Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Meeting a Hero

I believe I've mentioned, a number of times, that I'm a HUGE Barry Manilow fan.  And that I've been a fan for a LONG time.  The picture at left is from my thirteenth birthday party.  Stunning glasses and shag haircut, yes?  Ha.  So, when the opportunity presented itself that I could meet Barry and interview him for my company's magazine, I had to consider...
The magazine editor came to my office one day and casually said, "Hi, um, oh yeah, how would you like to interview BARRY MANILOW?!"  After I screamed, I said, "Wait, maybe I shouldn't.  What if I cry when I meet him???  I might cry!  That wouldn't be very professional - I've loved him since I was like eleven!!!"  He said, "Don't be dumb, you're interviewing him."  Of course, he was right.

So, for the last couple of months, we've been exchanging e-mails with a member of Barry's team about doing an article.  The article was going to take a particular point of view, to fit into our magazine issue's theme.  We were also going to do a portrait of Barry and his writing partner, Bruce Sussman, taken by our wonderful photographer.  Literally every night at home, before I went to sleep, I would run over what I would say, how I would act, and try to prepare myself to meet someone I've admired for so many years.  I honestly prayed that I wouldn't cry.

Ground rules were established - no cell phone photos, but we could get a shot or two of me, our magazine editor, Bruce and Barry to use on social media.  So I figured not only would I get to meet and talk with Barry, I'd also have a photo to keep forever!  I daydreamed about the Christmas card I would make out of the photo, and how I'd have to console my nephew when he was replaced as my Facebook profile pic.  But, as they say, the best laid plans...

Instead of going out to our photographer's studio in Brooklyn, he arranged for us to do the interview and photo session in a swanky Chelsea townhouse that once belonged to Jerry Orbach!  Golly, it was beautiful!  The picture at left is of our editor ringing the bell to the swanky townhouse.  We arrived a bit before Barry and his team and I was happy to wander around and collect myself before the interview would begin.  I was also sweating like Albert Brooks in the movie Broadcast News.  You know the scene I mean.  So now I was praying I wouldn't keep sweating OR cry.  So many things to worry about.
Finally, there was much bustling and a flurry of activity and in came Barry.  I hung back for a minute to collect myself, then walked up, shook his hand and introduced myself.  No crying so far, thank heavens.  I felt very calm and professional.  And Barry was very kind and gentle, as I hoped he would be.  He wandered over and took a seat on the couch.  After a few minutes of the entire room making small talk (what a coincidence - we were in Jerry Orbach's old apartment, and Barry and Bruce's project was rehearsing in the Jerry Orbach Theatre!  Good karma!), Barry's writing partner, Bruce Sussman came in, then I went over, sat myself down on the couch next to BARRY MANILOW and began the interview.  And, may I say, he has BEAUTIFUL EYES.  Thank you. 

It's all rather a blur now.  Thankfully, we audiorecorded the conversation so I can go back and relive it anytime I want.  First, I explained the point of view from which I was approaching the article, which Barry and Bruce seemed to like, then we got right to the interview.  They're both excellent conversationalists, concise yet illuminating in their answers.  They're smart and funny.  And they're passionate talking about the project we were targeting.  It was interesting how unguarded the conversation was.  I think I kept the questions coming at a nice clip, but yet left them space and air to answer.  We took some interesting tangents, but came back when necessary.  I made Barry laugh a couple of times, which made me blush on the inside, and we all seemed to be having the same conversation, which was a relief.

We talked for about an hour, which is amazing to me, and, at the end, I asked if I could please ask Barry a musical theater question that had nothing to do with our previous conversation.  He said sure.  I had been at a master class he gave on songwriting a few months ago, and he used one particular song as an example of good musical theater songwriting.  I asked why he had chosen that one song, out of all the songs in the world.  He thought about it and gave a lovely answer.  I then asked Bruce the same question, telling him I knew I was putting him on the spot, but I had a song, too, if he couldn't think of one.  Bruce gave me his song choice and reasoning, which was also lovely.  Then Barry ASKED ME WHAT MY SONG WAS.  He asked me.  Me.  Shiver.  I answered.  He said, "Good choice."  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!  I felt nearly perfect happiness.

I knew that Barry and Bruce had time constraints, so I sent them over to have their portrait taken.  Unfortunately, this is where it all sort of fell apart.  I think because the interview was over, maybe Barry's mind moved on to his next appointment, which is understandable.  Plus, it seemed as if he was feeling discomfort at being photographed.  So, the photo shoot didn't go as smoothly as maybe we would've hoped.  At one point, I jumped behind the photographer to keep talking to Barry and Bruce and keep them entertained.  But I did thank Barry for introducing me to the genius that is Barbara Cook, and we had a nice chat about Barbara Cook.  Then he asked if I were coming to the regional theater where his new project will premiere.  Well, if Barry ASKED, now I have to try to go!  :)

Because Barry seemed antsy, his team got even more antsy, and so it was decided he was done.  No photos for social media.  He would do a few more portrait shots and would go.  I was like, wait, what about MY picture?!  I was screaming it on the inside, but didn't say anything out loud.  At least not at that minute.  And suddenly, it was over.  But I got an almost-hug goodbye from Barry Manilow and he said thank you as he left.  I got a kiss from Bruce Sussman.  It was a bit anti-climactic the way it was all over so suddenly.  I looked at our magazine editor and the photographer, realized there would be no photo with me in it, and excused myself to stand in another room for some alone time and to finally have the tiniest of cries.  Then I pulled up my big girl pants and went back into the sitting room and decompressed with the rest of the crew.

