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The REAL Christmas Vacation

Jeff Linamen

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We started planning our two week vacation, six months ago. Five days in New York, a seven day cruise on Norwegian to the Bahamas and finishing back in New York for one final full day of shows. Pretty straight forward. We booked our cruise, flight, hotel and also booked all our shows in advance. Done.

Michael spent hours watching all the YouTube videos people posted of the cruise ship, rooms similar to ours and read all the reviews of the ship the possible excursions, etc. We both lost a lot of weight so we had some fun shopping for new clothes. Everything planned ahead, ready to go… simple, right? Then the real fun started.

IMG_0722Show Tickets. You have some options if you want to see Broadway shows, you can purchase your tickets in advance, get better seats depending how early you buy– but you pay full price for most of them. Sometimes you can get discounts in advance and we got a few but for the most part, we paid full price. Your other option is the TKTS booth in Times Square. You can get tickets for up to half price based on availability but we would be in NY, Broadway’s busiest week of the year. So instead of taking chances, we booked all our shows in July. Done.

Or were we? Turns out, one show never opened, we re-booked it, that show closed quickly after opening, we booked another, that one cancelled that specific performance, so re-booked it again. Then the show the were to see that same night, open and closed and we found ourselves re-booking shows five times on the same day! (Wednesday, December 26th, 2012)

Packing or “Do you two communicate?”. Thinking we were ahead of the game, we started packing two days before we left, only to discover two things: 1) Packing wasn’t as easy as it seems and 2) We kind of had our wires crossed about what we intended to wear in New York. Oops!

Michael bought us new luggage: we each had a large suitcase and a new carry on sized bag. In the first sound of packing, we found the large suitcase easily held way more than the 50 pound limit of the air and cruise lines. So, we had to unpack. Then, somewhere in round two, we discovered. somehow we had different ideas on clothing for New York.

Usually we go to New York for five to seven days and each just take a carry on and re-wear what we have, dressing comfortable, casual the whole time. Usually jeans and whatever else we threw in the bag. This time, since we would be gone two weeks and needed to dress for both warm and cold weather and needed to have at least some dress clothes for the cruise, we knew we’d be checking luggage and taking more. I had commented several times how it would be nice to dress for the theatre for once BUT I guess it didn’t translate. Michael didn’t hear that and had planned on dressing as we normally did– casual only in New York. I, on the other hand, planned to wear suits and sports coats to the theatre and casual during the day.

It may not sound like a big deal but it was. We went through what we had, what we needed to swap out and what we needed to buy. After a quick analysis, some hair pulling and stressing out, a quick trip to the store Christmas Eve morning….. <sigh> we were back on track. We crammed as much of the weight into the two smaller bags, relieving some of the weight from the big bags and we were ready to go. We were sure we’d crossed our T‘s and dotted our I‘s …. and of course, we were even more certain we were forgetting things. Folks, I actually brought FIVE pairs of shoes!

Unedited self portrait in the bathroom of Cafe Bar in Astoria. I could resist the mirror tile of unusual wallpaper and lighting.

Unedited self portrait in the bathroom of Cafe Bar in Astoria. I could resist the mirror tile of unusual wallpaper and lighting.

Off we go. We made the decision to travel in style and were flying first class. When you figure in the additional checked luggage costs, early booking advantage and convenience…. and the fact this was my 5oth Birthday trip…. it all made sense to add this luxury. We got to O’Hare early, breezed through the Priority security line and the rest of our travel to New York was as smooth as possible. No delays, traffic was light from the airport to the city. Perfect.

We checked in to Hotel St. James (where we stayed in March) and got a surprise. Our room was slightly bigger than last time and they old-style hotel which previously was still using actual room keys, had upgraded to scan keys.

