Thursday, July 31, 2014

Four Broadway Shows: How We Did It

I recently returned home from my third ever trip to New York City, and it was out-of-this-world amazing.

My roommate Emily and I got cheap flights and a (relatively) cheap hotel and spent four and a half days trekking all over the city and having a wonderful time. We ate a ton of good food and desserts, went boating in Central Park, visited Brooklyn, walked the High Line, enjoyed live music at the South Street Seaport (with excellent views of the Brooklyn Bridge!), sat in on a singalong in Bryant Park, saw Grand Central Terminal and the 9/11 Memorial and the New York Public Library, wandered the Upper West Side, shopped at a flea market, and basically just never stopped walking.

We also managed to see four Broadway shows.

For a musical fan like me, this was just... unbelievable. Beyond imagination. Because while New York City is amazing and I absolutely LOVE being a tourist there, the whole point of this trip was to see shows. And those shows? Were AMAZING. The other stuff was just an added bonus.

So here's the short version (believe it or not) of how it happened.

Emily and I purchased tickets for Newsies and Les Miserables prior to our arrival in NYC. These two shows were basically the reason for the entire trip. We absolutely HAD to see our pal Ramin Karimloo perform the role of Jean Val Jean in Les Mis, and had been looking forward to that for months and months. Then when we heard that Newsies would be closing at the end of August (I'm still not ready to talk about it), that put even MORE of a fire in us to get up there as soon as possible. So those tickets were more expensive on the front end, but there was no way we were going to risk a trip to NYC without Les Mis/Newsies tickets in hand. No. Way.

We arrived in the city on Thursday, and after several hours of sight seeing, we went to meet some friends outside of Kinky Boots, the 2013 Tony winner for best original musical. While we waited, I pressed my ear to the stage door and was in heaven listening to the crowd cheer on Tony-winner Billy Porter sing the final number, and I thought I was going to die. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to be inside that theater. Well, my wish was very nearly granted when the door suddenly swung open and I was so caught by surprise that I had to back up quickly to avoid a face full of door and lost my shoe in the process. People began pouring out of the theater and I had to fight my way forward to rescue my poor flip flop. And then I somehow ended up holding the door open for half of the theater but THAT'S BESIDE THE POINT.

Wait, what is the point? The point is that moment was when I knew I was going to do whatever it took to see a third Broadway show while we were there. I even sent up (what felt like) a silly and lame prayer... Lord PLEASE let me see another show! I just wanted it. So badly. And I knew it was probably ridiculous. Probably...

Friday night rolls around, and I want to pinch myself, because we are actually about to see Newsies. Nearly two years and THOUSANDS of times listening to the soundtrack later, I have returned. I was absolutely giddy sitting in my seat and thumbing through the program. Then the overture started and the curtain began to rise. I was so OVERJOYED and I just... I don't know, I really don't have the words to describe how excited/thrilled/ecstatic I was in that moment. I was practically glowing.

That right there. That was the best moment of the trip.

The show itself was even better than I'd remembered. So funny, such an amazing cast, the BEST dancing on Broadway (or anywhere, really), and I was on the verge of happy tears the entire time.

Put it this way: imagine that there's a movie you've loved for nearly your entire life. Then they go and make a musical of that movie. And the musical is even better than the movie. That's Newsies for me.

After the show, we fought our way to the stage door so that I could get autographs and photos with the cast. I have a very understanding roommate who stuck with me and took pictures of me and stood her ground in a sea of INSANE "fansies," despite the fact that the entire situation is basically her worst nightmare. What a pal!

So then we turn to leave, and guess who we see across the street coming out of Aladdin? Adam Jacobs (Aladdin himself! Emily gets the credit for spotting him.) and Tony-winner James Monroe Iglehart! Wow, what a moment!

The only way to describe how I felt after all that was "on a high." I don't know that life will ever approach the feeling of sheer ELATION of that Friday night in New York City.

When we got back to the hotel, we talked strategy for the next day. We had done a ton of research into the other shows currently playing on Broadway, trying to figure out our best bet for picking up a third show. Some shows do a lottery for cheaper tickets, some offer rush tickets the day of the show, some offer standing room only tickets... You really just have to figure out what is your priority and what you want to try for!