Everyone has been very complimentary on my interview, even Barry's assistant, so I feel that went well.  It didn't really take me long to write the article, so I must've kept everything on target the way I wanted to.  First my panic was I would cry in front of Barry and embarrass myself and my company; now my panic is that he'll hate the article.  It's gone out to his team (who I completely blame for the no-photo-debacle), so we'll see what happens next. 

It's all so unreal, now that it's over.  I've been worried and excited and nervous for a couple of months now, knowing this was coming.  During the interview, I tried to savor my time with him.  Now that it's over and I got to spend so much time with a giant figure of my past, present and (probably) future, I'm so lucky to be able to look back with such happy memories about the day.  OK, so it didn't end quite how I planned, but to discover that Barry Manilow is just the man I hoped he'd be was wonderful.  Heaven knows, I've been disillusioned enough in the past.  I'm thrilled that Barry didn't let me down, but I should've known.  He never does. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Crazy Busy Week

For some reason, I had a whole summer's worth of stuff last week.  It was busy and fun, but boy am I tired now!  So this will be a rather long post, sorry.  To start the fun, last Tuesday, a friend kindly offered me her dress rehearsal tickets for the last show in the new Encores Off Center series, I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It On The Road.  I'm only going to offer a few thoughts; one, because I saw a dress rehearsal, and two, because I know the authors and love them, which makes me less than objective.  As usual.  :)
I knew the story of I'm Getting My Act Together..., and a couple of the songs, but I'd never actually seen a production before.  Even so, I have to say I think the show itself holds up pretty well, which is a good and bad thing.  The musical comes from a feminist place of self-empowerment and it's a bit sad to see that some things haven't changed in 35 years.  But the score and a lot of the jokes are just as fresh today as I'm sure they were in 1978.
I've been a fan of Renee Elise Goldsberry for some time and her performance in I'm Getting My Act Together... was another lovely one (the photo at left is by Joan Marcus - standard disclaimer applies).  She has a sweet presence, with a steely determination underneath.  And she sings like a dream.  She sings most of the songs in the 90 minute/intermissionless musical and she sounded as strong in the last as she did in the first.  The cabaret standard, "Old Friend," was simply stunning, and I was also very taken with "Dear Tom," which was new to me.  But I enjoyed the entire score and wish I remembered where my cast album (yes, really an album!) resides.
The rest of the cast was also quite good.  They seemed a tad underrehearsed in the book scenes, but since I saw a dress rehearsal, not a problem.  The songs are the stars and they shone.  The physical production was fun (great wigs!), but I had a few directorial quibbles, though they also were minor.  So I hope to see another production again someday.  The musical is very much a product of its time, but is still worth seeing today, to see how far women have, and haven't, come.  Like, say, for example, seeing a show composed by a woman, with book and lyrics by a woman, with a strong female leading character, and directed by a woman.  It's shameful that we're still an anomaly when it comes to these things...
Wednesday afternoon, I went to see a NYMF production, Castle Walk.  I didn't know anyone involved in the piece, but because it was about Vernon and Irene Castle and Fred & Ginger, I thought it would be a fun way to spend an afternoon.  And it basically was.  The musical tells the story of the creation of the movie The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle from the older Irene's point of view.  She wants to tell the story as it actually happened, but the studio seems to want to make changes at every turn.  So there's a tension throughout.  We see flashbacks of the truth, alongside some fantasy numbers about how things may turn out. 
I thought Lynne Wintersteller was amazing as the older Irene.  She had a strength, yet a mournful quality, that was quite intriguing.  And she sang wonderfully well.  I also found the gal playing the younger Irene, Stephanie Rothenberg, to be quite enchanting.  So when the show was focusing on either Irene's character, I was completely engaged.  Unfortunately, a lot of the other characters came off less well, not because they weren't well performed, but they were more sketchily written.
The first few songs failed to draw me in - they were musically all over the place - but once a tone was established for each time frame, I got more connected.  And Irene's last two solos were terrific.  I thought the show was reasonably well directed, though I wasn't a fan of the use of the ensemble.  And I didn't enjoy the imaginary/fantasy numbers nearly as much as the more plot driven songs.  The show seemed a little long to me, but I thought it was a pretty good first effort and would most likely enjoy seeing it again after some work.

Thursday, of course, was the big Barry day, so that will get its own post shortly.  Friday, I had a HUGE day.  Since it was a Summer Friday, I took myself to Boulud Sud for a fancy schmancy Restaurant Week lunch.  And oh.my.god, was it good.  Actually, Boulud Sud isn't all that fancy schmancy.  It's very airy and comfortable, with a lot of light and soft colors.  I sat on a very comfortable banquette, pulled out my Nook, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch.  I guess I should emphasize 'leisurely.'  If you're not looking for a nearly-three-hour lunch experience, this isn't the restaurant for you.
The Restaurant Week lunch price fixe menu is very nice, with lots of choices, even for faux vegetarians.  I actually went completely vegetarian for lunch, so I felt pretty virtuous even though I ate enough for seven people.  My first course was the stone baked flatbread with herb pistou, zucchini and confit tomatoes.  I am a sucker for confit anything.  This was a delicious starter.  The flatbread was soft and chewy, yet crispy on the edges.  The herb pistou had a bright and zingy flavor, the zucchini had a little bite, and the confit tomato was luxurious, soft and sweet.  There were so many wonderful and complementary flavors on this dish, yet it was still pretty light, so it was a great first course. 
My main course was the summer corn ricotta ravioli, with fennel, olive and confit lemon.  See, more confit!  I had never really considered corn and pasta as a good combo until I had that delicious corn tortellini in Evanston a few years ago.  And it was SOOOO delicious again at Boulud Sud.  The ricotta corn filling was amazing, soft and sweet, yet savory.  And the fennel was the best fennel I've ever eaten.  I wasn't as keen on the olives, but oh well.  Hello, there was confit lemon.  Seriously.  The earth could've ended and I would've been happy with this last meal.  Though, happily, it didn't end, so I could have dessert!

