Just a short A-train ride from midtown Manhattan is a not so sleepy neighborhood inhabited by close-knit Latino residents struggling through ordinary complications most of us can identify with: love, loss, and financial hardship. Of course, the residents of Washington Heights manage their daily struggles with enough exuberance and enthusiasm to light up the 4th of July night sky.
Washington Heights, a barrio in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, is its own, and dare I say, main character of In the Heights, beautifully presented here by Set Designer Patrick Klein. Rudy Fuentas is nothing short of terrific as Usnavi, the owner of the local bodega, and central resident bringing all the inhabitants together. It would be a disservice to not mention Fuentas does all of this while singing and speaking mostly in rhyme.
One of the unique attributes about In the Heights is that this truly is an ensemble piece, allowing everyone their moment to shine. Two stand out’s in this talented ensemble are Jia Taylor and Alexa Ortega. Taylor portrays Usnavi’s love interest and salon worker, Vanessa, set on moving out of the barrio to a downtown apartment. Ortega plays Nina Rosario, the first of her family to attend college, which coincidentally, is Stanford University. Both women have beautiful voices and own the stage in their respective roles. Another stand out is Brian Conway as Sonny. Sonny doesn't have any solos, but that doesn't prevent Conway from practically stealing nearly every scene he’s in with his charm and charisma.
Alex Perez’ direction and Robyn Tribuzi’s choreography give the production not one, but two stand out high points, both of which, in my opinion trump that of the national tour. The first being the Act I finale, “Blackout”, I had goose bumps I was enjoying the number so much. The second being the show stopper “Carnaval Del Barrio” in Act II, led by Daniela (Vanessa Alvarez). I had high expectations for this number because it’s my favorite number in the show. The inhabitants of Washington Heights are at low point following a 4th of July blackout and looting; the salon, the dispatch and the bodega are all shutting their doors for good as the intense summer heat drains the group of their last bit of hope and energy . At this point, to paraphrase, Daniela steps in and proclaims, “Since when are Latin’s afraid of heat?” and the audience is treated to an energetic song and dance number as the residents muster up the energy for one last celebration together.
I wish I could mention every single person by name, but then I’d be writing the production credits. I do have to add one final shout out - every time Mark Alabanza came out pushing his Piragua Cart singing “piragua” I wanted to grab $2.25 out of my pocket and get my own shaved ice treat!
This isn't my first time seeing In The Heights, but this production presented by Palo Alto Players is my preferred barrio to visit! My advice dear readers: grab your A-train ticket, sit back and enjoy the uptown ride. Don't forget to wear your dancing shoes!
In the Heights is playing at the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, present by Palo Alto Players, now through September 29th. Tickets range from $17 to $45 and are available online at: http://www.paplayers.org
If you've never been to Palo Alto, like me, you have a reason to go. If you've never seen Miss Saigon, like me, you have a reason to go. If you've seen Miss Saigon and have been waiting for a theatre company to do it again, your wait is over, now go. I'm going to do it, I'm going to use the cliche..."run don't walk", or perhaps in today's plugged in era, log on and use your keyboard shortcuts, to get your tickets to this phenomenal production.
Immediately I forgot I was at a local theatre company, and was transfixed by the production elements and the raw talent on stage. I found myself immediately pulled in to the story, the drama, the humor, the love and the heartache that is Miss Saigon.
Katherine Dela Cruz shines as Kim. Kim is a woman holding on to a dream that is no longer a reality, dreaming of a better life for her son and longing for the love, the husband, she lost during the war. Dela Cruz portrays the role with such seamless ease and emotion, you find yourself in the audience sharing her loss and heartache. Danny Gould has the voice of a seasoned pro. I couldn't believe what I was hearing when he sang. Just listen to him sing "Why God Why", my favorite number from the first act, and you'll be a fan as well. It's a shame Chris doesn't have more songs in the show, because I wanted to hear and see more of Chris/Gould. You do get to see more of him in one scene, and, I won't lie, he's easy on the eyes.
