A Trip to 1775

So last weekend we visited Emerson College for accepted students day  (where my daughter officially ended College Quest by accepting).  And because the Boston Marathon was on Monday, we decided that instead of staying the weekend, we’d move on and check out the Patriots Day celebrations in Lexington and Concord.

As many of you probably already know, Lexington and Concord, MA were the locations of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.  The British set off for Concord in search of the munitions—including cannons—they believed to be housed there.   Unfortunately, patriots Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the banned provisional congress were in residence in Lexington at the time.  So Paul Revere was dispatched along with William Dawes to make sure that the men were removed before the British arrived.

Thus began the famous ride of Paul Revere.  And though he did manage to warn Hancock and Adams, he was captured before he could reach Concord.  (Another dispatch did arrive in time).  He was later released, and the story of Paul Revere’s ride recorded for infamy.

The British, with 700 troops, arrived in Concord and split up to capture the arms.  Some traveling into town, while others headed for the farm where the cannons were supposedly being held, and a third group remaining at the old north bridge in between.   The patriots, forewarned, managed to bury the cannons before the troops arrived, and when the militia confronted the British at the bridge, shots were fired (the first ones not actually attributed to one side or the other).   The Revolution had begun.

Additional militia arrived, and the British sounded retreat, moving back toward Boston as the numbers of militia men swelled, the fight culminating along Battle Road which stretched from Concord to Lexington.   Though strategically the battle was not an important one, historically it marked the beginning.  As John Adams would remark shortly after…  “the die is cast, the Rubicon crossed.”

We were lucky enough to visit the house where Paul Revere found both John Hancock and Samuel Adams, as well as the Lexington Green where eight militiamen were killed.  We also watched as reenactors brought the British retreat through the Bloody Angle to life.  Having heard of reenactions all my life, it was amazing to actually see one.   The sound of the muskets was so much louder than I expected.  And the time between volleys ridiculously long.  I’d have had trouble holding my ground, anticipating the destruction coming any second.

After a visit to Captain Smith’s house and the Hartwell Tavern, we headed to Concord and the green there.   Tying literature into history, we visited The Old Manse where both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne resided.  And jumped forward in time to post-civil war days and Louisa May Alcott’s house.  Then back again as we visited the Old North Bridge, and a verbal recreation of what happened there in 1775.

We take our democracy for granted.  But, perhaps especially in these troubled days, it’s important to stop and remember the people who sacrificed to buy us our freedom.  I for one, couldn’t have been prouder to have the chance to relive such an important moment in our history.

What about you?  Have you visited Lexington and Concord?  Other Revolutionary War sites?

Off With Her Head!

As I said earlier, it’s a new season on Broadway, which means lots of new openings.   We recently went to see a preview of the musical, Wonderland.   Now I should state right up front that I’m an unabashed Alice fan.  I fell in love with Alice in Wonderland as a kid, and then even more so with Alice Through the Looking Glass when I was a bit older.  And I’ve never stopped loving the wildly nonsensical world of Lewis Carroll.

I adored Tim Burton’s vision of Alice.  The casting, the story, the special effects, all of it lived up to my vision of the book.  Carroll would have been honored.   So it was with much excitement that I sat down to see Wonderland, book by Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy and music and lyrics by Jack Murphy and Frank Wildhorn.

The opening montage, the original drawings coming to life against a scrim were fabulous.  And roving quotes from the book made it all that much more alluring.  Equally provocative was the overture.   The audience tittered (and probably twittered) and quieted.  The curtain pulled back to reveal, not a rabbit hole, but a New York Apartment.

The story, a modern day version of Alice’s descent into Wonderland complete with a faulty elevator, is simple.  Alice (Janet Dacal), a newly separated single mother, has just moved to a new apartment.  The stress of everything has left her exhausted and as she falls into a restless sleep, a white rabbit appears, and well, except for the elevator, you know this part of the story.

The bright colors and brilliant set pieces for Wonderland set the tone for a rousing first half where we meet many of our favorite characters, some of them old friends and some slightly reimagined.  The rabbit, although earless, is priceless as he rushes around avoiding the words “I’m late, I’m late”.  (Disney copyright, don’t you know).   And E. Clayton Cornelius is wonderful as the Caterpillar.   As is Jose llana as El Gato (a slightly altered version of the Cheshire Cat).

Photo: Michael Daniel

But the real star is costume designer Susan Hilferty (Wicked, Spring Awakening).  From the caterpillars back loaded pants and side-kick legs, to the Queen of Hearts fabulous dresses, the costumes steal the show.    And I found myself looking forward to the introduction of new characters, or new scenes with new outfits.  The March Hare’s dreadlocks, and the Mad-Hatter (again cleverly reimagined)with her bustier and boots were equally outstanding.

Even the introduction of Jack, the White Knight, was cleverly done with a “boy-band” accompaniment to the song One Knight.  The first act was full of the whimsy one expects of Wonderland.  And also true to the story somewhat short on plot.  Still, the music, costumes and sets carried the act, and made it truly enjoyable.

Photo: Michael Daniel

The second act, unfortunately, never found the same beat.  Without the turning point break-out song, like Wicked’s Defying Gravity, the audience was left waiting for the missing beat.  And the show never really found its footing again.  The tone was uneven and while the music was still good, the important moments often inexplicably happened off stage, leaving other characters to fill in the blanks for the audience.

Overall, I hope the production gets a much needed tweaking.  I think the potential for magic is there.  The story, though slight, is compelling.  The actors, particularly Janet Dacal (Alice) and Kate Shindle (The Mad-Hatter)– with hat’s off to Karen Mason as the Queen of Hearts–were wonderful.  And as I mentioned the music was delightful.  The sets and costumes were worthy of Carroll and his world (as was a brief cameo by the man himself).  But I was still left wanting more.

