is from Curtain Call. I'm not that girl that records shows, I promise!
May Shows

One of the reasons for my busy-ness in May was the number of shows I saw for MD Theatre Guide. I realize this is the very definition of #FirstWorldProblems, however the amount of time I stress over writing reviews contributes to the increase in my overall stress levels. I'm trying to get better about that.

Aside from the four Broadway shows I talked about above, I also saw Kiss Me Kate at the Annapolis Shakespeare Company - a show I had some definite opinions about, Casa Valentina at Colonial Players (so good!), Winnie the Pooh at MET (loved it!), New York at Just Off Broadway (so compelling!) and The Book of Joseph at Everyman (so moving!)  All of the shows were definitely good in their own ways, yet a few were much better than others.  

In the category of non'ish shows, I also had the chance to see Puffs again - after seeing it in New York - on the big screen. It was just as amazing as it was the first time. It's fun being a part of the Harry Potter fandom and really getting the fast and furious jokes in this gem.  Lastly, I fan-girled a bit over Erich Bergen at the National Press Club in DC. He was in the city to talk Arts in Schools, and stopped by the Press Club for a chat. It was a quick hour that ended with him singing two songs at the piano, before heading back to New York City to start rehearsals for a limited run in Waitress. So if anyone asks, he is why I'm seeing Waitress - a show I've been a tad judgmental of - for a third time...

May Moves

May has been spent trying to get ahead in my career. I've been applying to a few jobs and interviewing with different places. I enjoy my work and the people I work with, but after 5 years I think it's time for something new. It's also been spent working on new writing opportunities. Also, after months of stressing and studying, I passed the Adobe InDesign ACA test - something after seeing the first question on the test, I didn't think I'd get to say. It was terrifying and god help me if I ever need to take the test again!

Thanks to my work with Everyman Theatre, I also had the chance to interview Bruce Randolph Nelson who's currently starring in The Book of Joseph.  He is the absolute loveliest person, and immediately put me at ease. In other interviews I've conducted (this was my third), I found myself speaking quickly and rambling. I made a concerted effort for this chat to slow it down, and let the interesting person on the phone (Bruce) do most of the talking. And I think it helped. The thing I need to do now, is to learn how to pair down the article afterwards. Usually I write about 600-700 words. Bruce's article was 1700 at the start, which was then paired down to 1500. It's a work in progress I suppose...

Then, out of the blue, I was given the awesome opportunity to attend the Helen Hayes Awards. If you're not familiar - because I wasn't - the Hayes awards are the Tony Awards of the DC Theatre Scene. Each year, there's a big party and award ceremony celebrating the artists in professional and non-professional theatre companies from the DMV. This year's ceremony was held at The Anthem which is a totally new and totally awesome event space on the DC waterfront. I had the best time dressing up and seeing these fabulous actors celebrated. 

The Boys in the Band

There's been a lot of chatter about The Boys in the Band over the last few months. Late last year, it played in London starring Mark Gatiss in a production I would have loved to have seen. And this year it opened on Broadway with a cast of 9 openly gay, hugely talented actors. The cast was definitely the biggest draw for me, as it usually is.  

Seeing these men together was thrilling. Let's get this out of the way. Each actor is perfectly cast to his role. I read a few reviews that mentioned Jim Parsons, as maybe not quite well-suited for the role of Michael, the hostile has-been throwing the party. However, I find him perfectly cast. I've seen him on stage (An Act of God) and as Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) and this Jim Parsons is a completely different person. His wit is there, but the charm is all gone. He definitely shines. Matt Bomer, in his debut, while not having much to do, is stellar as the quiet Donald - seemingly the only one that truly understands (and possibly likes) Michael.  Charlie Carver as Cowboy - the clueless stripper, brings all the humor. His innocence and confusion is the perfect counterpoint to the rest of the men's cynicism and anger. 