Brian Palac provides the comic relief as the Engineer, plotting and scheming to find his way out of Vietnam into America. Lindsay Stark rounds out the standouts in the show as Ellen, Chris' wife in the years following the Vietnam War. Ellen is another role I wish were bigger, only because Stark has a beautiful voice and left me wanting to hear more out of her. "I Still Believe", the duet between Kim and Ellen is one of the many highlights in the fist act.
A story as emotional as Miss Saigon does not have the big song-and-dance finale usally found in musicals. Saigon does offer "The American Dream", perfectly directed and performed here, giving us that 'feel good' number of the show before the heart tugging finale.
To any theatre fan: You need to see this show. Miss Saigon runs until May 12, 2013. You can get tickets by visiting http://www.paplayers.org/
This is a trip you'll definitely want to take!
This is a partial copy taken from an old post from my former blog posted a year ago. It was such a magical day for me, I thought I'd repost the highlight of that day here:
Sunday, June 24, 2011, John and I attended the Dolly Parton 'Better Day' tour at the Concord Pavilion (now called the Sleep Train Pavilion).
What an incredible experience this turned out to be!
Not only was this what I consider to be Dolly's finest concert (of the three I've seen), but I was also lucky enough to be part of the select few to go backstage and meet Dolly!! I still can't believe it!! I had joined the online fan membership just to get pre-sale tickets so I could purchase better seats,
having no idea that I would have the opportunity to be selected for a meet and greet! Then it came: Sunday morning I received the email that I had been one of the few selected to meet Dolly Parton!
After picking up my meet and greet sticker, and after a tri-tip sandwich, I made my way to the designated area and I'm in the line with about six other people in front of me to meet Dolly, and some other people behind me. After the token wheelchair kid came out, I knew we'd be going in. It was quick, but still wonderful. We walked to the back of the outside stage area, by her bus and there was a photo spot set up. When it was my turn she looked at me, motioned to come over and said "Well, hellllllllloooooooooooooooooo! Come on over here and give me a hug!" So, I did!! ha ha! She asked me how I was doing and I said "I'm wonderful!! It's such an honor to meet you". Then she said, well, let's get our picture taken. Snap, Snap, picture taken. Then she thanked me for coming, gave me a hug, said she hopes I have a great time and that she appreciates my support because she needs the money and wished me goodbye.
Since I was a child I dreamt of meeting Dolly Parton, and it came to be! No matter how brief, it was incredible! As far as the photo goes, I was told it would be posted online in a few days and I could download a copy. Sadly, I never could find anything related online and never got a response to my emails asking for assitance. I will, however, always have my memories and my backstage pass (above)!
My original title for this page was ‘Tales and Trips: A Theatre Blog’. That title proved too long and the bar just left “more…” in its place, leaving me wondering if anyone would look to see what “more…” had to offer, so I shortened the title to simply Theatre Blog. The following entry is exactly the type of story I want this page to be full of, for everyone to read, and for you to share your similar adventures!
I was fortunate enough to see ‘Memphis’ in 2009, with the original cast, before it took home the 2010 Tony for best musical. Before the first act concluded, I knew I had to see this show again! Last September when it was announced as part of the Pantages 2011-12 season and did not make the list for the theatres in our area, I had to get tickets. I couldn’t possibly be the only member of my household who had experienced this phenomenal show. Eleven months pass and it’s finally time to see the national tour of ‘Memphis’! One of my best friends had also moved to southern California, and she was able to join our evening at the theatre.
Another friend of ours once rented a room from Sally Struthers. John and I are are seeing Sally Struthers perform her new one woman show this weekend, so, via Facebook, our friend said to say hello to Sally for her if I had the opportunity.
