Hamilton (the musical) and Per Se (the restaurant)

We were in New York this past weekend in order to see “Hamilton,” the musical that seems to have taken the entire country (okay, maybe just the East coast) by storm.  The tickets and a backstage tour by Leslie Odom, Jr. (the actor who plays Aaron Burr) were a Christmas gift to the kids.  (I know—I want to come back as one of my kids in my next life, too.)
We flew up Friday afternoon.  Saturday morning, Marcus and I went to a Star Wars costume exhibition at the Discovery Museum.  Contrary to my expectations, at least, the exhibit was surprisingly extensive and well-curated.  It was interesting to see what materials were used (the Jedi robes were often made of raw silk—easier to clean and fast-drying—to simulate the look of cotton and linen), what cultures they borrowed from (the Imperial uniforms were taken directly from a Nazi division), and what the costumes were supposed to represent (Darth Maul’s costume resembled a samurai warrior’s).

Boba Fett!

Boba Fett!

But the highlight of the weekend was “Hamilton.”  While it is somewhat difficult at first to wrap your head around a 3 hour musical about the Founding Fathers in rap form, it really is a marvelous performance.  The soundtrack is amazing—clever and unusual—and the performance is very visually appealing.  It was as good (if not better) as we all hoped it would be.  Even Jim, the skeptical one, thought it was much better than he expected, although he didn’t like the ending (he likes happy endings).

waiting for "Hamilton"

waiting for “Hamilton”

the set for Hamilton

the set for Hamilton

After the performance, we went backstage (actually, onto the stage) where we were introduced to Leslie Odom, Jr.  With all due respect to the rest of the cast who were all fabulous, I thought he was the best pure actor of the show.  (And fans of Person of Interest will know him as Peter Collier, the head of Vigilance.)

with Leslie Odom, Jr.

with Leslie Odom, Jr.

He also was about as nice as a person can be.  He found a Sharpie, signed the kids’ programs, chatted with them, and then introduced them to Daveed Diggs, who played the Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in the musical.

with Daveed Diggs (taken by Leslie Odom, Jr)

with Daveed Diggs (taken by Leslie Odom, Jr)

After that, the kids met Jonathan Groff (who played George III and has the funniest lines in the show) who was also exceptionally friendly.

with Jonathan Groff

with Jonathan Groff

And, finally, they met Anthony Ramos, who plays Laurens and Philip Hamilton, who was lovely.

with Anthony Mess

with Anthony Ramos

They also caught a glimpse of Lin-Manuel Miranda backstage as well.  Jade was so beside herself with excitement over all of this that she couldn’t talk (this is a rarity, by the way).
Once everyone could breathe again, we walked over to Per Se, the New York restaurant belonging to Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame).  Per Se recently had been panned by the New York Times restaurant reviewer, but we saw no sign of slippage at all.  The food was amazingly fabulous (the egg custard with black truffles served in an egg shell was an especially memorable dish for me), the service was attentive and friendly but not obsequious, and all was well in the Per Se world.  We even got a tour of the kitchen, which is huge, especially by New York standards.

in the kitchen of Per Se

in the kitchen of Per Se

All in all, it was about as perfect a day as it was possible to visualize when we first arranged the trip.
Our apologies to all of our New York friends.  We would very much have liked to have seen you but ran out of time.  (A 3 hour musical will do that.)  We will try and see all of you on our next trip!

Westside Story (Signature Theatre, Arlington, Virginia)

Westside Story is one of our favorite musicals, and we jumped at an opportunity to see it performed at a small, intimate theatre just outside of DC. It was well worth going to see. Putting aside the fact that we appeared to be the youngest attendees by a good 10+ years (and we are NOT young, as much as we’d like to think otherwise), it was a very enjoyable production.

Signature Theatre is an intimate theatre (it seats around 300), so there is no such thing as a bad seat.

Westside Story, like all musicals, has some challenges with respect to casting. You need two strong female leads, a strong male lead with some strong secondary male voices, and the ensemble needs to know how to both sing and dance. Given the size of the stage at Signature, my guess is that the choreography was also a bit challenging.

The leads, Tony and Maria, were excellent in their singing. Anita was also strong in both singing and dancing. The rest of the cast also was excellent, although I thought their dancing was slightly stronger than their singing. (I also thought about the fact that the female dancers did everything the male dancers did, only in heels. Additional comments omitted.)

