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Photo Essay: Sailing From New York City

Here are some photos I shot from my balcony on NCL’s Norwegian Jewel, December 30, 2012. We sailed out of Pier 88 on the Hudson River just after 4 PM. The view was simply breathtaking.

Midtown Manhattan from the Hudson River.

Midtown Manhattan from the Hudson River.

The Empire State Building.

The Empire State Building.

Piers on the Hudson River.

Piers on the Hudson River.

Sun setting on the New Jersey side.

Sun setting on the New Jersey side.

Lower Manhattan.

Lower Manhattan.

Approaching New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

Approaching New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty at sunset.

The Statue of Liberty at sunset.

Staten Island Ferry.

Staten Island Ferry.

Skyline of Lower Manhattan.

Skyline of Lower Manhattan.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, New York Harbor.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, New York Harbor.

A Sure Thing… Usually Isn’t

I had a wonderful birthday yesterday… in spite of being cold and wet. I did have a moment last night, between shows, when I was standing in a quiet plaza with snow falling gently all around me and it just felt… perfect. Do you have moments that in the grand scheme of things are quite ordinary but for some reason, at that moment, they just feel magical? That’s what I was feeling.

I had another one of those moments a few nights before we left for New York. It was late and Michael and the dogs were already in bed when I turned in. I laid down and ended up nose to nose with Roxie (one of my Boxers) and she was in and out of sleep, occasionally opening her eyes and licking my face. Such a simple, ordinary thing– but it felt magical.

IMG_0783Birthday In New York. I spent several hours at Starbucks yesterday writing and post blogs and pictures. I love starting my New York days that way. Michael came over from the hotel with his new iPad and sat with me for a while and then we got ready to head out for our last day of shows before our cruise.

A Sure Thing… Or Not. I purposely booked our shows the way I did, thinking I was guaranteeing ‘the best for last’, so to speak. One, a star-studded revival, the other– my most anticipated show on the trip. Our friend Amee was able to get rush tickets and join us for the latter.

Mystery of Edwin Drood. I’d been a fan of Drood for years. I saw a non-equity tour of it years and years ago and frequently listened to my out of print CD copy of the original cast. (Now available digitally.) Now you have to understand that Drood is not, for the most part, your typical musical. There is audience interaction with the cast and in the end, the audience votes for several of the outcomes to the story. (Drood is based on an unfinished Charles Dickens novel.) The show takes place in an old music hall and the actors, play actors playing roles in the story. Confusing? It’s really not.

Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, pulled out all the stops casting this production. Some big Broadway names, past and present make up the core of the casting. Is it a wonderful piece of theatre? No, probably not. The framework is unique, though and I really love most of the music. Especially the haunting Moonfall the sweet Perfect Strangers and the energetic There You Are and Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead. The show is brilliantly sung by the seasoned cast, both powerfully and intuitively. Vocally, there are some glorious moments in this production.

The staging is perfect here. The high melodrama style of the piece is brilliantly played. (This is where it could quite possibly go terribly wrong in staging the show.) Now you have to understand, I am not a ‘laughter’. I’ll smile, grin or chuckle during productions but it is rare that I laugh out loud. I laughed. Multiple times– out loud. Let’s just say, that apparently my laughter shocked Michael enough for he to comment on it later. I was having a wonderful time.

Michael, on the other hand, was not. He’d never seen it before– and at the conclusion stated, “I never want to see that again.” He really hated the format and period style, comparing it to watching an old Gilbert and Sullivan piece. (Not sure where that comes from.) His review would be: “I wanted to see it, I saw it– never again.” (Which makes me laugh out loud, in itself!)

I LOVED it! Can I say that again? I really, really loved it! And lucky for me, I get to see it again in a few weeks. The directing, staging, design elements and spectacular performances all came together perfectly for me.

IMG_0779That Villain Guy. Michael did say he liked ‘that villain guy’. And he really liked Stephanie J. Block in the title role. That sparked the following conversation:

Me: That villain guy? Don’t you know who that is?

Michael: No, I didn’t look.

