Theatre Aficionado at Large: The Last Five Years

It’s hard for me to believe it but five years ago today my first post went up on Theatre Aficionado at Large. I was amazed when this blog turned one year; I’m completely astounded it’s now five. It all started when I was invited to see a performance of Spring Awakening, and afterwards at a Starbucks on 8th Avenue, Noah Himmelstein and the immortal SarahB encouraged me to start a blog. I was reluctant to do so, as I had (and still have) no desire to be a formal critic, but a blog ultimately seemed better than sending the same three or four people a lengthy e-mail with observations about what I had just seen. And thus it began.

Over the last five years, I have had the great privilege to see many shows and events, and I’ve been invited to see more than I can possibly cover. This is wonderful, and I am still grateful and astonished by the courtesies I’ve received. But most importantly (and I apologize in advance for the sentiment), what I treasure most are the friends and acquaintances I have made as a result of this blog. The internet can be a weird, crazy place at times filled with very weird, crazy people, but have been lucky to meet so many people from all over the world, whom I would have not known otherwise. I treasure the brunches, dinners, post-show drinks, emails, tweets, comments (even the ones from people I’ve managed to piss off), text messages and phone calls. So many of my readers and fellow bloggers have become important people in my life. This is one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received by merely being a fan.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for engaging me in conversation and debate, and for making me a better writer. As the site enters Kindergarten, I look forward to more spirited adventures, opinions, obsessions and whatever else the future may bring.


Three Years

Every October rolls around and I get a bit sentimental: I started the blog on October 3 and traditionally I like to acknowledge the site’s anniversary. It’s been three years now since I first started typing a somewhat ambivalent post about myself and my theatrical interests. So I figure this something akin to a “State of the Blog” address. The conversation keeps me growing; I feel with each post I become a stronger writer and look forward to connecting with my fellow bloggers and close friends. I was so fortunate to unveil the new look this past June, designed by Chris Van Patten which sparked my own renewed interest in what I was doing. In brief, I’m grateful for the readership, the dialogues and the many good times that have come out of this site. I look forward to our discourse on the 2010-11 season.

Aficionado Makeover

I’ve been toying with the idea of another site face lift for a while, but never quite got around to doing it myself (last time I touched it was July ’08!). However, my friend and web designer Chris Van Patten, surprised me with a template of the new site which you see here. I’ve jumped ship from Blogger after two and a half years. Not that I didn’t enjoy using their template, but it was time for a change and here it is! We are still working out some of the kinks and I am getting used to the new set-up but I have to tell you I am loving it so far and I hope you do too!

Is it two years already?

Well, would you believe it? Today marks the second anniversary of the blog. I could have sworn it was some time next week, but lo and behold here we are! It was two years ago that SarahB and Noah successfully convinced me that I needed to start blogging. Given my track record with such personal projects, I never realized that I had the focus to maintain a site regarding my thoughts and interests for this long. This past year I’ve seen the site grow in ways I could never have expected or imagined; meeting all sorts of wonderful new people from other blogs and around the internet. I’ve seen more theatre in the last year than any other time of my life. I’ve gotten accustomed to such technological hijinks as the flipcam and skype. There have been some incredibly surreal moments as my blog has introduced me to many professionals within the industry. I am most grateful to all of you who actually care what I have to say, and I always appreciate your comments, emails and tweets. And for those of you I see on a regular basis, I am most appreciative of your friendship and the good times we’ve had as well as those that are to come. Here’s looking toward an even better year three!

It’s Lovely Up Here

It seems hardly possible that only 24 hours ago I was sitting in the terminal at JFK waiting to board. It feels oh so much longer. I have never been able to sleep well on a plane. Comfort (unless traveling in first or business) is impossible, especially if there is a language barrier between yourself and most of the people on board the plane. I am exhausted, to say the least (as I check the time stamp, it says February 23, 2009 @ 11:22PM, however I’m actually fourteen hours ahead of my own blog).

