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Our last full day in London was to be a very wet one, start to finish. We’d actually been pretty lucky with the weather– mostly sunny days and temperatures slightly above the norm for this time of year. There was no way we were going to let a little rain dampen our spirits. We grabbed an umbrella and headed out for another busy day.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London is the world’s tallest isolated stone column. It is most commonly referred to as The Monument. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, it stands to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666. It’s hard to get a perspective of its size in a picture– so consider that there are 311 steps that go up to a viewing platform at the top.
One of the interesting things we found online before our trip was the Sky Garden in the Walkie Talkie building, 20 Fenchurch Street.
The building itself, nicknamed for its unusual shape, is considered by many as “the worst building” in the U.K. Completed in 2014, it has 34 floors, the top three made up of the Sky Garden, bars and restaurants.
The Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden and it offers an uninterrupted, 360 degree view of London. It’s free to visit but tickets are required. It’s highly recommended you reserve them in advance because it is frequently filled.
In spite of the cloudy skies and rain-spattered windows, the views were spectacular. There is an open air observation deck on one side, with rest of the views through large panes of glass.
It started raining again so we took the Tube as close as we could, to our matinee performance of Les Miserables. Why Les Miz? Yes, we’ve seen many professional productions– in NYC and on tour. Maybe even a dozen. BUT we’d never seen it in London– where it all began. AND it’s Michael’s favorite musical.
Les Miserables has been running continuously in London for nearly 32 years! One fact you may not know, is that the events in the show, occur around the June Rebellion (or The Paris Uprising of 1832) NOT the French Revolution (1789-1799) as many people believe.
At intermission, we both commented that we thought is was way to fast! Now, when Michael agrees that something is too fast– it’s too fast. When we see shows, he’s always saying they could pick up the tempo. Sure, a performance differs from one to the next– but this, apparently, wasn’t a fluke. A friend who saw it two years ago asked if they were still speeding though it.
I found the differences in staging from the original Broadway production interesting. (I’m assuming this is still the original staging.) Some things worked better than others and I could also see why some were changed. All in all, in spite of the pace, we still enjoyed it.
It was pouring rain after the show. We headed over to the Savoy Theatre and picked up our tickets, hoping to find a place for dinner nearby. While we were there, we went in the Savoy (Hotel) to check out the lobby.
We found a place across the street for dinner– appropriately called Eat. We did.
And, yes, still raining.
Our last show this visit– and another one of the reasons we came to London: the musical Dreamgirls.
A little backstory is necessary. We saw Amber Riley (Glee) was starring in the London production and really wanted to see it. I went to order tickets, front and center, and I had the option of getting the same seats with something called ‘blue box’ for the same price. This said it included a drink and snack. Okay… same price… why not? The tickets were about 80 pounds or $102 USD. At New York ticket prices, it would have been a minimum of $149– probably over $200 because these would be considered ‘premium seats’ — without a ‘blue box’.
I purchase the tickets. Done. Then get a message (after they were paid for, no refunds) that Amber Riley doesn’t perform all the Wednesday night shows! Not happy. Then the show opened in London, won a number of Oliver Awards, including Best Actress (Riley) — so we just kept our fingers crossed. Maybe we’d get lucky.
We get back to the theatre for the show… soaking wet from the rain and they held us at the door. No, clue what was going on. Then the usher tells us we’ve been upgraded to ‘red box’. Huh? We waited until they escorted us to a private lounge where we were given drinks and snacks until we would be escorted to our seats just before the lights went down.
At the busiest point, there were only eleven people in the lounge and we had two servers. They also held our wet things in a private coat check until after the show.
So why the VIP treatment? No clue! We just kept our fingers crossed that the good luck would continue and Amber Riley would walk out on that stage. Our hostess told us they’d meet us at the interval and bring us back to the Ambassador Lounge for drinks– this was just way too cool.
We took our seats– and I think we both held our breath until Effie walked out on that stage. Exhale. Amber Riley was performing!
All I can say is WOW! Everything about the show was perfect. It was beautiful to look at, full of power and emotion– and every single cast member was amazing. Problems we’ve seen in past productions with pace and flow were nonexistent. Riley stopped the show with And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going and Listen (added to this production from the movie) with her costar during the later.
It was magic.
This Dreamgirls will definitely never leave me.
Sometimes the stars align and everything is right.
Tonight was simply beyond wonderful.
Travel Date: May 17, 2017 (Day Five) Wednesday
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.
Show 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!
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.