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Monthly Archives: May 2014

NYC May 2014- Day Nine: Crossdressers, Creatives & Curmudgeons

The quiet solitude of Central Park.

The quiet solitude of Central Park.

Planning our trip, we originally narrowed our show list down to twenty three productions we were interested in seeing.

We initially thought we had fifteen slots open but with some of the changes in the performance schedule, we were able to book seventeen shows.

That meant Saturday was going to be a three show day.

Sheep Meadow on Central Park's west side.

Sheep Meadow on Central Park’s west side.

While we were trying to squeeze in all the other things we wanted to do in New York, we purposely left Saturday morning free, thinking it was already going to be a really long day.

As it turned out, Michael and I were up early and raring to go. So with our first show at Lincoln Center, we decided to head up that direction and took a walk in Central Park.

One of a number or bridges in Central Park.

One of a number of bridges in Central Park.

The sun appeared from behind the clouds, off and on and it turned out to be a rather nice morning.

Having been there many times before, we didn’t have a specific destination nor were we trying to see the whole park. We entered from the Fifth Avenue side and just started wandering.

Warm days like this, fill the park with tourists and New Yorkers alike; walking, jogging and bicycling through the many paths and trails.

The newly renovated and reopened, Tavern On the Green.

The newly renovated and reopened, Tavern On the Green.

We hadn’t planned on it but we had the time, so we found ourselves lunching at the recently reopened Tavern On the Green.

Closed in 2009, all the interior decor had been auctioned off and for a brief time the space was used as a visitors center.

We had eaten here twice before and enjoyed the gawdy decorating that included many Tiffany and crystal chandeliers.

greenAnyone visiting the historic landmark today will be in for a bit of a shock as the new operators have renovated the property, returning it to more of its original look and feel. It is a warm, open and inviting atmosphere that features a contemporary and reasonably priced, gourmet menu that features delicious offerings that are also beautifully plated. It was one of the best meals we experienced this time in New York.

Act-One-Playbill-03-14Act One This production actually didn’t make our first cut but since the show we had scheduled closed early, we decided to see it, influenced by its five Tony nominations.

Lincoln Center’s production of Act One isn’t without its merits. The acting is good, the revolving, sometimes dizzying set, moves the action quickly between locations and the direction is good.

Based on Moss Hart’s best-selling autobiography of the same name, Act One would probably have benefited from some serious cutting and more humorous moments. (The show runs nearly three hours.) James Lapine both adapted and directed this piece. That, though interesting, was a little too slow paced for my taste. Combine that with uncomfortable seats and it made for a slightly less than enjoyable afternoon.

Coming out of the show there was a sudden downpour. Luckily, there was a subway entrance less than a block away. We only got minimally drenched. We went back to our place, threw our clothes in the dryer and got changed for our next show.

Mothers-and-Sons-Playbill-02-14Mothers and Sons Tyne Daly stars in this touching drama about love, loss and connecting.

Terrence McNally has skillfully crafted a play that explores the lingering and devastating effects that AIDS has left on families affected by the disease.

Difficult conversations between a mother and her deceased son’s lover, ignite this play, questioning what was and what is.

It reminds us that though huge steps have been taken toward Equality in the past ten to twenty years, people essentially have not changed. Prejudice, pain and fear still overshadow the lives of so many.

Hedwig-and-the-Angry-Inch-Playbill-03-14_THUMBHedwig and the Angry Inch Neil Patrick Harris is filling the house to capacity in this first Broadway production of Hedwig. You might say, this is the current hot ticket show. It has certainly generated a lot of media buzz.

Hedwig has a cult following that has grown over the years from the 1998 Off-Broadway production and the 2001 film adaptation. It has been performed all over the world.

Harris does a fine job inhabiting the role of Hedwig, an East German transgendered (albeit a botched operation) singer –probably singing the best in his career.

The show is flashy, trashy and full of special effects. It’s more of an event than a musical. There is a story that develops through the songs and updated dialogue. Still, there’s not a book-story, even by contemporary standards. It’s the equivalent of attending a very loud punk rock show. We enjoyed it but it definitely has a specific audience that is not traditional Broadway by any means.

