Sunday, September 27, 2015

An American in Paris

25th Anniversary - Saturday - Part 2.

Having gotten out of Wicked a little before 5pm, we had some time to kill (and an errand to run) before seeing an evening show of An American in Paris at 8pm.

Amp had bought the tickets for AAiP through Stub Hub a few days earlier, with the requirement that we had to physically pick them up at a Stub Hub store front a few blocks south of Times Square. I didn't even know that such a thing existed. But sure enough, after wading through the absolute freak show that is Times Square, we found the store front and got our tickets.

With a good two and a half hours still to go before the show, we decided to head a couple blocks west of  Broadway and try to find a place to eat, preferably an ethnic place of some sort. After fighting our way back through Times Square (and passing the evening's theater, the Palace, right on the Square), we found a Thai place named Qi on 8th Avenue. We weren't all that hungry (or so we thought), but we would be busy from 7:30 until about 11, and it was now-or-never for dinner. As it turned out, the food was fabulous, and we split a fried sesame-crusted tofu appetizer. Amp followed up with a marinated citrus chicken dish of some sort, and I had a Massaman chicken curry, one of my favorites. Both were terrific, and again surprisingly-not-ridiculously-expensive. I guess that I had been expecting to spend a fortune on basic meals in the city, and got off better than I expected.
Fried Sesame Crusted Tofu

We were back in Times Square by maybe 7pm, and spent some time wandering through the street festival du jour, which was a "get to know France" themed event. This was basically a two block long tourism advertisement, with live music and food samples. Odd but interesting was the display of the successful attempt at breaking the Guinness Book of World Records mark for largest one piece butter sculpture. As we say around the kitchen at home, butter makes everything better...
World Record Butter Sculpture

Having finished with the Paris skyline in butter, and all things French, we headed into the Palace Theater. The first and most obvious thing that struck us was that this was an older (or less well renovated) and smaller theater than the Gershwin. It was narrow, tight, and tall. Having watched a show in the spaciousness of the Gershwin mere hours before, this felt a bit like watching a show from the top of an elevator shaft. That notwithstanding, our seats were OK, and we had a good top-down look at the stage.
An American in Paris - Palace Theater Stage

An American In Paris is a stage production/adaptation of the Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron movie from 1951, with music by George and Ira Gershwin. I had vague memories of the movie, but know the music very well, playing it at home from time to time. Anyone who watches TV and has ever seen a car commercial will know some of the music.

The show was excellent, but couldn't have been much more different than Wicked, in that it revolved completely around dance. There was acting, there was singing, but the dancing was the focal point. Amp had read up on the production, and the leads were apparently played by professional ballet dancers who could also act and sing very well. Amp's main interest in the show was becauseof the ballet, which I went into with a little bit of trepidation, but I really ended up enjoying it. The cast was great, the music was terrific, and the staging and dance numbers were amazing.

The show was done by about 10:45, we were back at the car by 11:00 or so, and out of the city and back at our in-laws' house by a little before 12:30am.

What a fabulous day, and thanks to the in-laws for watching the kids for us.


25th Anniversary - Saturday - Part 1

After a late night Friday, we had the luxury of being able to sleep in a bit before getting ready and heading into New York for our day without the kids. The first half of the day would be lunch and a matinee showing of Wicked, a show that I have been wanting to see for a long time. I know many people that have seen it, and nobody has ever had anything bad to say about it.
Wicked - Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel

We got into the city around 11:30am or so, with no leftover traffic from the Pope leaving that morning (heading to Philly!) that we could tell. We parked relatively near the Gershwin Theater, and looked for a place for lunch. We settled for an obvious choice a block or so away from the theater: the Stardust Diner. This is the place where all the waitstaff are Broadway wannabe's, and sing throughout the restaurant while serving. It was cliche, and touristy, and terrific. The food was good, not grossly overpriced for New York (a rarity), and the entertainment was very good. It might be cliche, but it's cliche for a reason.
Gershwin Theater Marquee