As usual, Andrew Rannells is fantastic as the sardonic Larry, who after attempting a real relationship with Hank (Broadway first-timer Tuc Watkins), has decided that maybe monogamy isn't for him. His Larry is loud and brash. He's all over the stage, and seems to be the only actor that actually treats the evening as the party it's supposed to be - enjoying himself the whole time. 

After those glowing remarks about the cast, you may think I loved the show equally as much. However, I have mixed feelings about it as a whole. The reason it's being produced now is that it's the show's 50th anniversary. The Boys in the Band, first premiered in 1968 as the first play that portrayed gay men in a very real way, as opposed to playing them for laughs. Thankfully though, over the last 50 years, the LGBTQ community have made significant strides toward equality. Therein lies the problem with the 50 year old piece.

On one hand, I can understand the desire to show LGBTQ individuals just how far the community has come in the last 50 years. The men in the play are throwing the party at Michael's house because they are forbidden from having it in public. One of the main characters - Alan (another Broadway first-timer Brian Hutchinson) - is so horrified by the men, that he punches Emory (Robin de Jesus). The climate was very different, and while it's still not perfect, LGBTQ individuals have come so far. Why not use these openly gay, and very famous actors to give young people today a history of what their predecessors went through pre-Stonewall?  

But on the other hand, the language in the piece is often so crass that the historic message gets lost. The play has been cut down to 90 minutes with no intermission, which helps the pace. But in the cuts, the creatives left in offensive references to the N-word in response to African-American Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), and "Nancys" and the F-word in response to each other's sexuality. These words have thankfully been all but erased in civilized society today, as they should also be erased from the play. The same goes for the almost masochistic way the men think of themselves in regards to their sexual orientation. Today while the LGBTQ community is being taught to feel pride and be themselves, these men are despondent about their fate. Yes, in 1968 there wasn't much to be excited about in the community, however maybe that's not the best message to reaffirm today.

The show is beautifully realized, and the impact of 9 openly gay men appearing onstage for the first time is a watershed moment in theatre. I only wish the creatives had chosen a more inclusive show to share this vision of equality and pride. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Lambeth Walk in NYC: 'Me & My Girl' at City Center

In terms of classic versus new theatre, I'm of the mindset that something brand new is always better. That of course is not always the case, but you can't argue with the likes of Hamilton or Dear, Evan Hansen. Those completely new and different shows have taken off in ways that have never been seen before, and in doing so have brought new audiences to theaters in droves. On the other hand, one of my very favorite evenings of theatre in the past year was seeing Bette Midler in the revival of Hello, Dolly. It's a classic in every way, and yet I found myself unconsciously smiling throughout the entire show. 

That's the thing about good drama, you just never know what's going to excite. And for this very reason, I recently found myself sitting at New York City Center grinning from ear to ear as I watched Christian Borle and Laura Michelle Kelly command the stage in the Encores! production of Me & My Girl. The show was originally written in the 1940s and had a bit of a revival in the late 1980s, but hasn't been seen on a New York stage since. After seeing the altogether bright, breezy and joyful production, I'd say it's due for a full-scale revival soon. Broadway (and not to mention, the world) could use a sprinkle of happiness and tap-dancing.

Much of the happiness in the production comes from witnessing the master of physical comedy, Christian Borle milk every single line for a belly laugh. He's brilliant and I was in awe just watching for the little asides and toss-away gags he added to the role. Even his British accent was pretty darn believable; not always the case. He was absolutely fantastic as Bill, the brawler from Lambeth who's just been told he's in fact the heir to the Hereford estate - making him the Earl of Hereford, as long as he can impress his new and very British upper-class family members.

The "girl" in the show's title refers to Bill's partner Sally (played by Laura Michelle Kelly.) She's also from Lambeth, and therefore has no business being on the arm of a soon to be Earl. Their relationship on stage was spot-on. Christian and Laura were last seen on Broadway together in Mary Poppins. Their playfulness in playing opposite each other is still very apparent. She's perfectly cast as a sweet girl madly in love with Bill. She is also quite skilled at the comedy, but was upstaged slightly by Christian.