It’s one of the most Tony-nominated shows (eight) this year, although I don’t real understand why.

NYC May 2014- Day Eight: Parks & Perfection

Entrance to Fort Tryon Park.

Entrance to Fort Tryon Park.

What better way is there to spend a Friday in New York than to venture away from Times Square, with friends, to visit friends? That’s how we spent the bulk of the day. The four of us ventured up to Washington Heights and Fort Tryon Park to visit our friends, Carrie and Joel. We’d never been up to that part of Manhattan before so it was nice to see something new. On previous visits, Carrie and Joel had always met us in Midtown, so we finally got to see their beautiful apartment too.

The George Washington Bridge from Fort Tryon Park.

The George Washington Bridge from Fort Tryon Park.

Fort Tryon Park was a great break from the noise of Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen and perfect for relaxing and conversation.

We decided not to go to the Cloisters but leisurely wandered around the park and had great views of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge. We chatted for awhile on a beautiful overlook and then headed to the Gaelic restaurant and pub, Le Cheile for lunch.

After lunch, it was back to Midtown for a little rest before our evening show.

If-Then-Playbill-March-2014-a-New-Musical-on-Broadway-Richard-Rodgers-Theatre-Music-Tom-Kitt-Book-and-Lyrics-Brian-Yorkey-with-Idina-Menzel-Lachanze-Anthony-Rapp-Jerry-Dixon-Jenn-Colella-Jason-Tam-Tam-0If/Then Written by the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning team, of Next To Normal, Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey, If/Then is one of the only completely original musicals this Broadway season. No contemporary writing team better expresses our inner feelings and explores the human condition with such insight and style.

You remember that girl, Adele Dazeem? Yeah, she’s in it. That’s the one and only, Idina Menzel. She’s not just in it, she is it.

Oh yeah, and remember that Mark-guy from Rent? He’s in it too. Anthony Rapp is reunited with Menzel in this fascinating production.

You know how you sometimes wonder, What if…? If/Then explores that question through two different scenarios , had Menzel’s character, Elizabeth made different choices. The action moves back and forth between the two choices in a beautiful telling of what might have been.

The entire supporting cast is wonderful. In addition to Rapp, it features James Snyder (we saw in Cry Baby) and the phenomenal, LaChanze (I saw previously in Once On This Island), were among the standouts. Jenn Colella (we saw in Chaplin) as Anne, is a performer to watch. I was extremely impressed by her impressive vocal skills.

The show is funny, moving and takes you on a journey none of us will ever experience— but some might wish they had.

If/Then is by far, one of the best, if not the best new show currently on Broadway.

NYC May 2014- Day Seven: Everything Old Is New Again

We walked over to Pier 88 to meet Michael’s Mom & Dad and then went to lunch with them at Pom Pom Diner. They were sailing from New York on a long cruise leaving Thursday, so we were lucky enough to spend some time with them, having not seen them in over a year. It was overcast and we had a little rain but we somehow managed to avoid it.

Phantom-Of-Opera-Playbill-12-11The Phantom of the Opera I saw Phantom twice in New York just after it opened in 1988. First, starring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman and the second time with Timothy Nolen and Patti Cohenour.  I’ve seen other productions since then, including the more modern (technically) Las Vegas version and have always found it to be entertaining.

When it originally opened (less than a year after Les Miserables), it was part of the British Invasion of Broadway and the mega-musical phase. Much like Disney’s entrance on the Broadway stage, many in the theatre community resented it and were unfairly critical. The fact is, Phantom has been running for 26 years on Broadway and with the exception of a few years prior to the movie version’s release, when attendance dipped, it has consistently sold at 85-100% of capacity.

Michael and I have both seen Phantom multiple times. I never considered it one of my favorite shows, yet I never fail to be thrilled and swept away by it. There were two reasons we chose to revisit it on this trip. First, It was one of only a few shows with a Thursday matinee. Second, we found out Norm Lewis was stepping into the role of the Phantom and that’s the real reason we bought tickets. We met Lewis last summer on the Broadway On the High Seas 3 cruise and were instantly enchanted. He is not only an amazing performer but a sincere and gracious person.