Me: OMG! Michael, that was Will Chase!

Michael: And? … Like I’m supposed to know who that is?

Me: Seriously? Roger in RentStory of My LifeSMASH?

Michael: Who? The cheater guy? That was him?

Me: OMG! Yes, that was him!

Michael: How was I supposed to know? I didn’t recognize him. Like I know EVERY performer! (pregnant pause) He was good though.

I just found the conversation highly amusing for some reason. And Will Chase wasn’t just GOOD he was BRILLIANT!

BARE. This was my most anticipated show. I’d been a fan of the material since they released a concert sampling of the songs years ago. When a full studio recording was released, I quickly snatched it up and my interest, or love for it– grew substantially. I won’t go in to detail about the plot or subject matter here. Partly because in this ‘refocused’ staging… it’s now unclear what it wants to be. Hence, the title of this blog post.

All I can say for lack of space and clarity. The bittersweet, tragic coming of age story is now a big mess. Characters were cut, characters were combined, well developed characters in the original conception are now disconnected  and their purpose, muddied; and new characterizations (or characters) are started but not developed and leave the audience hanging, wondering why we were introduced to them in the first place. Nothing was left untouched. The music, lyrics, dialogue, characters… all have been altered.

Now, I want to say that though I’m a fan of the original conception, I don’t consider myself intimately involved in the material to the point of not being open or accepting of changes. Here, the show is almost unrecognizable. Now that I’ve seen it, I can totally understand the NYT’s review of it. I think they’ve destroyed its commercial appeal and dumbed it down for maybe to junior high crowd… except most parents won’t be taking their children to this, due to the subject matter.

I understand a few of the changes that adapted to the current trends, updating the piece that was written about ten years ago; but those changes could have easily been made without the huge unnecessary alterations that were made. The choreography, or musical staging, is completely awkward here too. There are hints of the physicality used so brilliantly in Spring Awakening that in this production are just a cheap copy-cat attempt, not well executed. In addition, I thought much of the cast lacked the overall experience or vocal skill required for a ‘New York show’.

So, what I thought was a sure thing– wasn’t. My ‘birthday show’ was beyond a huge disappointment. It was a disaster.

Less Than Half. In total, Michael and I saw three Broadway plays, one off-Broadway play, four Broadway musicals,  one off-Broadway musical, one cabaret performance and one movie. We only both LOVED two shows: The Other Place and Chaplin. In addition, I really loved Mystery of Edwin Drood… but it’s not for everyone. We both really disliked: Golden Age, Grace, Bare (actually Michael said it was ‘ok’ but not good) and the movie, Les Miserables. The rest fell in the middle. Not a very good average and not very encouraging with the prices they charge for tickets.

Luckily, we have two more shows to see when we come back after our cruise: Spiderman (which I’ll probably end up loving since I’m so sure I’ll hate it) and The Book of Mormon (which I’m supposed to love, so I may not.)

I don’t expect to love every show I see but I do expect to be entertained. If it were possible, I’d be asking for a few refunds this trip. Don’t worry, it didn’t spoil my birthday. I’ve had a wonderful time so far. Now I need to get back to my room and finish packing to start the Bahamas cruise portion of the trip. I’m not sure when I’ll be posting. Internet is expensive on the ship. I’ve been writing these posts online ‘live’ and if I write offline on the cruise, I might be able to post. Otherwise, I may not be able to post for a week.

Just in case, Happy New Year everyone!

How Do You Measure… A Day in New York?

125th Street, Harlem, New York City.

125th Street, Harlem, New York City.

The Marquee at the historic Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

The Marquee at the historic Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

How do you measure a day in New York? Sixteen Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixteen (16,816) steps according to my fitness tracker. I’m not sure how accurate it is but I’ve been wearing it for about three months now and that’s my one-day record. I got the tracker to help measure my weight loss and work outs. Even if it’s not completely accurate, it has definitely been a motivating factor in my daily activities, measuring my work out progress, calories burned and daily steps taken.