Other standouts in the ensemble included Harriet Harris, as Bill's stuck-up and British aunt Mariah who's goal was to turn Bill into her rightful and aristocratic heir, but seemed to be charmed by her seemingly ne'r do well nephew. Playing her possible love interest and confidant was the always funny Chuck Cooper. His John spent most of the show ever so slightly tipsy, plotting to help Bill and Sally and pining for Mariah. Also appearing was quite possibly the heir to Christian Borle's comedy throne - Mark Evans, on a break from performing in The Play that Goes Wrong. Numbers such as "The Sun has got his Hat on" and "A Weekend in Hereford" were made immensely more enjoyable thanks to his comedic talents. He looked and sounded the part of the perfect English gentleman and tapped his way into the hearts of the audience.

In all of this wonder, it may seem that I've forgotten to mention what made this show so popular in the 1940s when it was first conceived - "The Lambeth Walk." Apparently, the jaunty dance and the hummable song that accompanied it swept the nation after it appeared in the musical. Thankfully the creatives behind this particular production took that to heart, and created a musical number so joyful that it garnered a standing ovation mid-show. It was fun and silly, and if the rest of the audience was anything like me, they were left awash in happiness from the sheer "sparkliness" (a very technical concept if you must know...) of the number.

Shows like these are what makes City Center's dedication to producing these musical classics so admirable. Just a few weeks to create something from the ground-up sounds ridiculous, but NYCC is able to consistently cast actors and creatives that relish the opportunity to do so. Differing from past productions I've seen at the center, this cast had no scripts to assist with lines and and the choreography was some of the most intricate and impressive I've ever seen. In other words, the show was of the same quality (maybe better) than Broadway productions that have months or years to prepare. Because of this, Me & My Girl should be seen as a feather in the cap of City Center and their 25th season. With any luck, this will hopefully prove, once and for all that the classics aren't dead and shows like these should continue to receive the star treatment they deserve! 

Friday, May 4, 2018

April in Review

All the veggies at Reading Terminal Market
In a lot of ways, April seems like it lasted for about 60 days. It was by far the longest and busiest month I've had in a very, very long time. In the span of 30 days, I celebrated Easter, 4 birthdays and an anniversary, had a mid-life crisis about my own birthday, traveled to 2 different cities, saw 10 shows (and reviewed 9 of them), saw and wrote about the Kennedy Center's new season and totaled my car (so I bought a new one).  In all of this time I was also working full time and attempting to have a life as well. Many, many parts of the month were fun, but stress creeps in after a while. And let's just say I'm very much looking forward to a more laid-back May (fingers crossed...)

Birthday fun at Reading Terminal Market
April Reads

Oslo by JT Rogers: I loved this play!  I wanted very much to see it at Lincoln Center last season, but never got around to it. I have high hopes that some small theatre in Maryland will choose to produce it soon, because as good as it is in print, it has to be even better live.

The World Only Spins Forward - The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois: I've been slowly working my way through this book all month. It's a fascinating take on what went in to creating Angels in America. The interviews with many of the original cast as well as those that have been in it over the last 30 years are so fabulous. Everyone knows that Angels in America is a masterpiece now, but it's surprising to hear just how many people also thought that as soon as Kushner wrote it.

Carmer and Grit - Book One by Sarah Jean Horwitz: In between Angels in America, I've also been making my way through this one. It's my young adult pick for the month, that won't be finished until May. It's really, really good but as I mentioned before my mind has gone in many different directions and I had a very hard time focusing. But I'm most definitely going to be finishing this tale that weaves faeries in with steampunk. So great!