I settled into my window seat for the beginning of my odyssey that will culminate in Baguio City. I normally enjoy the window seat, but only if I’m traveling with people and therefore am less inclined to feel awkward about having to get up to walk around or use the facilities. Adding to this, my seat partners were an elderly special assistance couple over whom I had to climb in order to get to my seat. They were lovely. We only briefly exchanged words once in a while, but it was mostly an unspoken camaraderie. It was an entirely different perspective being on board an Asian-based aircraft where I was, as my half Vietnamese friend Anh put it, the minority.

Settling into the flight, I was eager with anticipation and excitement. No matter the circumstances, I have always loved flying. Everything about the experience has been nothing short of pleasant for me. There is an anticipation in slowly moving toward the runway that overwhelms me. The anticipation builds as the plane accelerates and within seconds there is that brief moment when you are first airborne. You realize you are starting to move higher and higher than anything else in existence.

The last time I flew was four years ago on a trip with my parents to the Changi airport in Singapore. That trip took us across the Atlantic to Frankfurt, then onto our final destination. This trip last night marked the first time I have flown around the North Pole to go anywhere.

After settling in, we were served what the airline deemed a “heavy snack” and then asked to close our window shades. I decided to check out the inflight entertainment. There wasn’t much to consider, so I watched the recent Ghost Town which was rather pleasant (and correct me if I’m wrong SarahB, did they film it in your neighborhood?) especially because of the hilarious antics of Ricky Gervais. The film is about an irritable dentist who accidentally dies during a routine colonoscopy and wakes up to find he can see and hear dead people. They want him to help them wrap up unfinished business so they can move on. He is not so cooperative. Greg Kinnear plays a recently deceased man who wants him to help his widow, the lovely Tea Leoni move on with her life, but not marry a total scuzzball like himself (a hilariously heroic Bill Campbell). Among the sightings were the always-dependable Dana Ivey, Alan Ruck, Aaron Tveit, Brad Oscar as a put-upon doorman, Brian d’Arcy James as an excitable dead Irishman, Claire Lautier as an exceedlingly chatty patient (with an unexpectedly profound place in the story), and in a blink and you’ll miss it, Broadway couple Lisa Datz and Jimmy Ludwig in a bar scene. (Ludwig, who I had the privilege of meeting after Spamalot through a mutual friend, was one of two standbys in Spamalot, covering for the Historian, Not Dead Fred, Patsy, Prince Herbert, Sir Bedevere, Sir Lancelot and Sir Robin). Another blink and you’ll miss was Julia Murney as a Sneezy Lady (sneezing has a clever place in the script). It would be somewhat formulaic if it weren’t for the freshness brought to the proceedings by Mr. Gervais, one of the funniest men in the world. Definitely worth checking out.

I failed to sleep after this. Getting an hour here, a few minutes there. Never finding comfort and trying to put myself to sleep in spite of the surroundings. Frustrated I gave up and decided to peek out of my window shade. And that, ladies and gentleman, offered one of the most breathtaking natural sights of the trip. We were near the North Pole at this point. I couldn’t see anything below at all. There was some cloud cover and, let’s face it, there would be no unnatural light sources in these parts. The sky was filled with the crystalline blaze of stars, yet there was also this eerie translucent glow. After a moment, I realized I was seeing the aurora borealis for the first time. There is something humbling about seeing something pure in our natural world.

After gaping for a few minutes, I tried to sleep again. When that failed, I hopped over to the classics channel on the inflight and watched the brilliant film adaptation of Julius Caesar for the first time. The film starred Marlon Brando as Marc Anthony, James Mason as Brutus and as a standout among giants, John Gielgud as Cassius. All three are just phenomenal. Brando wasn’t quite thirty when he took on this role, but it’s a powerhouse of a turn, especially when he delivers the stirring “Lend me thine ear” speech after Caesar’s death. It’s a rather superlative adaptation, produced by John Houseman and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. MGM pulled out the casting stops for this one with appearances by many of their best stock players. Louis Calhern is unexpectedly strong as the ill-fated title character. Edmond O’Brien was Casca. For the brief female cameos, they brought in Greer Garson, looking like a goddess as Calpurnia and Deborah Kerr as Portia. The film was a big success in 1953, with Oscar nominations for Best Picture (lost to From Here to Eternity), Best Actor – Marlon Brando (lost to William Holden in Stalag 17), Best Cinematography – Black & White (lost to From Here to Eternity), Best Score (losing to Lili), but winning for its Art Direction and Set Decoration. Truth be told, I didn’t expect this film to be as effective as it was. Let me correct that: I didn’t expect it to hold up as well in 2009. I am so glad to be pleasantly surprised.