Yesterday morning was our time to explore New York, this trip. Every trip to the city, we try to explore some place we haven’t been before. Having friends here gives us a chance to get a New Yorker’s view of the city and things to see and do. Yesterday we explored Harlem’s 125th Street and then worked our way down past Columbia University.

The world famous Cotton Club in Harlem.

The world famous Cotton Club in Harlem.

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Honoring a legend– outside the Apollo Theater.

Harlem isn’t the supposed frightening place it was years ago. In fact, it looks pretty much like many other parts of New York and even Chicago. Of course no other city has the legendary Apollo Theater or the Cotton Club. We got to see both of them on our rather frigid walk.

The men's room at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

The men’s room at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

We stopped at the end of 125th where it meets the Hudson River, at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and met friends there for lunch. We shared smokey wings, pulled pork and brisket… all were absolutely delicious! (I know it may seem like I’m starting an obsession but I had to post a picture of the unique men’s room.)

After lunch, we walked down through Columbia University and past The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. I played there (with the youth orchestra I mentioned in the previous blog) when I was in high school. Then we jumped on the subway to head to our matinee performance.

Chicago, the Musical. I got a special deal on tickets so we had great house seats to the show. In all the years it’s been running, Michael and I had never seen Chicago on Broadway. I have to say I prefer the movie to this long-running revival production. Still, it’s a solid production, strong performances and the choreography is still executed with tight precision– something that could easily be missing from a show that’s been running for so long. (I’ll be seeing it again in January when I come to New York with a group of students from school.)

Subway Train Tracks near the Hudson River.

Subway Train Tracks near the Hudson River.

Chaplin the Musical. What a surprise treat! The reviews of Chaplin weren’t good and partially as a result, it is closing next week. Michael and I both found it to be our favorite show this trip, so far. Everything about the production is good. The staging, choreography, sets, costumes and performances are all top-notch. Rob McClure as Chaplin is a whirlwind of talent and fully embodies the character. Definitely a Tony contender. Even though Michael and I both agreed Billy Porter (Kinky Boots) will probably give him a run for his money in a very tight Tony race, McClure deserves the prize.

Chaplin’s story can be considered part tragedy but was skillfully told in a way that didn’t become too dark and focused much of the show on the good that existed in Chaplin’s tumultuous life. It has a great score with a number of songs, sure to become standards in the musical theatre repertoire.

After the show, we headed over to John’s Pizza on 44th street for a quick bite before midnight. Delicious as always, John’s is one of the top rated pizza restaurants in New York.

My friend Amee met us in Times Square for my birthday countdown and then Michael headed back to the room, while Amee and I went to the Cranberry Deli next to our hotel for a red velvet cupcake. Even though I was pretty wiped out, I still stayed up until almost 3 AM, responding to early morning birthday wishes on Facebook, Twitter and email. It was a pretty terrific day.

The Library at Columbia University

The Library at Columbia University.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Cathedral Window.

Cathedral Window.

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Statute in the park next to St. John’s.

Proud Five-Zero (50) !

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12:01 AM. Exactly 50 years.

The day final came. Goodbye Forties, Hello Fifties. I know a lot of people have trouble with milestone birthdays but I’ve actually been looking forward to this one… Not to be older but reaching that benchmark. In this day and age, there isn’t the same stigma and ageism that existed years ago. Okay, so I know it’s not completely gone but you even see less and less of the once popular over the hill merchandise (thankfully) than was so frequently used say, ten to twenty year ago.

My theatre headshot 1988.

My theatre head shot 1988.

Age is just a number. I could insert a dozen more cliche sayings here but I’ll spare you. We all, hopefully, evolve as we grow older. We’re a conglomeration of all our experiences, good and bad; as well as all the people that have influenced our lives. I don’t believe in being a victim of circumstance. We have many choices throughout our lives that lead us to where we are now. The choices and experiences of our lives, those we choose and those we can’t control, are just small pieces of our whole being. We choose what we do with that and who we become.