Now you have the background, this is where the story really starts:
During the drive to LA, we were playing music and reminiscing about past shows we had seen. John saw Sally Struthers in a national tour of ‘Grease’ years ago and had the soundtrack, so we were playing it and I told John about a crazy dream I had, that we had met Sally Struthers and she ended up at our house making Sunday brunch...
It’s finally show time! The three of us, John, Jennifer and I, take our seats. I can’t wait to see the show again, and I can’t wait for John and Jennifer to experience it for the first time! Now, I have to admit, seeing original cast, I’m “Team Chad (Kimball)” all the way. Bryan Fenkart, now in the role of Huey, was going to have to win me over. Felicia Boswell, in the role of Felicia, originated by Montego Glover, steps into the role beautifully. I never once found myself comparing her performance to that of Ms. Glover. The show is every bit as moving, toe tapping and brilliant as it was on Broadway.
Intermission comes and we head to a lesser known bar in the lobby to get waters and chat about the show up to this point. That’s when John says, “That lady over there looks like Sally Struthers.” I turn, we make eye contact, and I reply “It is.” The debate about walking over and saying hello begins! John says “no,” Jennifer says “we only live once,” and is encouraging me to do it. I’m no stranger to saying hello to celebrities; they’re just people with better jobs than mine. I also won’t bother anyone either, and she was having a conversation with two other people. When I had my theatre career I was around celebrities all the time, maybe that has something to do with my ability to just talk to them like anyone else.
Intermission is coming to an end, the lights are flashing and we’re being instructed to head back to our seats. At this point, Sally Struthers is walking next to me, I simply turn to her and say, “Miss Struthers, I would never bother you on your night out at the theatre, but we have a mutual friend, and, oddly enough, just yesterday she said if I had the chance to please tell you she says hello.” She asked me who our friend was, I told her, and she seemed rather excited, as did one of the young men with her. She offered her hand, asking my name and asked me who Jennifer was (poor John had gone to the bathroom and missed all this). Sally Struthers was so sweet, introduced us to her friends and continued chatting with us in the Pantages lobby. When I told her I was seeing her show in Pleasanton the following Saturday, she got a comical, puzzled look on her face and said “Oh geeze, I’m so sorry. We’re still polishing it up.” I couldn’t help but laugh, I can’t believe a performer was giving me a pre-apology for her show! She continued to chat with us, and finally, not wanting to be the one responsible for Sally Struthers getting caught in a seating hold and missing the beginning of the second act, I told her exactly that, and said I was going to let her get back to her night, and politely excused us. I would have been so humiliated if our conversation made her miss the beginning of the second act! Oddly enough…as we’re walking back to our seats, she was actually seated in the row directly in front of us!
The second act was wonderful, and I was thrilled to have once again, experienced this brilliant show. Bryan Fenkart won me over with his portrayal of Huey. The entire cast did a phenomenal job. Fenkart’s interpretation of the 11th hour song, ‘Memphis Lives in Me’ is slightly different than Kimball’s, but he does an amazing job and makes the song, and the role, his own. When it comes to ‘Memphis’, I’m still “Team Chad,” but I’m also “Team Bryan,” because, it’s okay to root for two teams!
After the actor bows, and the audience is done dancing and applauding, the lights come up, and we’re waiting to exit our row, remember, Sally Struthers is in front of us, so we’re standing there next to her, I wasn’t going to say anything more so as not to bother her, she looks at me and says, “Goodnight, Steele.” What a class act. What an amazing night at the theatre!
I lived mere blocks away from California Music Circus in Sacramento for year, and not once did I visit the venue, an oversight I surely regret. I was however majorly involved in acting myself at the time…sometimes with three productions at one time. As were my theatre loving friends. Needless to say, my love of theatre didn’t hit me until I became a theatre manager in San Francisco. I had seen the tour of ‘Private Live’ with Joan Collins in 1992 and the tour of ‘Fosse’, both in Sacramento..but still, not the big musical as I now know and love. When I read Music Circus was presenting ‘The Little Mermaid’, I knew I had to go. I saw the original production on Broadway, loved it, and have waited to see this magnificent show again. Sacramento is the first city in the United States to obtain licensing to bring Ariel and her cohorts back to life. Under the sea of course, as we’re reminded with a “dance in your seats” number brilliantly put together for this venue. Music Circus, for those who do not know, is in the round. There lies my original skepticism with the show. On the New York stage ‘Mermaid’ has extravagant sets, a pirate ship and a lagoon illuminated with vivid colors and life as Sebastian sings and whispers to Prince Eric, “Kiss the Girl”.