I await my plane to the Philippines, relaxing (napping) in the airport lounge and taking advantage of all it has to offer (Thank you, Starbucks – and free wifi). I leave in six hours, so I will fill that time with some reading (napping). I will keep you posted on the next leg of this journey. By this time tomorrow I shall be in Baguio City with my family and baby nephew.

Bon Voyage!

Well kids, I leave tonight for the Philippines. There will be time spent relaxing, enjoying warmer weather but there will be no vacationing from the blog. The last time I flew out of the country was about four years ago, when I didn’t travel with a cell phone, wasn’t hooked to Facebook, MySpace and only got to check my email at brief intervals. How far our technology has come in so little time that I will be in constant wifi hotspots wherever I go.

I’ve been a little absent the last week as I’ve had a lot to do in order to get ready to go. First stop, the Incheon International Airport outside of Seoul, Korea, where I will endure a 15 hour layover. Then it’s off to Clark Airport (formerly Air Base while the US military was around) in Angeles in Luzon, the large island in the Philippine archipelago (you know, I have always liked that word). An overnight and a five hour bus ride and I’ll hit my final destination some time mid Wednesday (late Tuesday/early Wednesday for those of you here). Hope you all enjoy great theatre while I’m away and look forward to keeping up with the news while I’m abroad.

So I’m thinking of making a few changes to the blog layout. I’m open to any and all suggestions (and if they are technologically advanced, the assistance would be greatly appreciated as well).

I Rise Again!

After a precarious week, I am back online and rarin’ to go. On Wednesday evening, my computer shut down in some sort of fatal error that froze the system and begat the ruination of my week. Upon my restart, instead of a general start-up, I was face to face with the nefarious Blue Screen of Death. The BSD, which isn’t anyone’s friend, continued to pop up as the system refused to access Windows and start-up. My laptop is relatively new, so needless to say, I was bitchy, twitchy and manic. Enough, anyway, to contact tech support at 3 in the morning (which proved useless as she never called me back – I decided to pass out and try again, thankfully receiving an individual of actual competence who was very helpful and decidedly sympathetic. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say there was the obligatory wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garment.

So I got a new hard drive to install and I’ve been building myself back up. Many of you know that I have an enormous collection of music; theatre and otherwise. Fortunately I had about 80% of it backed up. I’ve also been working toward getting back the other items that were lost along the way. Needless to say this has taken an impact into my blogging time…

In happier news, I returned to the revival of A Man for All Seasons on Tuesday night as part of my Roundabout subscription. I’ve gotta give it to them, everyone at Roundabout is nothing short of wonderful (especially my dear old friend Tova Heller, with whom I went to high school) and were very accomodating in switching my ticket. (I was supposed to see this on November 23, but shows were canceled because, presumably, Frank Langella had to fulfill press obligations for the upcoming Frost/Nixon film. My only complaint with the relatively intimate American Airlines Theatre is with the desing of its mezzanine. I have no issues with the sightlines or the seating (I was in the center front mezz, not bad all things considered), but the lack of any center aisles does leave things wanting, especially since it’s practically inconvenient to everyone. Those in the middle go on safari through a sea of limbs to get to their seats while those on the aisle find themselves sitting and standing like they were at Mass.

The show onstage is considerably stronger than it was when I saw it on the fourth preview in September. Langella is magnanimous, and the supporting cast is, for the most part, doing strong work (though the inconsistency with the accents is still a sticking point). The audience this time around was a remarkably more responsive crowd, appreciating the understatedly dry wit and humor of More and finding themselves incredibly moved during the more devastating parts of the second act, as we watch the man’s physical decline in his imprisonment. (Langella’s physical transformation, within a span of seconds, is stunning).