Armed with invaluable information from and Broadway Spotted, we decided to try for tickets to this year's Tony winner for best original musical, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.

The GGLAM box office opens at 10am, so we got in line at 8:30 with about 20 people in front of us.

please oh please oh please oh please

The wait was really not that bad-- we had coffee and sat on our Starbucks wrappers (super classy) to protect our shorts from the New York street, enjoyed powdered donuts offered to us by fellow line waiters, and only had to move twice for cars once we realized we were sitting in front of a driveway...

At the last minute we had to make a decision: do we try for matinee tickets or evening tickets? They were in two separate lines, and what if the line we got in SOLD OUT? Well, we took a chance, rolled the dice, and got in line for the matinee. And two $37 dollar tickets later, we were two VERY happy girls holding matinee tickets to a TONY AWARD-WINNING show! So happy that we just had to reward ourselves with gourmet cookies from Broadway bakery/hot spot Schmakary's.

Going into Gentleman's Guide, I was excited to see it in a kind of general way. I had seen them perform "I've Decided to Marry You" on the Tony's, and was... looking forward to it! With like... regular anticipation. Not eager anticipation or anything.

Then the show started, and Bryce Pinkham came out. And any illusions I was under that this was your average ordinary show went out the window. Bryce and his co-star Jefferson Mays (both nominated for Tonys for their roles) were absolutely FANTASTIC. Wonderful singers, incredibly gifted comedians, and very engaging performers all around. Bryce in particular could make us laugh with the simplest eyebrow arch or sly grin aimed at the audience. It is safe to say that he is our newest Broadway crush, and he can do no wrong.

But really, I can't say enough about how much WE LOVED THIS SHOW. It was funny, the music outstanding, and the casting obviously top-notch. If you are planning a trip to New York anytime soon, GO SEE THIS.

We hadn't intended to spend time at the stage door, but the actors started coming out very soon after we exited the theater, so we felt like we couldn't NOT see them. And that turned out to be absolutely the right decision! Despite being boisterous and over-the-top on stage, Jefferson and Bryce were both so soft-spoken, kind, and intentional with every single fan that waited for them at the stage door. They each made eye contact with everyone, asked questions, genuinely thanked each and every person... It was just amazing, and such a special time for both Emily and I. When we walked away we felt like we were floating. That was due in large part to the sheer brilliance of the show as a whole, but also because of how we were treated at the stage door by the actors. I think it is safe to say that we will both have a soft spot for both Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham for years to come because of this wonderful interaction.

After GGLAM, we decided to make a quick stop at Schnipper's (where we saw one of the ORIGINAL stars of Newsies, Evan Kasprzak!) to split some fries. Now earlier that day we had discussed the fact that since we had tickets to a matinee, we would have our evening free... so why not try to see another show? Why not? So once again, we did some prep work, figured out which shows held a ticket lottery and when, and ranked which shows we wanted to see most.

Emily headed to Aladdin to enter the lottery there, and I went two blocks up to try for Matilda. We were both SO NERVOUS and hoping against hope that one of our names would be called. We texted back and forth while we waited, anxious to hear the results.

Emily: I can't handle the suspense. My stomach is in knots. 

Well, neither of us won. HOWEVER. The ticket guy at Matilda said that if anyone wanted to line up and try their chances for Standing Room Only tickets, then just wait over here. Well since I was standing right there, I slid into line, text messaged Emily, and that's how we ended up right at the front! We thought we would wait for maybe 20 or 30 minutes, go eat dinner, then come back in time for the show. But 30 minutes came and went, and we were still standing in the lobby waiting... for a chance to stand for three more hours.

I could tell Emily was fading fast, but I knew we couldn't give up these spots in line now that it felt like we were SO CLOSE to seeing a show that I KNEW would be absolutely amazing. We found out that the reason the wait was so long was that they wouldn't sell any SRO tickets until they'd sold out the entire house. Henceforth every time the door to the theater opened, I was always hopeful that it was someone with the urge to buy last-minute full-price tickets (as in like $150 each) to Matilda. No such luck.