My skepticism was immediately put to rest. The team at Music Circus crafted a worthy and phenomenal production. Without major sets, the show relies on the talent of the actors, lighting and costumes. They succeeded in all three areas. Approximately half of the costumes were borrowed from the original production, a cast of seasoned Broadway vets (one even from the mother show), and a stellar job in the lighting department made for a worthy rival of the original production. Eric Kunze is, as any prince should be, dashing as Prince Eric, Merwin Foard gives a noteworthy performance as King Triton, Jessica Grové captures all the charm and innocence of Ariel, never has a crab been so loveable and entertaining as Kevin Smith Kirkwood’s and Vicki Lewis is brilliant as the evil sea witch Ursula. My only regret is that I no longer live blocks away from this midtown hot spot…I would have likely taken this trip “Fathoms Below” more than once.
This show was not on my radar, I even passed on it in New York.
Then the tour came up and other people were interested in seeing it. Once again, a show that didn't hit the Bay Area, so we made the trip to the Pantages in Los Angeles. I knew the show would be fun, so of course I was up for seeing it.
From the moment we walked into the pre-show banter with one of the "girls" the show had me. When one group walked in late, she hollered from the stage, "Did your tickets say 2-ish?". From that moment, loved this show!!! I'm not a fan of drag, but this show is not a story about drag. It has a story, about people, love and family and it's a pretty funny story!! The ensemble cast ("the girls") are hilariously fantastic. My favorite "girl" is the one who is obviously over the whole thing, and rolls her eyes and practically gets into a shoving match with one of the other girls laster. Jeigh Madjus practically steals the show from Christopher Sieber, but this show is big enough for all the wigs, heels and comedy each character has to offer. Gay Marshall won be over as Jacqueline, the restaurant owner. Unfortunately George Hamilton is the weak link in the produciton, but, it's still cool to say you saw a legendary actor perform; I just wish he had more charisma for his part of Georges, the club owner and emcee of the show. I kept thinking how great Kelsey Grammar must have been in the role on Broadway.
My recommendation, SEE this show if it is in your area. Or even if you have to drive six hours to see it like we did! You'll walk out of the theatre satisfied, laughing....and perhaps with a high kick or two in your step!
Another stellar touring production outshing it's parent production on Broadway. The Broadway production I saw was entertaining, nostalic and fun. Brooke Shields was fantastic as Morticia, and Roger Rees did a great job as Gomez. I was excited to see the retooled tour production at the Pantages this past June. The retooled production, minus that great squid in the basement, was even better and even more fun than the Broadway production. The cast is great, but Douglas Sills as Gomez clearly is the show stealer in this produciton. His vocals and comic timing are impecible.
We went to Los Angeles, because, the tour unfortunately did not have a stop in the Bay Area, but if you find yourself anywhere in the Addams neighborhood, definitely see this show! You'll be glad you did. Snap, Snap.
I am a bit behind on this post, but better late than never, right?
This is an outstanding touring produciton, eclipsing it's "mother ship" on Broadway - now Off Broadway I believe. I saw the original Broadway cast...all fantastic, but they don't hold a candle to the tour cast.
Lee Ferris shines as the disgruntled Carl Perkins. Martin Kaye must be channeling Jerry Lee Lewis himself as he plays the piano on stage for 90 minutes.