As for Wicked, I can't say enough good about it. I have the soundtrack, and know the music pretty well, but without having seen the show (or read the book by Gregory Maguire), the gaps between some of the songs didn't make much sense. Now they do. The Gershwin Theater, where the show has been running for about 12 years, was a really nice theater - fairly modern (at least in its renovation), spacious, with comfortable seats and good leg room. Sight lines were good and the stage was huge (both tall and wide). The stage was so wide that they had room for purely gratuitous decoration flanking both sides of the wide stage.
Wicked, Gershwin Theater Stage

For the show itself, the music was great, singing was fantastic, acting was good, and the effects were terrific. The show was very cleverly written to tie backwards into The Wizard of Oz in so many different ways, but to also turn all of the old story on its head. It was funny, engaging, and moving. We loved it. Rachel Turner, apparently relatively new to the cast, was fabulous as Elphaba. Kara Lindsay was beyond great as Galinda/Glinda. I couldn't help but thinking throughout the show that she was doing an over the top impression of Kristen Chenoweth (she probably was, like they mostly all probably do), but it was great.

A few clips:
  • Defying Gravity at the 2004 (?) Tony awards, with original cast members Kristin Chenoweth (Galinda/Glinda, the "Good" Witch) and Idina Menzel (Elphaba, the "Wicked" Witch). Simply brilliant. One of my favorite songs from a musical.
  • Popular - Kristin Chenoweth's last performance with Idina Menzel before Chenoweth left the show. Interesting due to all the ad-libs added in the middle that aren't in the scene, including Chenoweth telling Menzel she's beautiful. They can't stop cracking up...

Overall, I would say that this has might have become my second favorite musical, taking everything into account. Les Miserables is the best, of course. For pure non-stop unrelenting entertainment, Aladdin is tops. For innovation and spectacle, it's hard to beat Lion King. But this is very very good in every aspect.

Next...Saturday part 2.

Chick Corea and Bela Fleck

This past weekend we celebrated our upcoming 25th wedding anniversary by going up to north Jersey to leave the kids with my inlaws, and then going off on our own to so some things without them. The original plan was to go into New York city Saturday morning, see a show, eat a good meal, spend the night, do something Sunday and then pick up the kids and drive home. We ended up deciding to spend more money on shows and less on hotel, but more on that later.

The first part of the weekend was to get to north Jersey Friday afternoon (avoiding the Pope's visit to Philly that weekend, and the resulting mismanagement by the mayor with regards to shutting the whole city down for 4 days, but that's also another story...). We would leave the kids with a babysitter, and us, my sister in law and her husband, and another couple would go to the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown NJ to see a jazz concert by Chick Corea (piano) and Bela Fleck (banjo). I like jazz very much, and have quite a bit of it on CD, but I am no expert by any means, and there are a great many people whose names I recognize but know little about. These were two of those.
Bela Fleck and Chick Corea

A clip from last year is here:
  • Mountain - Chick Corea and Bela Fleck, 2014, Los Angeles.

The short version of the story is that we had a nice (but very rushed) bite to eat before the concert at an Irish pub across the street, a fabulous concert, and a nice drink and snack at another nearby place after.

As for the concert itself, it was a mix of "classic" style jazz, bluegrass influenced stuff, classical influenced stuff, and a whole lot else in between. Taking out an intermission, they played for about an hour and forty minutes. Not tremendously long, but certainly long enough to get your money's worth. Both were amazing musicians, and they played off of each other very well (as can be seen in the clip linked above). Corea was amazing, all the more so considering that he is 74 years old, and Fleck was a blur on banjo. His was lightning fast, and unbelievably clean. They seemed to enjoy themselves on stage, and had good banter and rapport with the crowd.

I would give this show the highest possible marks, even more so considering that the tickets were about $28 each after all fees and taxes. Hard to believe. Perhaps the best thing I could say about the show is that I have every intention of picking up the two albums that these guys have done together (one studio, one live), and looking into their other stuff as well.

A great start to a great weekend...