Fast forward another hour. It's 10 minutes to curtain, people are finding their seats, and we're STILL IN LINE. Finally, something happens. The two people in front of us get called forward to the box office. "This is it!" we think. "Standing room here we come!" But instead of buying tickets and entering the theater, the pair returns to the line, saying they were offered obstructed view tickets, and that they just weren't interested. Before we could really process this information, they're waving Emily and I forward, and here we are standing at the box office!

Box Office Guy: I have two obstructed view tickets available.
Me: How "obstructed" are we talking? Like, behind a pole or something?
BOG: No, they're just on the far side so you have partial view of the stage.
Me: Umm... How much?
BOG: $42 each.
Me: We will take two.

I mean, are you kidding me??? $42? That's less than a third of the price for a normal ticket! And do you know where our seats were? The first row of the first balcony. Not the second balcony. The FIRST balcony. WHAT. Yes, our seats were all the way over on the left side, but we so did not mind. Plus there was the fact that WE GOT TO SIT DOWN. IN ACTUAL SEATS. I just couldn't believe our good fortune. Before I knew it the overture was starting and the kids were performing and here we go: I'm on a high again.

If you've heard anything about Matilda, you've heard that it's a brilliant, clever, hilarious, FUN show. It is absolutely all of those things. It certainly has its dark parts (the original book is by Roald Dahl, after all), but we just loved everything about it. Amazing dancing, insanely clever song lyrics, incredible staging, and the cast made FULL use of the theater, running up and down the aisles, singing in the box seats (SUPER close to us by the way), and a few other fun bits that I don't want to give away. I felt like I was grinning the whole time-- that is, when tears weren't filling my eyes from the sweet wistfulness of certain songs.

I had looked forward to seeing Matilda for ages, without really believing I'd get a chance to, and I just couldn't believe it was really happening. If you haven't checked out the soundtrack yet: get on it. It's spectacular.

Sunday afternoon rolls around and it's time for our fourth and final Broadway show, the big one: Les Miserables. I knew we had floor seats for this one, but I wasn't expecting the SEVENTH ROW. Thanks to one of Emily's connections, we'd managed to score some seriously legit seats! Being that close was just... a dream. It was so, so wonderful. And what can you say about Les Mis? Of course it was outstanding. Ramin Karimloo has unequivocally the best voice I've ever heard, so getting a chance to hear him perform live was just unreal.

I expected to love Ramin as Val Jean. I was not expecting to ALSO love Will Swenson as Javert, another powerhouse singer whose sheer authority and command of the stage, not to mention his OUTSTANDING voice ("M'sieur le Maire you'll wear a different chaaaain" -- chills on chills on chills), made him the BEST Javert I've ever seen.

The rest of the cast was also very talented, although we ended up seeing understudies for Enjolras, Fantine, AND Cosette. C'est la vie, I suppose! At least we got to see Ramin and Will. I really just can't overstate how good both of them were. Just wow.

And that's how it happened! I'm sorry I seem to have gotten carried away in my own effusiveness, but it really was that wonderful. I've obviously run out of positive adjectives, but what can I say?

It was perfect.

P.S. After Les Mis we went back to Schnipper's and saw TWO MORE NEWSIES! Life made.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Stich Fix #2

Howdy strangers. I'm writing a quick post to:

1) Reassure you that I'm not dead and still capable of producing content on this blog. (Sorry, Val!)
2) Share my latest fun find on the interwebs.

Sometime last fall I noticed several friends on Facebook posting about their Stitch Fix. I was intrigued so I googled, read, and decided that perhaps I might give this whole personal shopper idea a whirl. I don't have the energy to shop. This is not a "new mom" lament. Even before I had kids, I was not one to thrill at the idea of spending a day looking for or trying on clothing. I get bored in about 2 hours. That's my limit. So when I discovered Stitch Fix I was sold. Here's my interpretation of the Stitch Fix Basics:

1. Create your style profile.

2. Pay $20 styling fee toward your box. (You can use toward your final order – any of the 5 products you keep!)

3. Schedule your box.

4. Open you box and try on the clothes. Take awkward selfies in mirrors and send the pic to your friends and family members. (Each item also comes with styling tips on how to best wear the products.)