My dessert was the lemon blueberry gateau, which was a delicious spongecake that had a goat cheese bavarian mousse in the middle and a gorgeous blueberry gelee on top.  Oh, and did I mention limoncello sorbet?  YUM.  I could've eaten that sorbet all day.  But the blueberries were also terrific.  There were several uses of blueberry on the plate - there were fresh berries, and the gel on top of the cake, but also a jammy/stewed blueberry drizzle and also a reduced blueberry sauce that was sticky and delicious.  AND a kind of blueberry tuile.  I don't how how they did it!  This dessert was all that and a bag of chips.  The coffee?  Not so much.  Next time I go (and I definitely will go back), I'll skip the coffee.  The Restaurant Week price fixe is such a deal, everyone should go.  Now.  I'll wait...
After lunch was finally over, I went back to the office to do a little editing on my Barry Manilow magazine article.  Then I headed over to the Intercontinental Hotel on the east side for a little get-together with some grad school chums.  It's always nice to spend time with old friends.  I hadn't seen one pal in at least twenty years, so there was a lot of catching up to do.  Since I had eaten so much, I actually stuck with seltzer, but the bar area at the Intercontinental is quite nice.  But the night wasn't over yet! 

Then I headed up to Washington Heights to see dear friends in a new play.  I love them.  They were wonderful.  Not much else to say, since I always love them.  I really need to learn how to be objective and critical at the same time.  :)  But boy, Friday was a long day!  Started around 8am so I could finish the Barry article, then got home around 1am!  Oh, and let me just say, people who ride the E train at 12:30am and pop bubble wrap all the way to Queens deserve to be smacked.  Good thing I was too tired.  Whew!  And I even had some fun plans for Saturday...
I had read on a favorite food blog about a Mexican restaurant in Corona, Queens, that I've long wanted to try.  Luckily, I have a friend who just moved to Queens and he was up for an adventure!  It was a quick trip for me, only six stops.  And it was a beautiful day, so I broke out the straw hat and enjoyed the trip to Tortilleria Nixtamal.  Even the walk from the train to the restaurant was nice - you walk from the very urban area near the subway into a very residential neighborhood.  There was music playing through people's open windows and kids playing.  It was a very summery, casual vibe, reminding me I need to get myself out more often on weekends...

Tortilleria Nixtamal was adorable, all red and yellow, with charming servers.  The menu isn't huge, but there are a lot of choices.  They offer fresh corn tortillas and all of their ingredients are natural and locally sourced.  You can even buy masa there from them, but apparently you have to call early to get the masa.  My adventurous pal and I did buy some of their fresh prepared tortillas, so I'm looking forward to eating them this week. 

Anyway, my adventurous pal and I shared the grilled corn salad, which had corn, mango, cucumber, lettuce and a chipotle dressing on it.  It was served with chips and was DELICIOUS.  Thumbs way up on the grilled corn salad.  I couldn't decide between the tamales and the tacos - if we hadn't gotten the corn salad, I probably would've gotten the sweet corn tamale, but instead I got the taco with beans, avocado and queso fresco.  Hello, yum!  Very delicious.  I didn't get a photo before I took a bite, so I won't subject you to that picture.  Believe me when I say it was yummy.  My pal and I had a fun time - at one point, I was listening to the music and asked, "wait, is that a mariachi version of "Mr. Bojangles"?!  Indeed it was.  Now there's something you don't hear every day.  :)   I'm definitely going back to Tortilleria Nixtamal.  There are dozens of other things on the menu I want to try!  And everyone there was so nice - we got our tortillas to go, along with a Coca Mexicana for the road.  And on the way back to the subway, we stopped at an Italian bakery and got some cannoli!  All food, all the time, that's the way a weekend should be.  But, next time, maybe I'll space all these fun things out a little better.  As of right now, I don't have one thing planned until I head to Chicago for work in three weeks.  I'll be doing my best to fix that...




Monday, July 22, 2013

Review - The Nance

I've been wanting to see Douglas Carter Beane's The Nance for ages now.  But I had to wait until it appeared on TDF, since my funds are ever-dwindling.  Happily, it was offered for last Saturday's matinee and I pounced.  If it shows up on TDF again, I may pounce for a second time...

I enjoyed myself greatly at The Nance - my seat was terrific, in the fourth row center of the mezzanine.  The theater was monumentally air conditioned, which I really needed.  I'm a big fan of Nathan Lane and I generally find Beane's writing to be very clever, if a bit heavy-handed.  But I think the quibbles are minor and enjoyed the show as a good old-fashioned star vehicle.

The Nance takes place in 1937, in the days of burlesque.  Nathan Lane plays Chauncey, a burlesque performer at the Irving Place Theater, whose specialty was the 'nance' character, the overly effeminate man who did comic routines filled with double entendre and stereotypes.  He doesn't know it, but the days of burlesque, and his character, are numbered.  But when we first see him, he's in a Greenwich Village automat, which is known to be a place where 'the boys meet the boys.'  Even though raids of such places were rampant, Chauncey still cautiously meets and talks with a young man, Ned, played by Jonny Orsini.  I thought this first scene was astounding - so many layers and emotions, and director Jack O'Brien doesn't rush it.  It unfolds slowly, and wonderfully draws you in to Chauncey's world.  Or Chauncey's world as he sees it.  I was hooked.