As someone who has always been fascinated by the Tudor period of English history (all those wives! all those outcomes!), it’s satisfying to see historical figures dramatized. When I was ten, I went to England for the first time and was able to visit the Tower of London and Hever Castle (where Anne Boleyn’s family resided), reading about the different figures, wanting to divest myself in their history and know as much as I could about them and their incredibly melodramatic existence. (Of course, we still have such sensational figures in our society, but on a more laughable level; they’ve sure cut back on the beheadings). Court intrigue, conflicts, heightened emotional intensities, etc etc. It has to be said that our entertainment world has a great fascination with the era on stage, on screen and on television: Anne of the Thousand Days, Mary of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth, Elizabeth I, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Young Bess, The Virgin Queen, Elizabeth R, The Tudors, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Private Life of Henry VII, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, A Man for All Seasons, The Other Boleyn Girl, Rex, etc. The actors who have played these noted figures: Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Katharine Hepburn, Charles Laughton, Bette Davis, Florence Eldridge, Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, Penny Fuller, Nicol Williamson, Richard Burton, Charlton Heston, John Gielgud, Genevieve Bujold, Paul Scofield, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Jean Simmons, Rex Harrison, Judith Anderson, et al. There will be many more adaptations and incarnations of these same stories to come, though I have to say, why not something about Sir Richard Rich, considered one of the top historical villains of all-time and the man who betrayed Sir Thomas to his ultimate death. I think there’s an interesting story waiting to be told.

Seasons ends its extended limited run next Sunday, so if you haven’t had the chance, run to the American Airlines to see one of America’s finest stage actors giving a superlative star turn. Trust me, he’s worth it.

I shall now resume a more regular blogging schedule… Gee, but it’s good to be here!!

Would I chuck the old acquaintance?

Ditch the auld lang syne…?

So it has been 525, 600 minutes since I inaugurated the “Theatre Aficionado at Large” blog. First of all, I’ll write this inane sentence for those who know me in order to give them a chance to get over the fact that I have referenced Rent for the first time in my writing. Anyway, it started one year ago today. It seems that a brief retrospective on the first year of blogging is absolutely obligatory and I would not want to overlook the opportunity to look back and contemplate the experience.

It had started on Sept. 30 of last year. I was at the Sunday evening performance of Spring Awakening and went to Starbucks with Sarah and Noah afterward. It was during our discourse that both insisted that I should be writing – and Sarah especially insisted that I should jump on the blog bandwagon. I’d been keeping up with her blog for the few months prior and it certainly seemed like an interesting. Anyway, I thought about it for a couple of days and this site was born. I had no expectations, I just figured I’d do it.

Truth be told, I never thought that my blog would have any sort of longevity, which is why the first few several months didn’t have that many posts. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would write about, nor if I would have the time or discipline to keep it up. So the person most surprised that I’m keeping this up is me.

Blogging has proven a most incredible opportunity. I have met so many people who’ve become an integral part of my life whether it be here online or over brunch in Joe Allen’s. There’s this unending generosity of spirit and conversation that ensues whenever we meet, greeting strangers like old friends and carrying on as if these friendships had existed always. There’s also the added bonus that none of the bloggers I’ve encountered so far have likened themselves to the cattier posters on the All That Chat and Broadwayworld messageboards. Suffice it to say, it’s nice to be able to share what I know and what I think with such stellar company. So to Esther, Steve & Doug, Chris, Alicia, Kari, Eric, Jimmy, the immortal Roxie and especially my beloved Lady Iris, Sarah, thanks for a merciful year. And to all of you, thanks for reading. You have no idea how much that means to me.

Now if this blog entry were a musical, this would be heading into a raucous eleven o’clocker right now. And if you haven’t guessed it already, I feel Patricia Routledge summed it up best with hers in Darling of the Day. Enjoy.

Also note: The song is also among the tracks in my brand new shiny playlist courtesy of BroadwaySpace in the upper right hand corner. So now you can listen to some of your favorites – and mine as you read.