Truer words have never been spoken...
April Travels

I had no real plans for my birthday this year - other than not being at work. Because of that, we took a drive up to Philadelphia and ate our way through the Reading Terminal Market. A girl can really do some damage there. Of course, because April Showers are kind of a thing (they wrote a rhyme about it and everything : ), that sort of ruined our plan to also see the Liberty Bell (something I've somehow never seen!) so we went shopping instead at Peddler's Village a bit outside of Philly. Love a good shopping day, but torrential downpours sort of put a damper on it.

Because I'm me, April also included a trip to New York City to see a show. This trip wasn't planned by me, so we only had the chance to eat lunch, see the show and then head home. Toloache, a Mexican place I've been wanting to try, was our lunch location. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly fantastic. But it was good in a pinch. In May, I have two overnight trips planned so I'll hopefully have more fun.

The gorgeous Kennedy Center on a spring morning in April - little did you know it's about 40 degrees in this picture...
April Shows

Like I said at the start of this post, April was chock-full of lots to do. Most of those things to do were theatre. I've gotten to see many, many shows this month in Maryland thanks to writing for the MD Theatre Guide. But I've realized I may have over-extended myself. Yay Theatre! Boo Theatre Hangover!  But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy most of them.

True West at Rep Stage was not what I expected.
Catch me if you Can at Dundalk Community Theatre was amazing!
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Prince George's Little Theatre was fun.
A Chorus Line at Compass Rose Theatre was unbelievable! It was definitely one of the best productions I've seen in Maryland.
Moon over Buffalo at Laurel Mill Playhouse was a funny farce in a super tiny space.
Aubergine at Everyman Theatre was an absolutely beautiful evening of theatre. I cried oh so much. Everything about the production was perfect and I loved having the chance to chat with the cast afterwards.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Vagabond Players was not my favorite, but the actors were fantastic!

Though my favorite event of the MD Theatre Guide assignments was the announcement of the 2018-2019 season at the Kennedy Center. It was a chance to hob-knob with other theatre critics and hear what the Kennedy Center had planned for their upcoming season. We were even treated to a few performances from upcoming shows. I'm more than a little excited about what they have planned!

Also in DC, I saw Let it Be - a tribute to the Beatles. The evening imagined that the Beatles had reunited for one night a decade after their break-up. For a Beatles-lover like me, it was awesome! The day after that, was the quick trip to NYC to see Once on this Island - that I have many, many feelings about that I haven't quite put on paper yet. But will soon, hopefully.

Super amazing staging of Once on this Island
April Moves

In April I was also forced to get comfortable with being reviewed myself. In one of the reviews I posted, a reader wasn't thrilled by my opinion and therefore felt the need to write an angry email to the editor. Ordinarily I would have backed down and apologized, but I'm trying to be better about not apologizing for everything. So I politely said that I would not change the review, and that she's entitled to her opinion, just as I'm entitled to my own. 

I'm not comfortable with these situations at all, and I'm not sure if I handled it correctly. But I do know that my opinion of the show wasn't mean, or judgmental. I even wrote that I enjoyed the show. My issue was with the story itself. And as I'm not writing a thesis, I'm pretty sure I'm entitled to feel the way I feel. 

Though, as logical as that decision seems, I'm still letting this one woman's opinion get in my head. Each time I sit down to write, I hear her annoyance. That so needs to end. I may actually be half way there to sticking up for myself but I'm definitely not all the way there yet, as much as I'd like to be. Progress though is happening.

On the other end of the spectrum, I bought a car. More like I HAD to buy a car when mine had some unfortunate damage. You see, I had a whole plan to buy a car - this time next year. But then an accident occurred and I got thrust into paying money I didn't want to pay on something to drive since that's apparently pretty important to life in Maryland (unfortunately!) The plan was to buy a Honda, but my rental was a Jeep. And you know what? I fell in love with that jeep and managed to find a used one for a great deal. So now I'm a super happy jeep owner - until the bill comes of course...

See how happy (and nerdy) I look in my cute jeep?