The rest of the play moves between the Irving Place burlesque stage, where we see several fun and laugh-out-loud musical numbers, along with a few comedy sketches, and Chauncey's apartment.  We also return to that automat, and I think the automat scenes are where The Nance shines.  I enjoyed most of the other scenes as well, but in these personal moments, where Chauncey lets down his guard, but simultaneously keeps it up, Lane is astounding.  And his final monologue, inside his final burlesque sketch, is exquisitely moving.  His acting is mesmerizing throughout.  The photo at right is by Joan Marcus - my standard disclaimer applies.

The rest of the cast is also terrific.  Jonny Orsini's role as Ned, the young newcomer to New York and burlesque, could easily have been one-note and boring, but Orsini finds true sweetness and pathos in him.  Lewis J Stadlen is wonderful as the top banana at the Irving Place Theater, and Jenni Barber, Andrea Burns and Cady Huffman are terrfic as the liberal-minded strippers who also perform there.  If I found Huffman a bit strident in her political rants, I don't blame her.  I think, perhaps, Beane tried to do a little too much, making statements on the politics of the day.  I just got the feeling that a lot of the politics inside the play were merely there for one-liners and jabs at current politics.  Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, but it did diffuse the emotional core for me.  I just couldn't buy Chauncey as a conservative Republican, even to give his character even more tension.  I guess I would've preferred the love story to take center stage, with the other stuff as a backdrop.  Which, of course, makes it my play and not Beane's.  :)

The physical production is fantastic and the Lyceum is a wonderful place for The Nance to live.  Just looking at the old theater moldings and fixtures before the show even started puts the audience in the right mood.  The original music by Glen Kelly is period-tastic and Joey Pizzi's choreography looked just right to me, too.  I had a great time at The Nance - I laughed and I cried, and I would definitely like to see it again, even with the issues I had.  The play only runs a few more weeks, so I think everyone should go, if only to see Nathan Lane at the top of his game.  A few quibbles never hurt anyone...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review - Tennessee Williams' The Two-Character Play

I'm a big fan of Tennessee Williams plays - The Glass Menagerie is one of my very favorite plays ever, and of course I'm a huge fan of many others.  I should've played Stella in my ingenue days and I still hope a revival of Sweet Bird of Youth comes my way eventually.  I'm not as well-versed in his later work, though, so when the opportunity to catch the new Off-Broadway production of The Two-Character Play came about, I pounced.  I'm also a big fan of Amanda Plummer (there's just no one like her, in my opinion) and I've enjoyed much of Brad Dourif's film work over the years.  His portrayal of Younger Brother in the Ragtime film is an especial favorite.

My goodness, these two idiosyncratic, quirky and utterly original actors did not disappoint.  I'm not sure that I completely understood what was going on throughout The Two-Character Play, but I do know that I was totally engaged throughout and found it to be unlike anything I've ever seen before.  Imagine Williams' gorgeously poetic language mixed with Beckett or Pirandello and you can get a small idea of what this play is like.  It doesn't have a coherent plot per se, but it does have a fevered engine driving it.   It has a certain inevitability to it, yet subverts it.  I found myself holding my breath quite a few times throughout...

Two actors, a brother and sister (Felice and Claire), have been left behind after their troupe considers them to be insane and abandons them.  The brother and sister, long-time troupers, consider it their duty to perform for the audience that is already arriving.  The only thing they can perform?  The play Felice has written, The Two-Character Play

There are so many levels of meta going on, it's dizzying.  When they're performing, are they re-enacting their own story?  Is there really even an audience out there?  Or is this just the coping mechanism they've come up with?  Clearly, their emotional interdependence has stunted them, and their fear and paranoia is catching up with them.  Of course, they could also be completely bonkers.

There are moments of great humor and great sadness, interspersed with moments of such inspired spontaneity that I truly wondered whether Plummer and Dourif were making it up as they went along.  Their chemistry and rapport was remarkable.  At times, they were having so much fun up there, it almost seemed as if I were intruding on them.  Which was enchanting and irritating at the same time.  (photo at left is from the internet.  photographer is Carol Rosegg.  standard disclaimer applies.)

I found the first act to be more successful than the second (the heavyhandedness of the symbolism in the lighting and music were a little much, but, of course, Tennessee Williams could be a little much), but I was totally engrossed throughout and couldn't imagine what I would see next.  So the play worked for me, even while acknowledging it didn't all make sense.  Oh, and the curtain call was worth the price of admission.  :)

Seat-neighbor-wise, the house was disappointingly sparse, and filled with much younger people than I expected.  Several of the youngsters didn't return after the intermission, but the audience that remained gave a robust and enthusiastic response at the end of the evening.  The Two-Character Play may not be everybody's cup of tea, but gosh, it (and Plummer and Dourif) burrowed its way into my brain and took me on a journey I'll not soon forget. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review - Murder Ballad

I've been hearing about the new rock musical Murder Ballad for months, ever since it played at Manhattan Theatre Club.  Then, when it transferred to the Union Square Theatre, I knew I wanted to see it.  But for some reason, I kept putting it off and putting it off.  After they announced their closing date, a devilishly attractive friend and I took advantage of TDF and got a couple of tickets for last night.  You're allowed to take pictures inside the theater before the show begins, so I'll post a few of them throughout this rambling review.
Before seeing the show, I knew basically the plot and that the cast is considered uber-hot.  I also knew the show was done rather environmentally - the Union Square Theatre has been set up to resemble the downtown bar owned by one of the characters in the piece.  So there are tables strewn around and audience members can get upclose and personal with the actors throughout.  There is also theater seating, which is where my DAF (devilishly attractive friend) and I sat.  Thank heavens.  I think I'm just too old to sit at a bar table and have people dance on it.  But maybe that's just me. 