Derek Keeling can't help but seduce the audience with his on the money portrayal of Johnny Cash, and Cody Slaughter is like the reincarnaiton of Elvis on stage.
This is a riveting, and rock-and-rolling musical that will leave you dancing in the streets as you exit the theatre.
We sat in pit seats for the tour stop in San Jose, and I highly recommend getting pit sits if at all possible, it's well worth the cost.
If the tour stops anywhere near you, or if you're in New York City - this is a must see show for any theater or rock and roll lover!
Okay, I admit it, I bought my ticket to Miss Abigail's for three reasons: I wanted to do my "Off Broadway" duty during a 2010 trip to New York; Eve Plumb of 'The Brady Bunch' fame was a draw; and, very important, the discounted tickets were cheap. I walked into Sofia's Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, not knowing what type of theatre it was, expecting a regular theatre set up, and was surprised to find our front row seats were only about three inches from the stage, however, I was very excited to be so close to the action - little did I know how close I would be! While Eve Plumb as Miss Abigail was the draw, Manuel Herrera as Paco proved to be the star of the show with his latin charm, engaging personality and good looks. Paco greeted audience members and does his duty as Miss Abigail's house boy and assistant which includes tidying up the room where the show is set. The show is very audience engaging and Plumb and Herrera both excelled in connecting with the audience. For me the highlights of the show were when in one scene, Paco is MIA, so Miss Abigail brings me on stage to carry on Paco's duties! What a thrill that was, I mean, I grew up watching Eve Plumb on various incarnations of the Brady Bunch TV series. After reaching a book Paco would normally get for her, I am sitting on the couch, reading to the audience with Miss Abigail ( I can't believe it's happening), as a jealous Paco returns to find me in his seat. The ad libbing between myself and Hererra was thrilling, and gave me my 15 minutes of Off-Broadway fame. Both Plumb and Herrera referred to me a few times in the show and Paco shot me with bubbles from a bubble gun as I punched back, popping the bubbles of his jealousy. I very much enjoyed being a part of the show and for a few moments, the acting bug was buzzing around, attempting to bite me once again. For the curious ones out there, Eve Plumb looked fantastic! Miss Abigails' Guide to Dating, Mating & Marriage is an evening full of laughs, entertainment and plain fun. Even more if you become part of the action!
I'm going to start the blog rolling with a posting that I love from my friend Anne Marie. It's about the trials and tribulations of several friends coming to visit me in the city several years back to see Mamma Mia! at the Golden Gate theatre. Visit Anne Mari'es hilarious blog at drunkdramaqueen.com.
She said I could use these on my old blog. I asked her. I have the email SAVED to prove it, in a court of law.
The events of this took place in March of 2004. Just a typical idea: Hey, let's all go see Mama Mia! Let me rephrase, just a typiceal idea that went awry. Like most of our outings. My commentary will be done like this
Lemme fill you in on a fun filled Saturday I spent in San Francisco this weekend. BACKGROUND
My two dear friends Shaleen and Steele and I , along with Shaleens mom Sharon- went to go see Mama Mia in San Francisco. What a wonderful show. I left my apartment at 9:30 am and went to meet Shaleen. It took us a while to get on the road- but we left at 11:00 and were on our way to the Richmond BART station. Shaleen borrowed Greg's car because we didn't want any car drama (her car has been acting funky- this will be very important later on in the story). With one minor re-route (Shaleen wasn't aware that the Richmond station was off of 80- she thought the Pittsburgh BART was what I was talking about) we were in the city and met Steele and went to the show.
-Show was FABULOUS- had a great time! Due to some great coworkers of Steeles (I worked at the Orpheum Theatre at the time) our seats were upgraded to Orchestra and we sat behind a 60 year old woman with a very interesting hair do... a cross between a Cockatoo and a chia pet.