So the verdict? I can happily report that Phantom, with it’s current cast, looks and feels as fresh and electric as any show currently running on Broadway. The sound was excellent and the lighting tech and special effects, which remain pretty much unaltered, work flawlessly. (There are no intelligent (moving) or LED lights evident as there are in all the newer productions.)

Norm Lewis (Phantom), Sierra Boggess (Christine) and Jeremy Hays (Raoul) probably sing the show better than any previous cast. Both Lewis and Boggess bring so many more layers in vocal styles to their performances than I’ve heard from others assuming those roles. I have to be honest and say I’ve never liked the Raoul character in past productions. Now with Hays in the role, I finally did. Hays brings Raoul to life in a fully-rounded, brilliantly sung performance.

Lewis is not duplicating Crawford’s Phantom character. This is a departure from the way it is usually done when a replacement goes into a currently running show. I think Lewis’ character could be a little better developed– but I’m confident he will continue to grow in the role. He’s making it his own. Lewis’ Phantom is more a romantic and less the control-seeking victim of his predecessors. The same can be said for Boggess as Christine. This is not the weak victimized Christine of past seasons. Boggess makes her fresh, more confident and has full command of the stage. Boggess’ Christine seems to be more in control and makes choices, as opposed to being the victim of circumstance.

If you’ve never seen Phantom on Broadway and want a sure-thing– this is it.

Bullets-Over-Broadway-Playbill-03-14Bullets Over Broadway I have to sum up Bullets with one sentence: It’s been done before. Based on the Woody Allen movie, Bullets is just a plain fun, old book, entertainment. There is nothing new or fresh here and it’s been done  better, dozens of times before. It has a thin plot (complete with gangsters) and a score comprised of familiar catalog songs. The charm of the film doesn’t translate to the stage in this production.

I didn’t find anything unique in the staging or choreography and found that though all the actors give strong performances, they weren’t able to rise above the material. Don’t get me wrong, the show is enjoyable. It just isn’t something I’d go see again.

I didn’t expect a revelation here. I did expect that I would laugh, or at least smile a lot more than I did.

Last comment: How could anyone think that the song, Yes, We have No Bananas was a good way to end the show?

It’s beyond me.

NYC May 2014- Day Six: History

I woke up around 4:30 am and walked over to the Times Square Starbucks and got to watch crews setting up outside the Good Morning America studio for the Dancing With the Stars After Party.

It was overcast this morning but the rain held off, only drizzling occasionally throughout the day. We met our friends at 7:30 am and headed down for what, I was sure would be the most memorable part of our visit.

National September 11 Memorial & Museum The Museum was originally supposed to open in time for the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in 2011. Bureaucracy and funding got in the way, delaying the tireless efforts– but here we were, May 21, 2014, the official opening day– and I was lucky enough to be there.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

When we arrived at the Memorial site, the hallowed ground where the World Trade Center once stood, still known by many as Ground Zero– I was taken aback to cross the street,  round the corner and find the Memorial Plaza open with free access. I visited the Memorial twice before, while it was completely fenced in, keep out anyone that did not have a pass or a ticket. In fact, this historic site had been completely caged in since the horrifying events of 9/11.

Now it has been set free. Open to the world. A beautiful public tribute to the many people that perished that day.

As we walked across the massive plaza, bagpipes were playing. The press were set up in a long row near the museum to capture the ceremonial unfurling of the National 9/11 Flag before it was carefully folded and carried past us through the museum doors.

A twisted piece of the facade steel from the North Tower, floors 93-96.

A twisted piece of the facade steel from the North Tower, floors 93-96.

We were among the first 50 members of the public to enter these sacred halls. I say sacred not only because of what the museum represents but also because it houses a repository of some 8,000 still unidentified human remains.