(photo at left is by Joan Marcus.  standard disclaimer applies.)  You can probably gather from my previous comments that I was perhaps not the target audience for Murder Ballad.  I liked much of the music and thought many of the lyrics were beautifully poetic and I would be perfectly happy to listen to the cast album again.  I thought the cast was talented and performed admirably.  But, I'm sorry to admit, I was pretty unengaged throughout.  Mainly, it's because I just didn't like the characters.  I know, I know, it's not necessary for me to always like characters, but goshdarnit, why should I care that one of them is going to be murdered (not a spoiler, it's in the first song and most of the reviews) if they're all so unlikable?!  I just saw reckless, stupid, self-destructive and self-indulgent people running around for 90 minutes.  Yes, they were attractive and scantily clothed, but I wasn't getting any heat.  Any of the combustible chemistry that I'd heard so much about.  I'm sure part of the reason for that is because we saw two understudies out of a cast of four.  They were just as talented and attractive as the other two performers, for sure, but I didn't get any chemistry.  I didn't see the lust or the physical manifestations of  "I've got to have you or no one else will."  It just seemed like a lot of posing and attitudes and hair flinging and boot posturing and push/pull, but no heat.

I freely admit that I have a blind spot about unearned (in my opinion) self-indulgent behavior, so perhaps I just wouldn't have loved this piece no matter what.  I will also admit that I have no knowledge about the murder ballad as a genre.  Also, I admit at one point I DID get engaged and my pulse quickened when it became apparent we were finally heading towards the final showdown.  I guess I wondered who would die and by whose hand, but also at one point, I was just ready for them all to die.  And it briefly crossed my mind that if a particular character was going to be the victim, I might have to stand up and scream.  Or leave.  Either way.  Perhaps there's value in getting a response like that.  Maybe.
I did think the staging and the physical production were quite good, and I've already mentioned I think the cast is extremely talented, as was the kick-butt band.  The rest of the audience seemed to really get into it and leapt to their feet at the end.  So, as I said above, I think I'll just chalk this one up to my not being quite the right audience for it.  Oh well.  On to the next show...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My 22 minutes as a cable tv/game show star

You've already read the trip reports of my trip to Italy with my three best friends in 2007.  But how did we get there, you ask?  Well, since the answer to that question has been televised twice in the last six weeks, I figure it's time to share!  Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.  :)

I have a friend who is rather a game show expert.  She's been on quite a few.  When she got the audition notice for a game show that needed a team of three women, she knew exactly to whom to forward the notice.  GNO!  That's the name my beautiful two gal pals and I go by.  In November, 2006, I filled out the brief application to be on the game show Chain Reaction, on the cable network Game Show Network (GSN).  About a month later, we were sent an audition date.  As you can imagine, we were very excited! 

The auditions were at the NYU Seminar and Conference Center downtown.  There were quite a few teams there, and a lot of them looked like us.  Peppy and fun gals with brains, that's what they were looking for.  At least, that's what we told ourselves.  We took a brief written test, I guess to see if we could write (lol) and then we had a mock game on camera.  Of course, we were delightful.  I mean, hello, how could we not be?!  I remember Agent and Orange were two of the words in the chain, but I don't remember much of anything else.  That evening is rather a blur, since I was so excited and hopeful to make it to the actual show.

About a month after our audition, I got a call saying we had been selected!  Woo hoo!  Our preparation began in earnest.  There used to be an online game of Chain Reaction (I don't know if it's there anymore), so we played that a lot, but realized it wasn't really helping us.  So we asked a friend of ours to help us out by writing some chains and running reps on the final portion of the game.  I gave him a VHS of a couple of episodes of the show and off we went.  My office has a large conference room, so we set up  an easel, and rocked out those chains.  We also all took a turn at the final portion of the game, which in the first season, used a blindfold (it would be a little different in our season, which we would discover later).  We quickly realized that I had NO talent for thinking while blindfolded.  It was incredible how stupid I became.  So once we figured out who would do what, we practiced more puzzles.  Our dear friend/faux game show host, later dubbed in Italy as "the luckiest man in the world," became invaluable in getting us ready.  His puzzles were excellent!  Oh, and we also had a couple of fashion shows, trying to figure out what I would wear on the air.  Many outfits tried, but most failed.  I'm not easy to costume...

So, finally, on February 13, 2007, we went to the Sony Studios on the west side to tape our episode of Chain Reaction.  I was wearing a reasonably attractive outfit, along with a pin my mother gave me, a necklace a friend brought me from Ireland, and a photo of my nephew in my back pocket, onto which I taped a haiku another friend wrote for us.  Clearly, I was leaving nothing to chance.  We were sent to a holding room before our taping with our opponents, a group of professional bowlers, along with two other sets of contestants.  They would be taping three episodes that day.  This is a photo of the holding room. 

We were sent off to the hair and makeup room.  They didn't do much to me, though I did get a touch-up with mascara and powder.  In fact, I felt as if I were wearing so much powder, I couldn't feel my face.  If you watch the episode and wonder why I keep touching my face, that's why.  They used a straightening iron on my hair to make it look shiny, but I refused the offer of lipstick.  The makeup guy said fine, but you're going to have to use your own lip gloss at every break.  No problem.  I stuffed it into the other back pocket of my trousers.  The makeup guy then made my teammates even more stunningly gorgeous than they normally are.  Back to the holding room... 