HERE IS WHERE THE STORY BEGINS
We leave the theatre after the show and immediately walk into a RIOT. That big protest you read about and saw in the news this weekend?? Yep- yours truly was SMACK down in the middle of it- there were police with riot gear- thousands of them. So we quickly leave that mess and head to the Tonga room at the Fairmont (??) hotel for a drink. When we get the bill we freaked because we thought that they charged us 4 dollars for (what we thought were complimentary) mixed nuts on the table. Turns out we weren't reading the bill correctly- so we left. On the way out Shaleen and Sharon were in the ladies room and Steele and I were window shopping at the gift shop and froo-froo stores at the hotel. I made him smell my hands because the soap in the bathroom smelled nice. He did and agreed- and said that the men's soap didn't .. So I smelled his hand. Then we got goofy - at least we're not dogs. Or we'd be smelling each other's butts... WE STARTED TO PANTOMIME THAT IDEA- we turned around and the guy in the store was staring at us THROUGH THE WINDOW... I wonder what the hell he thought when he saw us sniffing each other!
Okay- back to the story- we leave the hotel.. And head to dinner . We eat at this great Burmese/Chinese food place where our waiter was wearing a tablecloth as a skirt- we were that nights entertainment.. We had these laughing fits and had a great time. We leave that place and go to catch a drink at the Gold Dust Lounge. An old Bordello that is now a bar- we couldn't find a place to sit- and leave..
Then we FIND A DEAD BODY.
In the middle of the sidewalk there was an over tipped wheel chair with a body covered in a blanket on it laying on the sidewalk not moving. And we didn't want to stay and check so we called 911 and reported it- (I called 911 and the operator actually wanted me to stay there and identify the body. I DIDN'T know the body! We just stumbled across it! None of us could identify it) then we went to the top of the Marriott to have another drink. (We needed a stiff one after that stiff one.) After we had our drinks, then walking to BART, this is where I said goodbye. At 4:05 am my phone rang. When your phone rings at 4:05 am it can only mean three things: someone has died or been seriously hurt - wasnt that, it's a booty call - darn, it wasn't that, or someone from your past or present is drunk dialing. Okay, it was none of the above, which means, a 4:05 am call can only mean one of four things, the fourth being: Anne Marie had drama after you said goodnight: We finally got back to the Powell street Bart station at 11:00 pm to finally realize that the last train to Richmond from there left at 7:00 pm. After having to scrape Shaleen off of the ceiling- we caught the train to Pittsburgh and transferred at 12th street. Made it safely to the car at midnight and headed home.
Right after Vacaville OUR TIRE EXPLODED AND CAUGHT ON FIRE.
Yes.. The tire severely blew- separated from the rim and caught on fire.(and we took Gregs car so we won't have car trouble) We called AAA and waited for the truck to come. I really had to pee at this point so I had to PEE BEHIND A ABANDONED OLDSMOBILE. We get the spare donut on and fill the rest of the tires up.. And head home... going 45 miles an hour.
We finally get to Sacramento where I realized all this time I had a hole in the crotch of my pants... Which sent Shaleen and I into fits of delirium. We pull into the parking lot of her apartment. She has to pee really bad- and the sprinkler had malfunctions and there was a 6 foot geyser covering the sidewalk to get to the apartment. I hear Shaleen scream.. I have to pee and Mt Vesuvius is blocking my way...
TO END THIS TALE,
I got home at 4:00 am... To sum it up- on Sat I-
Saw Mama Mia
Walked into a Riot
Saw a dead body
Had our Car tire EXPLODE AND CATCH ON FIRE
Peed behind an abandoned Oldsmobile
Had a hole in the crotch of my pants and didn't know
I am never leaving my bed again
Just another outing in our world....
We all have theatre stories! Why not share yours here! Tell us about a great, or terrible show you saw? Did you have an incredible, or not so incredible meeting with an actor? Mabye you need to vent about the person in front of you eating a hamburger? Perhaps just getting to the show was an adventure! Put it here! If you'd like to share an experience with us, just email it to me and I'll publish on the blog! I look forward to reading your words!