5. Once the box arrives you have 3 days to decide what you are keeping and what you are returning. The returns are all free and super easy: drop the prepaid envelope in any USPS box.

I blogged about my first box over on my other website. Check out this link to see how my first box was a win.

One of the perks about sharing your Stitch Fix experience is that other just might click on that referral link. Three kind souls ordered their boxes through my link and in turn, gifted me a nice little credit. Since I kept a dress during my first fix, I was determined to find some bright spring tops in this second box.

I really liked everything in my box. I received 5 items ranging in price from $42 up to $78. If I had kept everything in the box I would have received a nice bonus discount off the grand total. But at the end of the day (after sending pics of myself to friends/family and getting feedback) I only kept one item. I do not consider this a failure at all! I kept the top that was the #1 pick. My styling fee and the shirt were both covered by the credit and I still have enough left over to try out another box. I call that a big win, folks.

Here's what came in box #2.

Everything but the coral top had mixed reviews. Some loved the chevron puffed sleeve number. A few actually hated it. Since I was on the fence, I let it go. I would have ranked the items in the following way: Coral top, pink skirt, chevron top, blue skinnies, printed top. The rankings included fit, how often I could/would wear, how I felt, and then the opinions of my peeps. Had I really loved the chevron I would have kept it.

(Don't worry, I wouldn't have actually paired the pink skirt with either of the top combos, I was just grabbing stuff and taking pics as quickly as I could.)

So there you go. Yet another fun experience and a fabulous coral top as my prize. Thumbs up from this gal.

For box #3 I will
1. Not take awkward selfies in the bathroom.
2. Update my sizes again.
3. Ask for one item totally outside of my comfort zone.

Cool beans.

The credit I mentioned? You were thinking of trying Stitch Fix? Why don't you sign up for Stitch Fix using this link? Awesome.  (OR use this referral code: 3310293). Lovely, right? That’s what I thought.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

7th Annual Oscar Picks

Be cool, you guysthe wait is finally over. It's time once again for me to predict who will win each of the Academy Awards, and it will be absolutely perfect, as I have never been wrong about this ever!*

(Previously: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.)

Best Picture: I haven't had such a hard time predicting this category since "Avatar" went up against "The Hurt Locker" a few years ago. Everyone is incredibly split between "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity," with "American Hustle" thrown in as a dark horse just to make things even more complicated. I feel so torn, especially after Entertainment Weekly made "Gravity" their official pick. But I just can't ignore "12 Years a Slave." I think it's going to go with the more traditional film and say: "12 Years a Slave."

Best Director: David O. Russell has pulled off an AMAZING hat trick with "The Fighter," "Silver Linings Playbook," and now "American Hustle." All of those movies have netted him nominations for Best Director, as well as numerous other Academy Award nominations. It's really quite remarkable, and thus a big shame that he will lose that Best Directing Oscar yet again, this time to visionary director Alfonso CuarĂ³n. That guy spent years on "Gravity," and everything he achieved technically will be rewarded big time come Sunday night.

Best Actor: Alright, alright, alright. Way to go, Matthew McConaughey (a name I still can't spell without looking up).

Best Actress: If anyone besides Cate Blanchett wins, the uproar in the Dolby Theatre will be tremendous. It's almost a sure thing. 

Best Supporting Actor: Any other year and Michael Fassbender might be winning his first Oscar, but unfortunately his transformation wasn't as extreme as Jared Leto's, so he'll just have to wait another year!

Best Supporting Actress: I so wish that I could say that Jennifer Lawrence is going to win this one, because I love her and her acceptance speeches, but unfortunately I don't think it's going to happen for her a second year in a row. (If it does, it will be the first time someone has won back-to-back acting Oscars since Tom Hanks did it 20 years ago). At the moment Lupita Nyong'o has a course set for the top of the stage, and I don't know that anything can derail her.

Animated Feature: It's no secret that I loved "Frozen," and I think the Academy is going to love it too. (Sidenote: I'm a little sad for Pixar that they're having to sit the Oscars out this year. Hope they can get it together in the future.)