Our opponents, the pro bowlers, were really nice guys.  And, if I remember correctly, they beat us in the practice game we did while we were waiting for our taping, which was the last of the day.  I'm glad I got this picture, because after I took it, one of the production assistants yelled at everyone to put cameras away.  Whew.  Then they re-explained the rules to us, and gave us a couple of things to remember.  All will come into play during our taping.  One, don't ever contradict the host, Dylan.  Uh.  OK.  Two, if there's a pause in taping, don't talk to your teammates.  OK, got it.  And three, don't give any clues or use any words in the chain that are sexual in nature.  Pshaw, I thought.  Why would anyone EVER think of sex words during a game show??  Uh..................

Finally it was time for our taping.  We went to the studio and the P.A. told us that Host Dylan was in a bit of a bad mood because the earlier tapings hadn't gone very well.  So we were expected to be extra spectacular.  No problem.  We also had a giggle over one of the episodes that had aired earlier in the week (two words: leisure suit.  if you ever see an episode with three guys in leisure suits, make sure you stay tuned...).  We flipped a coin to see who would get the first chain - I called it and we won!  Whew.    They took our pictures on-set.  At first, they considered me the captain, so I was in the middle.  Then they changed their mind and put me on the right.  Then they changed their mind and put me on the left.  I believe, when you're watching the show, you will see me in different spots as the opening unfolds.

Oh, I forgot to mention, we had filled out questionnaires that told them more about us before we got to our taping.  So before we started the PAs told us what Host Dylan would want to talk about with us.  Of course he picked my Olympic synchronized swim team coach story.  They always do.  And he wanted to talk about how we rehearsed at my office.  Then I was trying to get him to talk to my beautiful teammates.  Maybe one gal's McDonald's story?  No.  Then they asked, "Who's the Fanilow?"  I'm like, ugh, me, clearly I'm the weirdo who has good game show stories!  But they made sure to give me the shape of what I should talk about, so it wouldn't throw Host Dylan off his game.

Right before we started, Host Dylan stopped by to wish us good luck.  He asked who lived in Astoria, sigh, me, and then I asked him which subway train he took.  He looked at me as if I had told him I would be stalking him later that day, then, as he walked away, he told us.  You can see that part at the end of the opening credits. 

These next photos are screen grabs from the episode.  I got the first word wrong, of course, but so did the first bowler.  My beautiful gal pal then got it right and we were off and rolling.  Actually, we lost the first game, but got first crack at the second game.  And here is when Rule Three nearly came into play.  As you can see on the photo at left, the bottom word was Rubble.  I guessed Barney above and got it right.  One beautiful gal pal got the word Smith above Barney.  Then my other beautiful gal pal got Easy below the word Big.  Then it was my turn again.  So the word is Easy, and I pick the word below Easy.  They give me a letter.  I get the letter "L."  Panic.  PANIC.  All I can think is "don't say lay, don't say lay, don't say lay, you can't say Easy Lay on this game show!!!"  You can see the terror on my face and then I say perhaps the stupidest guess on Chain Reaction (well, maybe not the stupidest.  people have said some pretty dumb things).  I said Lady.  Ugh.  Easy Lady.  Yeah, cool move.  SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO embarrassed.  Though Host Dylan does seem to get a kick out of it.  And my boss did too, I later found out, but still.  Photo at right shows my reaction after dumb answer.  Thankfully, the bowlers didn't get it either, so the puzzle came back to us and we won it.  Because my gal pals are smart.  Whew.  We had the lead going into the final puzzle.

The final puzzle is where you wager money for each guess.  We had a pretty good lead, so we wagered low.  Of course, the bowlers got a little momentum and we gals started to get worried.  And then, thankfully, Bowler Bobby missed a clue and it came back to me.  Oh. My. God.  My life passed before my eyes.  Seriously.  Because I knew Bowler Ken would get it right if I didn't.  The pressure!!!!  Thank heavens I got it, because, seriously, after Easy Lady, I may never have lived it down if I had missed Franklin Mint.  Where "Mint" came from, I have no idea.  But thank you to the game show gods for helping me find it.  And then my beautiful gal pals took us on home, because they are way smarter than me.  I would never have gotten Caddy.  Woo hoo!!!!!  $2800 for the first part of the game!!! 

Oh, and I almost broke Rule One (don't contradict Host Dylan) - he kept mispronouncing my name.  As the taping went on, he kept changing and changing the way he said my name.  I kept my mouth closed, though, and I think someone mentioned it to him during the break before the final part of the show.  I got a little more assistance on my 'spontaneous' conversation with Host Dylan, and away we went.  "Italy of the North" indeed.  :)  And here's where I almost blew it, with Rule Two.

We're taping the final part of the game, where two of you have to give clues and the third teammate has to guess the five words in 60 seconds.  We got the first four words lickety split.  Margarita.  Boom.  Sarah Jessica Parker.  Boom.  Ghost.  Boom.  Elmo.  We were sizzling.  Then, the powers-that-be wanted to check to make sure we got Elmo quickly enough, so they stopped taping and checked the playback.  We had been told to not talk to each other while this was happening.  Did that stop me?  NO.  When I'm nervous, I chatter.  So, I say something, and one gal pal whispers, SHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.  Then I start talking again and someone over the god mic says "Quiet on set."  Ack!  I believe I covered my mouth so I wouldn't say anything else.  Terrified.  Finally, they decide we got the answer in before time ran out, so we started taping again.  We had like 40 seconds to guess just one more word.  But our timing was off.  We couldn't get it back.  I could feel the money slipping away and finally, What? Do? You? Throw? At? A? Board?   And our GENIUS gal pal says Dart and we WIN!!!!!  Another $5000!  We start screaming and jumping around like crazy people!  Host Dylan loved it.  When he announced our total winnings as $7800, I screamed like a banshee and ran over to hug him.  I'm sure he still thinks I'm stalking him somewhere.  As the camera closes in on us at the end, we all say "hi" as a salute to all our pals who had helped and supported us.  Then Host Dylan comes over and says, "You know, the word was Darts and you only said Dart.  I don't know..."  And I'm like, "SO NOT FUNNY, DYLAN!!!!!" 