The museum is beautifully laid out. Upon entering, you must first go through airport-like security. From there you enter the sprawling entry hall where you are greeted by two twin steel tridents, salvaged from the North Tower facade, rising up against the glass framed backdrop of the memorial plaza towards the sky. This is just the beginning, leading you into and all-encompassing journey of sight and sound, taking you back in time to one of the darkest days in American history. It is a sobering reminder for those that lived through it– an important memorandum for those who were too young and the many future generations to come.

I think you can visit the museum and experience it differently, depending on your mindset. It would be easy to become completely engulfed and have  a very emotional experience. Or, as I chose, for my first visit– to view the museum as a spectator. I viewed much of it through the lens of my camera; wanting to document everything I saw. This visit I wanted to be an observer, or a witness; I wasn’t there to grieve.

A close up section of the the Last Column.

A close up section of the Last Column.

I don’t want anyone to think I was trying to ignore or avoid an emotional experience– just being there was an emotional experience for me. September 11, 2001 has had such a profound effect on my life, I knew this experience would be another milestone in my personal journey.

I’m not sure how guided tours would work here. Much of the museum is laid out to stimulate a very solemn, personal experience. No photography is allowed in a number of areas. Dim lighting spotlights the exhibits, salvaged from tons of debris and personal effects donated by the families of victims. You are led on a cerebral and visceral journey depending on your emotional state.

The next time I go back, I could easily spend a full day taking in the full experience. Allowing myself to feeling the overpowering emotions bottled up inside. Allowing myself to grieve. The eyewitness accounts, media documentation, personal effects and thousands of stories of life and loss– are all here in remembrance.

 

Cripple-of-Inishmaan-Playbill-04-14The Cripple of Inishmaan Daniel Radcliffe is featured in this production written by Martin McDonagh. We saw Radcliffe’s outstanding performance in Equus a few seasons back. Even though he’s considered the star of this, he’s really not on stage that much. Other characters spend most of the the time talking about him in his absence.

There’s a chunk of the second act where the characters are watching a movie, conversing and commenting on the film. I completely missed the correlation here. It didn’t seem to go anywhere to further the thin plot.

There are some great moments and fine acting in this Irish black comedy. I’d compare a lot of the banter back and forth to that of a Mamet play.

Overall, though, it just wasn’t my favorite piece.

Casa-Valentina-Playbill-04-14Casa Valentina Written by Harvey Fierstein and directed by Joe Mantello, Casa Valentina is a fine theatrical work. Michael and I both agreed it could use some fine tuning towards the end but it’s a fascinating story.

Based on actual events, the action takes place in 1962 in the Catskills where a small group of married men gather to “escape being men”, dressing and living as women. It explores the conflicts of their mostly secret lives, their relationships and their own deep seated prejudices.

The ensemble cast is outstanding. I was most impressed and moved by Gabriel Ebert’s (Tony-winner last year for Matilda) sensitive portrayal of Jonathan/Miranda, completely at odds with his identity. Tom McGowan (Modern Family) as Bessie, is a strong, larger than life contrast– always the life of the party.

I kept forgetting that Reed Birney was a man. His Strong-woman portrayal of Charlotte is mesmerizing. John Cullum is completely adorable as Terry and has some of the best, unexpected quips.

Patrick Page and Mare Winningham lead the ensemble as husband and wife, ‘comfortable’ yet deeply conflicted with their unusual arrangement. It is their storyline, above all else, that we felt could have used a little more exploration.

Casa Valentina is a very funny, yet moving story. It’s one production that I would highly recommend.

Photo Essay: National September 11 Museum Opening Day

Visiting the National September 11 Museum on Opening Day (May 21, 2014) was my pilgrimage of sorts. It was a solemn, emotional and a very personal experience for me. I’ll writing more about the experience in my next post. Here are some of the images I captured on this historic day. (The taking of photographs is off limits in many areas of the museum.)

The National September 11 Museum stands watch near one of the Memorial Pools.

The National September 11 Museum stands watch near one of the Memorial Pools.

Band

Ceremonial activities outside the museum prior to its official opening.