How about you?  How do you feel about Alice and Wonderland?

Food Glorious Food

Okay, I’ll admit that first of all I love to eat.  And second of all, I love to eat breakfast the most.  And this past week I had the chance to have the Best. Breakfast. Ever.   Seriously, and for me that’s saying a lot.   A dear friend of mine was in town and the only time we could get together was for a quick breakfast at her hotel.

Color me jaded, but I’m not that big on hotel restaurants.  I find they’re either over-the-top celebrity kinds of places or they’re just filling space and not meant to be anything but overpriced and inadequate culinarily speaking.  So I wasn’t expecting anything but a wonderful hour of chatting with my friend.

I was in for a big surprise.   The hotel, the Mondrian in Soho, is tucked away on Crosby Street behind a long and lovely arbor.   When my friend said look for the arbor I pictured a smallish arch, this was a long leafy walkway that made me feel like spring might actually arrive in New York after all.

At the end of the arbor was a very friendly doorman who pointed me in the direction of the restaurant.  Imperial No. Nine.   Chef Sam Talbot (of Top Chef fame) has created a 150-seat sustainable seafood restaurant.   And from what I’ve read it’s fabulous.  But I was there for breakfast, and except when I was in Japan, I sort of tend to avoid fish in the morning.   So I was curious to see what my options might be.

Having arrived first, I had the opportunity to survey the absolutely gorgeous dining room on my own.  As you can see from the picture, it’s a vision of glass.  The centerpiece, by acclaimed artist Beth Lipman, bisects the room with a  magnificent Alice-in -Wonderland-like rendering of crystal vases and glasses at all sorts of angles and heights and apparent abandon.   The soaring glass roof gives the feeling of an oversized Victorian garden room.  Quiet and lush, it’s the perfect setting for that first jolt of caffeine.

In my case, iced tea, that I think they made fresh just for me.  It was delightful.  And once my friend arrived it was time to order.  Although  I was tempted by the french toast with caramelized white pineapple and Tahitian vanilla cream cheese, I decided instead to go for the “perfectly poached” brown egg.  It was offered several ways, but I went the traditional route and ordered egg, biscuit and turkey sausage.  (The dish was actually designed to be served with gravy, but as much as I love the stuff, I’ve never liked it with breakfast—so I opted out and boy am I glad I did.)

Seriously people,  BEST POACHED EGG EVER.   The food came in a bowl, with the biscuit and sausages on the bottom and the egg gently laid over the top, the combination of the three flavors; the creamy egg, the slightly sweet and very tender biscuit and the salty sagey sausage was sublime.  And being a food in its own compartment kind of a person, I wasn’t certain how I’d feel about everything mixed in with everything else, but it was amazing.  The perfect combination.  And more importantly, the perfect amount.   Exactly what I needed to start my day.

My friend’s breakfast was also amazing.  Fresh granola with some sort of creamy concoction on top that was divine.

So two thumbs up from me for Imperial No. Nine at the Mondrian.   If breakfast is any kind of an example, then I’m guessing the seafood (which is Mr. Talbot’s specialty) must be incredible.   But for me, I’ll be heading back for the eggs.

So how do you like your eggs?

Imperial No. Nine, Mondrian Hotel, 9 Crosby  (btw Grand and Howard), 212-389-1000

Catch Me If You Can

So it’s that time of year again.  Spring shows are previewing and we’ve been excitedly hitting the theatres again.    Our first stop this year was Terrence McNally’s Catch Me If You Can at the Neil Simon theatre.

The musical is based of course on the wonderful Tom Hanks/Leonardo DiCaprio movie of the same title.  And I’ll confess I was a little concerned about it being set to music as it were.  But Norbert Leo Butz (in the Tom Hanks role) is one of my most favorite Broadway actors and so I put my doubts aside and headed for the 5th Avenue Theatre.   And boy was I glad I did!   The show is really wonderful.  With the same spirit that made the movie so charming.  The story is basically the same, with only a shift in the way it’s framed to make it work as a musical. 

Aaron Tveit plays the part of Frank Abignale, Jr.   And does so with aplomb.  His charm is palpable and he makes the part his own, even as he’s channeling Leonardo DiCaprio.  And the aforementioned Butz playing Hanratty is sublime, almost Columboesque in his mannerisms and carriage.  Together, the two actors carry the show at breakneck comedic speed.  And watching the development of their somewhat peculiar yet heart-tugging relationship is every bit as wonderful here as it was in the movie.

Tom Wopat and Rachel de Benedet are fabulous as Frank’s parents.  As is Kerry Butler in the role of Brenda.  And the rest of the cast are equally talented.  I particularly enjoyed Brenda’s parents and their antics as Frank comes home with Brenda to meet them, and accidentally becomes a lawyer.  (As well as a pilot and a doctor).

Photo: Curt Doughty

But the real star of the show is the music.  Mark Shaiman and Scott Whitman (of Hairspray fame) grab the audience right from the top with the opening number Live, In Living Color.  And it only gets better from there.   Butz has several show-stopping numbers including  Don’t Break the Rules and the Man Inside the Clues.  And Tveit proves to be as talented as he is charming (even from the mezzanine you can feel Frank’s joy for life and unending need to please his father).  He has many numbers including Live, in Living Color and my favorite, Jet Set.  And Butler’s number Fly Away in the second act is beautifully sung as well.

The sets and costumes reflect the era and the use of the orchestra as a backdrop only adds to the fun.  All in all, Catch Me If You Can is a lovely way to spend an evening.  And I guarantee you’ll emerge from the theatre smiling!

What’s your favorite musical?