Then they whisked us back to 
the holding room so we could fill out financial paperwork.  We were GLOWING.  We talked production assistant Jeff into having his picture taken with us.  He said we were great, so there.  I know we were!  We had originally been scheduled to air in late March, 2007, but they moved our air date up to Premiere Week.  Not bad!  If I do say so myself, we were spectacular.  As Host Dylan asked us to be.  The photo at right is of our friends gathering at my apartment for a viewing party.  What a blast.  And ever since, we've been looking for another game show.  If anybody has any ideas, send them our way...

UPDATE:  I think I posted a link to our final round below.  I had no idea we were online! 


Monday, July 15, 2013

Thoughts on Life Could Be a Dream (NYMF), Blue Man Group, and the joy of tater tots

I believe I've mentioned before that I don't generally enjoy seeing shows on the weekends.  I prefer hunkering in my apartment to try to rest up before a new and crazy week.  But, if I wanted to see a friend's show at NYMF, I had to drag my sorry self out of Queens and to...my favorite theater!  It made the trip a little less painful, knowing I would be seeing a dear friend's show at Signature Theatre!  :)

I can't really review Life Could Be a Dream fairly, since I know and love several people on the production team and I have little to no perspective on their work.  Hello, they're uber-talented.  I will say, however, that I'm ever so glad I saw the show.  It's a fun fun time in the theater.  I had a smile on my face the entire afternoon - the perfect summer show.  And the crowd just went nuts for it, which was fun to see.

The creator/director of Life Could Be a Dream, Roger Bean, also gave us the adorable Marvelous Wonderettes, which had a very nice Off-Broadway run a couple of years ago.  In that same vein, Life Could Be a Dream takes place in 1960, and uses iconic songs from the 50s and 60s as its playlist.  Wonderful songs like "Tears on My Pillow," "Earth Angel," "I Only Have Eyes for You," and many many others (there are 23 musical numbers listed in the program!) are used to propel the plot forward - a story about young men desperate to win a radio contest that has a record contract as its prize.  The show is sweet and straightforward, well-directed and designed, with obscenely talented performers.  All of the actors are terrific singers and they put all of the songs over beautifully.  If there were a cast album, I'd buy it right now.  I can only hope some producer-types caught Life Could Be a Dream, because it could also have a very nice run Off-Broadway and satisfy audiences for years to come.  I mean, I'm not joking, the crowd Saturday afternoon were having a great time.  At least the people around me were.  They kept telling their seat neighbors how fantastic the show was.  I think that's a good sign.  And it made me feel as if I didn't love the show just because I love my friends...

When my sister and nephew were here last week, we took a trip downtown to see Blue Man Group.  Oddly enough, I've lived here for nearly 20 years and I've never caught the show before.  I've seen the random skit here and there, but that's it.  Somehow, my nephew caught their act on YouTube, so he was really looking forward to seeing the show.  Thankfully, there were TDF tickets available for Fourth of July weekend - Blue Man Group is not a cheap endeavor.
I haven't been in the Astor Place Theatre for years; they've really spruced up the place.  Clearly, Blue Man Group renovated the space to make it more funky and modern, just like they are.  In the lobby (which was happily air conditioned, with benches, so we weary tourists could sit for a few minutes before the show), there are screens with evocative scenes using paint, a small concessions area and a gift shop.  The house was pretty full - we were in the mezzanine, which (to be honest) doesn't really have enough of a rake.  Teenagers who haven't quite hit their peak height yet might have a hard time seeing over the head of tourists in front of them.  Happily, we found a seat in the row in front of us that was unoccupied and my nephew could move down there and have an unobstructed view of the stage.  That also forced him to be a little social with his seat neighbors, who kept trying to engage him in conversation.  Sharpening his social skills is never a bad thing.
The show was a treat, with high energy and plenty of visual pizazz.  The drumming with the paint was gorgeous, the audience interaction stuff was a riot, and the band was terrific.  The 3D/2.5D piece was amazing, and the iPhone bits were ingenious.  My nephew loved it, thank heavens - he laughed and made sure to let his mom and me know when to pay really close attention.  And there was enough new stuff that he hadn't seen before to keep him really engaged.  He wants to see the show again when the tour stops in his hometown!  Hurrah from his aunt.  Oh, and the Blue Men come out after the show and have their pictures taken with whoever wants one.  My nephew wouldn't go that far, but he did get a fantastic photo of one of the guys looking right at him.  My picture?  Not as good.  But it's fun anyway, once I cropped out a random audience member...
For some reason, I have been obsessed with tater tots lately.  A need for nostalgia?  A vitamin deficiency?  Who knows?  But Saturday, after Life Could Be a Dream, I waited forever for the crosstown bus (my usual subway train wasn't running over the weekend, so I wanted to take the bus to Grand Central).  The bus never came, so I got in a cab and asked him to take me to the subway stop in Manhattan before Queens.  Why I didn't just have him drive me all the way home, I'll never know.  But, wait:  now I know!  When I got out of the cab and walked down to the subway, I remembered Melt Shop!  And what do they have, besides delicious sandwiches?  TATER TOTS!  Oh, happy day!  A serendipitous stop, if I do say so myself.  I guess it's a good thing I don't live near a Melt Shop, because I would be eating there all the time.  Their grilled cheese sandwiches are beyond yummy and their tater tots are out of this world!  They satisfied my tater tot craving, at least for now (and they lasted two days!  Melt Shop tater tots even taste good as leftovers!).  But I have a class tonight in Chelsea and won't shock myself if I stop in the Chelsea branch of Melt Shop for more of those wonderful tots.  For some reason, they just make me feel a little bit better about...everything.  :) 