This past year has been a time of deep personal growth for me, or of self awareness… Moments that have really mattered. I think I was about forty-five when I found myself thinking, ” I have to do (or accomplish) _____ before I’m fifty.” Now I know none of that really matters. Without leaving life to chance, I trust I’ll reach the goals and accomplishments I need to complete in my lifetime. I have a purpose and I do impact others. I don’t always needs a specific measure of that.

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Me around 1965.

I was born December 29, 1962 at 12:01 AM. (My poor mother!) I marked the occasion with with my partner Michael, and my dear friend Amee in Times Square at the exactly 12:01 AM this morning. The perfect start to what promises to be a memorable day.

For those approaching the big five-zero— have no fear. I feel no different today than I did yesterday. Only now, I can say I’ve  lived a half century.

Here’s to the next fifty years.

The REAL Christmas Vacation

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.

Day Seven: Last Full Day In New York

Thursday was a huge day for us, to say the least. It’s hard to believe how fast the week has gone and I can’t say I was looking forward to returning home.

The South Tower Pool at the 9/11 Memorial.

I’d gotten our passes for the 9/11 Memorial prior to our trip and we were the first group of the day. You have to go through all the same security procedures as you do when you fly, so the process takes a little while and you can not enter the site without passes.

Having had my play, September’s Heroes produced by Bartlett High School last Fall, this visit held a special importance to me. I will be forever emotionally tied to the tragic events of more than ten years ago and needed to pay my respects and hoped it would help my ongoing grieving process.

Currently the memorial is surrounded by construction on all sides. The new World Trade Center is quickly climbing into the sky adjoining the memorial and the 9/11 Museum which is set to open later this year. Right now, you can visit the two mammoth pools that mark the footprint of the original North and South Towers of the original World Trade Center. Surrounding both pools are all the names of those that lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, including those at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

Kevin Cosgrove perished in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

The moment that hit me hardest was finding the name of Kevin Cosgrove, who’s devastatingly powerful 911 call from the South Tower, up to the moment it fell, was the inspiration behind one of the segments of my play. Seeing his name brought back all the memories. I walked around both pools, trying to read all the names, never wanting to forget that moment. It will always be a part of me.

When we left the memorial, we headed down to Battery Park and decided to take the ferry to Ellis Island. I hadn’t realized that Michael had never been to the park. The damaged Sphere from the World Trade Center Plaza is displayed there and you have a great view of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

Lady Liberty

We got tickets and went through security (again) and boarded the ferry. The Statue of Liberty is closed for renovations at the base level, so we opted to stay on the boat (you can still walk around Liberty Island) and just go to Ellis Island. I’d been to the statue before, walked up to the crown, in fact, but in all my trips to New York, I’d never visited Ellis Island.

I believe most of the buildings surrounding the main building are being renovated. The main building houses Registry Hall where new immigrants to America waited for processing. There are a lot of exhibits in rooms surrounding the great hall, full of pictures and information about the many years when Ellis Island was a working, entry point into the United States. As far as I’ve been able to research over the years, none of my ancestors came through here. There are many ways you can search, by computer or with assistance (and an appointment) for records of those that arrived.

Ellis Island

One of the reasons I chose to visit on this trip, is my work on the production of RAGTIME at school. I hoped visiting would give me some additional knowledge I could bring back to the students of Bartlett High.

There is a scene in the show that depicts the immigrants arrival and I found a lot of good information about how the immigrants lived once they had been processed and struggled to survive in their new world.

A funny side note– while we were waiting for the ferry back to Manhattan, one of our New York friends sent Michael a text asking him if we were ready to slit our wrist yet… knowing we’d seen two heavy plays the day before, and then visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Ellis Island (maybe you had to be there).

Jesus Christ Superstar

We had enough time to stop at our hotel and freshen up before our final show, number twelve… the Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar.

This was not a good choice to end our trip.

The best way I can describe the show is a huge mish-mash of costumes, time periods and effects… or a big conglomerate mess. From hip hop and Glee to time lords (or Star Wars) and leather…. it didn’t appear anyone could make up their minds what to do with this production. I felt that with all the technology they were using, this was the worst lighting of any show we’d seen. They didn’t even use their CNN-style scrolling ticker effectively. Just a mess. I won’t even get in to the casting or the switching of who sings what… Just an emotionless mess. I’d wished we’d seen Godspell instead.