Flag

Following the opening ceremony and unfurling of the National 9/11 Flag, it was solemnly escorted into the museum just before visitors were admitted.

Twin Tridents, part of the World Trade Center South Tower Facade greet visitors as they enter the museum's exhibition

Inside the museum, Twin Tridents, salvaged from the World Trade Center South Tower Facade, greet visitors as they enter.

 

Changing Panels and overlapping audio accounts of 9/11/01 surround you as you pass through the section of the exhibit.

Changing Panels and overlapping audio accounts of 9/11/01 surround you as you pass through the section of the exhibit.

Looking down on the slurry wall and Last Column in Foundation Hall.

Looking down on the slurry wall and Last Column in Foundation Hall.

A panel of gradually changing Missing Flyers are projected in the exhibit.

A panel of gradually changing Missing Flyers are projected in the exhibit.

A massive, moving tribute.

A massive, moving tribute.

Looking down the remnant of the historic Vesey Street, Survivors' Stairs.

Looking down the remnant of the historic Vesey Street, Survivors’ Stairs.

The Survivors' Stairs carried many to safety on 9/11/01.

The Survivors’ Stairs carried many to safety on 9/11/01.

In Memoriam honors all the victims of 9/11 and includes an inner gallery that honors the memory of each individual.

In Memoriam honors all the victims of 9/11 and includes an inner gallery that honors the memory of each individual.

WTC box column remnant.

WTC box column remnant.

South Tower grillage.

South Tower grillage.

antenna

A section of the North Tower radio and television antenna.

Ladder 3 damaged on 9/11. All the firefighters from this vehicle perished.

Ladder 3 damaged on 9/11. All the firefighters from this vehicle perished.

The steel beam cross from Ground Zero was a symbol of hope and rememberance.

The steel beam cross from Ground Zero was a symbol of hope and rememberance.

 

NYC May 2014- Days Four & Five: Rocking the Political Cradle On Stage

A view on The High Line.

A view on The High Line.

Monday we met with our friends Steve & Amy (from home) who happened to be in NYC this week as well. We had a great time socializing and made our first visit this trip to The High Line with them. The High Line, which runs above Gansevoort Street to 34th Street on Manhattan’s West Side, is a public park built on what was once a historic freight rail line. It was a beautiful sunny day and only took us about an hour to walk the whole park. We’ll be returning with other friends from home later this week and hopefully I’ll get some good pictures to share.

Short on time, the four of us headed back to Times Square and Havana Central (our second time this trip) for lunch before parting ways.

art-web-telecharge-176x176The Cradle Will Rock We actually had tickets for another show that we ended up giving to friends. When we found out that this special, one night only, benefit concert was happening, we couldn’t miss it.

I’m a huge fan of Patti LuPone. Given the opportunity, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see her recreate her Oliver Award-winning performance in this historic, ground-breaking theatrical work.

The staging was a benefit for The Acting Company, which originally produced the show under the direction of John Houseman. This concert staging directed by Lonny Price, featured LuPone and a number of other original company members, as well as more recent alumni.

This is a work I hope to produce one day. Its political and social message are still relevant today and I have a specific vision for staging the piece.

Tuesday, Michael and I both did a lot of exploring on our own. I’m not sure how much ground Michael covered but I’d traveled over five miles (tracked on my Fitbit) before noon. We initial thought we’d find a new destination to visit and then decided to just explore instead. The great things about a big city is there’s always something new to see, it’s always evolving and there are always things you hadn’t noticed before.

Friends arrived in the afternoon and while I was off exploring 6th Avenue and Bryant Park, Michael accompanied them to the TKS booth to get their show tickets and then to stand in line for the lottery for Kinky Boots tickets (which they won).  We had dinner at Yum Yum Bangkok before splitting up to go to our shows.

 

All-The-Way-Playbill-02-14All The WayAll the way with LBJ!” Bryan Cranston IS LBJ. You won’t see any evidence of Walter White (Breaking Bad) on this stage. From his first breath in a solo spotlight, Cranston gives an incredibly layered performance as President Lyndon B. Johnson, proving his versatility and skill as as actor and showing that a true performer can successfully thrive on stage and screen equally.