Friday, July 12, 2013

Review - The Cradle Will Rock

I was very excited when I read about City Center's new Encores Off-Center series, producing American musicals that don't quite fit into the usual Encores mandate.  When they announced their season of The Cradle Will Rock, Violet and I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking it On the Road, I was so intrigued.  Plus, I knew Jeanine Tesori, the new artistic director of this endeavor, would take care of the musicals beautifully.  And when a handsome friend asked if I'd accompany him to The Cradle Will Rock, I immediately said yes.  Oh, and then, hello, Raul Esparza was announced for the cast.  Serendipity all around.  :) 
I didn't know The Cradle Will Rock at all before last night.  I've never heard the music, I'd never read a synopsis and I never saw Tim Robbins' movie.  But, somehow, I did know the legend of the show.  So I went into City Center with practically no expectations, other than being excited about such a spectacular cast.  That's one of the wonderful things about Encores, and now Encores Off-Center - they get fantastic people to participate.  How often do you get to see a show with all of these people on one stage:  Raul Esparza, Danny Burstein, Anika Noni Rose, Judy Kuhn, Peter Friedman, Martin Moran, Henry Stram, Robert Petkoff, Michael Park, Eisa Davis, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, David Margulies, Matthew Saldivar and Aidan Gemme?  Seriously.
After all the previous blabbity blah, I will say I definitely enjoyed myself last night, though I'm not quite sure this particular production of The Cradle Will Rock was completely successful.  The piece itself is very timely and could probably work in a different setting, but here, I just don't know.  Done as a concert, the actors were on-book (some of them never opened them, but still) and there were chairs lined up on stage in front of the orchestra.  Staged by Sam Gold, there were placards and odd-for-odd's-sake (or so it seemed to me) casting choices.  We had double casting, cross-gender casting, cross-dressing cast members and a ten-year-old playing several adult roles.  All while dressed in formal evening clothes.  I ddin't quite get the point - were they satirizing the satire?  It seemed strange to have people look posh and elegant whilst playing up class warfare, but ok.  I guess I went with that.  But some of the staging choices were definitely off-putting to me.  The curtain came down at one point for no apparent reason.  There was also a lot of sitting throughout quite a bit of the show, which sucked the energy out of the piece at times.  At least for me.  Intellectually, I guess I can understand why they were sitting, but I just felt why should I bother to pay attention if they can't bother to stand up and tell me the story?  Strange reasonings, I know...

(The photo at left, by Joan Marcus, was found on the internet. Standard disclosure applies.)  When there weren't oddities (seemingly unrelated to the script) happening on stage, I was completely engrossed in the story.  In fact, and this is an issue with the actual script, I guess, but I was definitely more engaged in the stories about the non-corrupted as opposed to the flashbacks about how people GOT corrupted.  If that even makes sense.  For example, the scene in the drugstore between the Polish couple before they get sent to their doom, was so touching and simply portrayed.  Robert Petkoff and Judy Kuhn were just sublime here.  And when Da'Vine Joy Randolph belts a lament to her fallen husband, it's chilling.  Those moments worked best for me.  Though the cast as a whole was fantastic - Danny Burstein was slimy as Mr. Mister, the city's most corrupt official; Raul Esparza was appropriately fiery and honorable as the union organizer; Anika Noni Rose was gorgeous in both roles she played, the oppressed prostitute who is the heart and brains of the piece, and also as the amoral Mrs. Mister; and Peter Friedman was heartbreaking as the now-homeless druggist who mourns the loss of his son.
The music was well-played by the fourteen-piece orchestra, and I enjoyed hearing this score for the first time.  There was a lot of variation in the music, from jazzy undertones to comedic satire to unsettingly rhythmic beats, to lyrical loveliness.  I also heard a hint of Weill underneath some of the patter numbers (and had some Threepenny Opera bouncing around in my brain afterwards), but all in all, this is definitely a show I'd like to see (and hear) again.
One directorial choice I found completely and utterly brilliant was towards the end of the night, which showed just how timely The Cradle Will Rock still is (I won't spoil it for you, because I think surprise is key here).  I think that could've been brought out even more, but in the Encores-style compressed time frame, I guess I'm grateful we got as much wonderfulness as we did.  But when you have a little wonderfulness, you always think there should be more.  At least I do...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Way-Too-Hot Holiday Weekend

Sorry for not posting lately.  After my ballet subscription completed, I took a break from seeing things in preparation for my sister and nephew's arrival.  Note to self: don't have company over Fourth of July weekend.  Too hot.  Too crowded.  Not enough air conditioning in apartment.

OK, getting past that, of course it was SO fun to spend time with my sister and nephew.  I especially enjoyed some of the grown-up conversations I had with my nephew.  As much as I rebel against his not being a baby anymore, it's grand watching his evolution into a young man.  If I can help him in that evolution, all the better. 

Over the weekend, we saw The Lone Ranger (my expectations were SO low, I had a reasonably good time), Blue Man Group, the Chrysler Building, the Staten Island Ferry, mini-golf on Pier 25 and Coney Island, among other spots.  We ate gelato and french fries and had many bottles of water and glasses of iced tea.  And laughed and laughed.  I love laughing with my family! 

I have some shows upcoming, so I'll add my thoughts on Blue Man Group to a later post.  But my nephew gave them a huge thumbs up.  Enjoy some photos from a stinking hot weekend in New York!  Can't wait until my next family visit (though NOT in the summer!!!)...