Christmas Night. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Our first show. It was a good, strong production but the first act was much stronger than the remaining two acts. Instead of building to a final climax, I felt it lacked, or failed to build and maintain the intensity needed to sustain a powerful ending. The acting was good but I’ve never been a fan of the ‘Chicago-style of acting‘– you are always aware they are actors playing parts, as opposed to actors assuming roles and becoming the characters. I’m pretty sure Tracy Letts will be, at the very least, in the running for a Tony for his portrayal of George.

Wednesday 12/26. In the morning, we headed out to Astoria, Queens for brunch with a friend of ours. Always a favorite part of our New York trips. Then back in to Manhattan for our first two-show day. This was the day that gave us all the problems with our show tickets. The matinee was Golden Age Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club. All I really can say about it is: Not interested. I thought it would have a similar feel to Amadeus based on the description and subject matter– mostly, I was just bored.

The Other Place with Laurie Metcalfe was our wild card show. It was one of our replacements and has turned out, so far, to be our favorite. Metcalfe is sure to be Tony-nominated for her role of a 52 year old woman slipping quickly into the grips of Dementia. The play is well crafted, beautifully acted and emotionally devastating. I’ll be anxious to see how the critics review it after the official opening.

Thursday 12/27. Four shows in one day! Okay, one movie, two shows and a cabaret act. I’ll try and be brief with my descriptions and reactions here. Michael had been insistent on seeing Les Miserables while we were here. I’ve been skeptical since I saw the first previews. The power and beauty of the stage production, brought to the big screen, was… to put it kindly, disappointing. I think it was poorly directed and filmed. The way it was filmed really annoyed me. Despite the dedicated efforts of Jackman and Hathaway, I felt their performances were hindered by the way they were filmed. The only two actors I thought came across well were Samantha Barks as Eponine and Aaron Tveits as Enjoras. Russell Crowe neither acted or sang in the film. I cringed every time Marius and Cozette were on screen. It was actually worse than I expected.

Our matinee performance, Grace with Paul Rudd and Ed Asner, was also a disappointment. It had an interesting framework but failed to deliver any real content. Just a meandering conversation about Christianity and Faith that really didn’t go anywhere.

In 1979, I was lucky enough to be invited to go to New York and perform with the Florida Camerata and then join the Winter Haven Youth Orchestra in several Manhattan and Long Island concerts. It had a huge impact on my life. It was during that trip that I saw my first professional concerts, my first Broadway show and… The Nutcracker. I can still vividly remember the moment in the Nutcracker when it began to snow on stage. I think it was that moment that hooked me on the stage for life. The first Broadway show?….. was Annie with the young Sarah Jessica Parker. No matter what the show, or how good it is… I think your first always holds a special place in your heart.

So last night, 33 years after my first encounter, I saw the new revival of Annie. I think its a good strong production. I can’t say it’s phenomenal but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I appreciated that all the bells and whistles were blown early in the show and it felt like it continually built to a big finale. My favorite moment in the show, one that could easily be boring or ignored; was Daddy’s Warbuck’s song, Something Was Missing. It was very well staged and beautifully performed, creating one of the shows most touching moments. Even though it wasn’t over-played (or over-staged), I still couldn’t help but get a big old lump in my through when Annie made her first appearance at the top of the stairs after her transformation. It still gets me, even after all these years. Annie remains on my short list of must-do shows to direct before I die.

As if three weren’t enough, I had made reservations to see cabaret performer, Sirius XM host, and my Facebook friend, Christine Pedi’s show, There’s No Bizness Like Snow Bizness at the West Bank Cafe. It was the perfect end to the day. Pedi’s blend of humor and holiday reminiscing was just what I needed. Michael and I had a delicious meal and really enjoyed the performance. Pedi was a part of the Forbidden Broadway franchise for years with her amazing ability to accurately impersonate dozens of performers. Her final number, The 12 Divas of Christmas, in which names of 12 stars were drawn at random from a hat, was hilarious perfection.

I apologize in advance if my editing is bad. I started this post yesterday morning and just don’t have enough time to write all I’d like. Today we’re off on a Harlem adventure and lunch with friends… then more shows of course! Until next time.


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