Written by Robert Schenkkan and directed by Bill Rauch, All The Way follows LBJ’s journey from the Kennedy assassination through Johnson’s reelection as President. It carefully weaves the personal, public and political struggles LBJ had to juggle while blazing the trail in his fight for civil rights.

The story was skillfully told by an ensemble of veteran actors, supporting Cranston. Some of the other stand out performances were given by Brandon J. Dirden as Martin Luther King, Jr.; Betsy Aidem as Lady Bird Johnson/Katharine Graham/Katharine St. George; Michael McKean as J. Edgar Hoover/Robert Byrd; and Robert Petkoff as Hubert Humphrey.

All The Way is Tony-nominated for Best Play and Best Actor (Cranston), and has already won the Outer Critics Circle, New York Drama Critics’ Circle and the Drama League awards for Best Play.

 

On the way back to our apartment, we stopped and picked up Concretes at the Shake Shack. (8th Ave. & 44th St.) With multiple locations, this is THE spot for ice cream treats in New York City. The lines are almost always out the door but they move fast and you always get great service.

NYC May 2014- Day Three: Bridges & Body Switching

We had lunch at one of our favorite spots, Havana Central, Times Square  (151 West 46th Street) and as usual, the food was excellent. We both had the original Cuban Sandwiches with black beans and yellow rice. As a kid, we used to go to the Silver Ring for Cuban sandwiches in Ybor City, Florida. Lots of places offer Cubans but most aren’t authentic. Cuban bread is crusty and has a specific taste. Most places don’t use Cuban bread. Havana Central is the only place (other than Silver Ring) I’ve found that makes a good Cuban sandwich. We’ve tried many things on the menu and all has been quite good. The service is also fast and courteous.

Bridges-of-Madison-County-Playbill-01-14_1389306410The Bridges of Madison County How do you critique one of the most gorgeous shows Broadway has seen in years? First, I should probably say that I have not read the book nor seen the movie, so I wasn’t bound to any comparisons.

Bridges is the perfect marriage of story and song, beautifully told through wonderful staging and exquisite vocals. The entire cast is brilliant. I do have to single out Kelli O’Hara (Francesca) and Steven Pasquale (Robert), supported through outstanding performances by Hunter Foster (Bud) and Cass Morgan (Marge).

In my opinion, this is O’Hara’s best performance to date. Her character is beautifully layered and she sings Francesca with such a committed, passionate skill. Passquale’s vocals moved me like no other male vocalist has done in many, many years. His voice literally lifts the score and raises it through the roof.

Marsha Norman has expertly adapted the book to weave and intertwine with Jason Robert Brown’s lush score producing a work that grabbed my soul from the very beginning and didn’t release it even after the final bow. Brown’s orchestrations are so full and magical I can’t find the words to describe their beauty. Show show completely envelops you.

Most shows, or their respective productions, have not had the ability to reach me the way this did. It is the most passionate, romantic production Broadway has seen since probably The Light in the Piazza or Stephen Sondheim’s darker, Passion. I was so moved, I had tears in my eyes for nearly the entire performance, from the very first notes.

curtain

The Bridges of Madison County final curtain call with Marsha Norman and Jason Robert Brown.

We saw the closing performance, adding to the electricity in the theater. It is a very sad statement that a show this incredible could not find a Broadway audience. Worse still, is that it was snubbed by the Tony committee in the Best Musical and Best Actor categories— which, at the very least, is a travesty.

$_35Under My Skin I’d hoped we were in for a good old-fashioned comedy after the emotional matinee.

I chuckled.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this, other than it is a rather amateurish male-female, body-switching comedy that is entertaining but completely predictable.

Written by the married writing team, Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser of Who’s the Boss? and The Nanny fame. Their sitcom influences are readily apparent here. The only thing missing were the commercials and a badly needed laugh track.

This was not what I expected from a professionally produced (Off Broadway) production but can see the show having an active life in the community theatre circuit in years to come.