As is our tradition, we stopped on the way back to the hotel and picked up a pizza from Famous Famiglia in Times Square and called it a night.

The new World Trade Center under construction.

New York City Day Six

The weather has been all over the place since we got here. Temperatures as high as 80 degrees and down to the low 30’s. Rain predicted for Wednesday came and went… several times but missed us for the most part. Overall, I really can’t complain.

We were finally able to have lunch at Havana Central. We tried on Sunday but they didn’t open early enough to accommodate our show schedule. Just off of Times Square, they have a delicious array of authentic Cuban food and I was anxious for a return visit. Last time we were there I had some delicious pulled pork, yellow rice and black beans on the side.

Cuban sandwiches are one of my favorite meals and I make my own version of them frequently at home. Michael and I both decided to try them here and they were quite good. BUT– if you want the best of all Cuban sandwiches, you have to try Silver Ring in Florida. They have several locations but the original in Ybor City closed a few years ago due to the bad economy. Luckily, there is a location in Lakeland, Florida near my parents home and we go nearly every time we visit.

After lunch we headed over to the theater for the matinee performance of End of the Rainbow, which is set six months prior to Judy Garland’s death during her final comeback attempt at the Talk of the Town in London. The play with music, bounces back and forth between Garland’s hotel suite and her stage concerts. It is a moving account of some of Garland’s last days and Tracy Bennett is sure to be nominated, if not win, the Tony Award this year for her portrayal. What the film industry did to her, fueling a lifelong drug addiction is a travesty.

We were able to meet up with our friends (and soon to be married couple) Carrie and Joel for a light dinner after a short walk through Central Park. The timing worked out perfectly. They were on their way to midtown for ballroom dance class (in preparation for the wedding) and we were on our way up to Lincoln Center. I really wish we got to see them more often. Seeing Carrie twice on this trip was a special treat.

I was really looking forward to the stage production of War Horse. I saw the movie in December and cried like a baby through the whole thing. The stage version is an astonishing masterpiece. The brilliant ingenuity that went into the creation of the horse ‘puppets’ is a sight to behold. The  two full grown horses require three operators, two inside and one to operate its head. The young Joey also required three human manipulators to enable Joey to run, move his ears, and make all the sounds you would expect to hear from a live horse.

The production (as well as the movie) is based on a novel which I waited to start reading until after  seeing both adaptations. All three tell the story in a uniquely different fashion and all three are moving accounts of a tragic time during the first world war. Michael and I both thought it was one of the best shows we’ve seen.

After the show we headed back to Times Square and Michael suggested we eat at the infamous Tad’s for old times sake.

There’s a back story here: Back in the late 80’s when I first started going to New York by myself, Tad’s was one of my favorite places to eat. Not, by any means, for the the ambiance. For only $6.99 you could get a ribeye steak, baked potato, salad and drink…. if you didn’t mind sharing a dining room with the homeless of New York. There is no wait staff, you order your meal and carry it on a tray and find a seat.

A view in Central Park.

When Michael and I started going to New York together in the mid-90’s, I told him we had to eat there. By that time, prices had gone up to around $10.99 for the same meal, which all things considered, is still a bargain in New York –and it’s actually quite good.

Let’s just say that Michael was a little horrified by the experience and it has become a running joke over the years. We hadn’t been back since, yet every trip Michael always says, “Are we eating at Tad’s?”

So, there we were, all these years later– back at Tad’s to relive the experience. I can’t say they’ve remodeled or even cleaned since we were there last… and the prices have skyrocketed to over $20 with your drink.

The homeless are gone now but the clientele, aside from a few unsuspecting tourists, is predominantly, how should I say… shady. The food was still good and we had a lot of fun laughing over the experience. (No, I don’t recommend this for your itinerary.)

To live life to its fullest, you have to experience the good with the bad, right?