Production Design: It's Baz Luhrmann's category and everyone else is just living in it. Nobody does it better than he does. Score one for "The Great Gatsby."

Cinematography: Such a packed category this year! "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Nebraska" both appear to be deserving, but "Gravity" is too much of a juggernaut in the technical categories to be beaten here.

Costume Design: This category is proving to be the most troubling for me this year. Typically this award will go to the film with the most opulent and elaborate costumes. So ordinarily that would lead to me picking "The Great Gatsby,"but this time I'm going to have to go with "American Hustle," because the 1970's costumes were probably the most memorable part of that movie. Aside from Christian Bale's combover, that is. "Gatsby" could absolutely win with its glitz and glam

Film Editing: It's down to "Captain Phillips" and "Gravity," and while it would be nice for "Captain Phillips" to actually win something, but I think this one belongs to "Gravity."

Makeup and Hairstyling: I don't think it's completely out the realm of possibility that "Bad Grandpa" wins this one, because Johnny Knoxville was truly unrecognizable as an 86-year-old man thanks to some incredibly makeup. However, I think the winner will ultimately be "Dallas Buyer's Club."

Original Score: You know, I don't really remember any of these scores. That's... not a good sign. But all the buzz seems to be around "Gravity," so sure. Let's give them another one to add to their pile!

Original Song: Once "Let it Go" from "Frozen" wins this award, do you think all of the subpar covers and remakes will stop? (Seriously. Just let Idina Menzel sing it. She did it the best. Everybody else please stop.)

Original Screenplay: I'm torn between "American Hustle" and "Her." I feel like I would be pretty unsurprised to hear either Spike Jonze or David O. Russell's name called, but in the end I just have the feeling it's going to be "Her."

Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley adapted a 160-year-old book for "12 Years a Slave." I think he's got this one in the bag.

Sound Mixing: I mean, it's gotta be "Gravity," right?

Sound Editing: Lather, rinse, repeat. "Gravity" again.

Visual Effects: If there was ever a lock on a category, it's "Gravity" winning this one.

Documentary Feature: I've heard great things about "20 Feet From Stardom," but my money's on "The Act of Killing."

Documentary Short: I think it's probably going to be "The Lady in Number 6." I mean, she's a 109-year-old Holocaust survivor. So.

Foreign Language Film: I heard a lot about "The Broken Circle Breakdown," but Italy's "The Great Beauty" won the Golden Globe and seems to have all the momentum, so we'll say "The Great Beauty."

Animated Short: I gasped in amazement at the creativity and sheer brilliance of "Get a Horse." It's not a sure bet, but I am definitely hoping that it will pull out the win!

Live-Action Short: This category is all over the place. I don't know what to pick! I'm down to "The Voorman Problem" or "That Wasn't Me." Or "Just Before Losing Everything." SOMEBODY TELL ME WHAT TO PICK! ...Okay. Got it. "The Voorman Problem."

*Yeah, no. Wrong, like, a lot of the time.

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 Favorites

My Three Favorite Books of 2013

3. Someday, Someday Maybe, Lauren Graham

A sweet, simple charmer, Someday tells the story of Franny Banks, an aspiring twenty-something actress in mid-1990's New York. She was such a fun protagonist to spend time with, and I enjoyed all of the details of her less-than-perfect life. However, I think my overall experience of reading this book was elevated by the fact that I listened to it read by its author, Lauren Graham. Her performance here added such a sweetness and an extra layer of humor to Franny's story that I don't think I would have experienced without her.

I must work harder to achieve my goal of not seeking approval from those whose approval I’m not even sure is important to me."

2. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie

There is a reason that Agatha Christie is the queen of the mystery genre. Even though I've seen both a play as well as a movie adaptation of this story prior to reading And Then There Were None, I was still enthralled the entire time. Sometimes you just can't beat a classic whodunnit, and this one will keep you guessing. Each murder revolves around a line of a terrifying nursery rhyme, such as, "Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were six." Clever, creepy, and a quick read. Put this one on your list!

"From now on, it is our task to suspect each and every one amongst us."

1. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling 

It's no wonder that everyone who reads this book comes away wanting to be Mindy Kaling's best friend. She is absolutely hilarious, an extremely intelligent writer, and nearly everything she says causes you to exclaim "ME TOO!" All I wanted to do was read excerpts of this book aloud to everyone I know and say "I thought I was the only one who did that!" Really I just need to own a copy so I can highlight my favorite parts (so basically the whole book) and sleep with it under my pillow, because it is just that wonderful.

"You should know I disagree with a lot of traditional advice. For instance, they say the best revenge is living well. I say it’s acid in the face—who will love them now?"

Two other books I read this year deserve special mention, if for nothing else than their density and the sheer amount of information I learned. The first was Dave Cullen's Columbine, which was an intensely in-depth look at the 1999 tragedy, focusing mostly on the shooters and the subsequent investigation. The second was Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler, one of the lengthiest, most detailed biographies I have ever attempted. I feel like I know a ton about him now, but overall it was probably a little too exhaustive.

My Three Favorite Movies of 2013

3. Catching Fire
I really surprised myself by giving this film one of my top spots. But it was so well-made, and stands as the most faithful book to movie adaptation that I've ever seen. Jennifer Lawrence is just fantastic to watch, and her work, along with a smart script, exciting new characters, and solid direction demanded a repeat viewing from me.

2. Frozen
What a fantastic movie. I don't remember being this taken with an animated film since 2009's "Up." The music is fantastic, the voice cast is brilliant, and it really is laugh-out-loud funny (not to sound like a cheap critic trying to get their name on the movie poster). But perhaps my favorite thing about "Frozen" is that it's a story that centers on two sisters and their relationship and abilities, not on trying to land a dude. Yes, there is a love story aspect, but it's incidental, and not the main storyline.

Also I saw it four times in theaters.

1. The Way, Way Back 
I absolutely LOVED this movie. My very favorite movie of the year, and quite possibly one of my all-time favorites ever. So sweet, funny, and well-written, with so many wonderful performances. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it. Between "The Descendents" and now "The Way, Way Back," I can't wait to see what screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash pen next. You must watch this. If nothing else, see it for Sam Rockwell. He is The Best.

My Three Favorite Events of 2013

3. Ramin Karimloo has played many big roles in musical theater, including the Phantom in the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera (which you can watch on Netflix!). I first learned about Ramin when he played Enjolras in the 25th anniversary performance of Les Miserables. He was the best part of that particular production—and that's saying something. He is also the nicest guy you've ever met.

I got the opportunity to see him in concert TWICE last spring, and besides being endlessly entertaining on stage, he is also incredibly kind, funny, and gracious. He signed my copy of the Les Mis DVD, posed for pictures, and even showed us how he put on his guyliner for the role of Enjolras (hilarious). Not to mention, of course, surprised my roommate at her school and sang Music of the Night for all her students! He has the most beautiful voice I have ever heard, and his concert is the BEST I've ever attended. No contest. The entire experience of meeting him and hearing him sing live—I just can't even fully express how wonderful that was.

2. Maddie's Adoption
John and Lori had been waiting for OVER A YEAR to adopt their daughter, and finally this September she officially became Madison Elise Redfearn! I love Maddie dearly, and am so beyond blessed to have her in my life. The Redfearns not only live down the street from us, but Maddie is my roommate's niece! So I get to see her quite a bit, and was privileged to go to the courthouse that day to witness Maddie getting her forever family. I am so thankful for this sweet, giggly girl who loves to dance and watch "Winnie the Pooh" and calls me "BAL." She's pretty awesome.

1. Norah Ann Ciminello
I almost can't put into words how special and amazing it is to be aunt to this squishy little bundle of cute. Norah came into the world on my brother's birthday, July 13th! (We are a family who loves to share birthdays—my dad and I have the same one too.) She instantly became everyone's favorite, and hardly a day goes by when I don't get a picture or video of her from my sister, who is thoughtful enough to keep everyone updated, since Norah is all the way in Arizona! I'm grateful for the time I've already gotten to spend with her, and can't wait to hug and squeeze her more in 2014!Love this kid. 

My #1 Girl