The only criticism we had was at the end, during the emotional climax of the story. The scene when Maria reacts to Tony’s death and the conflict between the Jets and Sharks was painful to watch. And not painful as it should be when watching a heart-wrenching emotional moment kind of painful either. Painful in that it lasted too long and was a little off-kilter for whatever reason.

Nonetheless, it was a production that overall was well done and well worth watching.

Note: I would have put in a spoiler alert, but since the first performance of Westside Story was in 1957, I didn’t think it was necessary.


Mamma Mia!

We took the kids to see Mamma Mia! (the musical) a couple of weeks ago at the National Theatre in Washington, DC.  It was a fun production with a very good cast, all of whom looked like they were having a lot of fun.  The lead character (the mother), in particular, had a lovely voice, and the physical humor was quite well done.

The innuendo appeared to go over the head of the 12 year old son (and I comfort myself with the knowledge that if he has any questions about anything in the musical, he will ask Jim and not me).  The 15 year old daughter understood most of the innuendo, of course, but since she knows everything about everything (because she’s a teenager), it’s all good.

The daughter has now also turned into a Mamma Mia/ABBA fan.  I’m not entirely sure this is a positive development, but as with adolescence, I am sure that this, too, shall pass.

Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

This Stephen Sondheim musical is currently playing at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC.  We took the entire family to see it on Friday night, and it was enthusiastically endorsed by everyone (even the 12 year old boy who was definitely not enthusiastic about going).  The humor is occasionally off-color, but most of the humor is a result of comedic slapstick and timing.  The characters even occasionally interact with the audience.  In one memorable scene, the main character is supposed to steal another character’s potion book out of his pocket but inadvertently fails to do so.  (This is not part of the play—he just goofed.)  The main character comes back on stage and promises to rehearse harder to get it right for the next performance.  And then starts laughing.  It was hilarious.

And in the climactic “death” scene, the main character ad libs the humor so successfully that every character onstage breaks character at some point during the scene because he or she can’t stop laughing.  Somehow, this made the scene even funnier.

All the actors are excellent, but Bruce Dow, who plays the main character, is without doubt the star of the show.  His comedic genius is what makes this production so successful.

At the end of the show, the audience is present to witness a (successful) proposal to one of the cast members.  It was a fitting end to a highly entertaining evening.  (Although I hope she doesn’t regret the costume she was wearing at the time of the proposal.)  J

We give the production four thumbs up!

July 4 in New York City

We had one of the best July 4 holiday weekends ever! To begin with, we spent most of it with one of our favorite families to hang out with. And we spent it in one of our favorite cities, New York, and at one of our favorite hotels, the Carlyle (located at 76th & Madison).
Our many stops included Dylan’s Candy Bar, which is a must for those who thrive on sugar, candy, and ice cream. The sheer volume of offerings is a bit overwhelming, but it’s great fun and definitely a New York landmark for those with a sweet tooth. We also paid a visit to the Kate Spade store, to which I’m hopelessly addicted. The summer sale was not helpful for my addiction at all (or, rather, it was helpful in feeding the addiction but not in overcoming it). FAO Schwarz is a requirement every time we go to New York, for the grownups as well as the kids. It’s the best toy store. Ever. And the Armani store and the Ralph Lauren store were also on the shopping list. (Did I mention that I am also hopelessly addicted to Armani?) When I looked at the Armani store receipt later, I realized that all of the merchandise we bought there (the summer merchandise) was 40% off. Which almost makes Armani affordable (but not quite).
Educational visits included the Central Park Zoo and the Cloisters. I love the Cloisters, as it fulfills every medieval history loving bone I have. We also visited the New York Public Library to see the original Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, and Eeyore.
We watched the 4th of July fireworks from the Chelsea Piers where you could see not only the fireworks (which were spectacular and seemed longer in duration than the ones on the Mall), but also the barges on the Hudson that were shooting the fireworks off. The barges looked like they were shooting anti-aircraft guns. It was quite cool. The fireworks were as well.
Dinners included meals at the North End Grill (in Battery Park City), the Modern (in MoMA), and Jean-Georges (in Trump Tower). All three meals were phenomenal, but I probably have to vote the Modern as the best of the three. The food there manages to be delicious, beautiful, and fun.
Dim sum was at the Golden Unicorn in Chinatown. We think there’s pretty good dim sum in the DC area, but it was nothing compared to the quality in New York. Décor is the usual Chinese tacky, but service was surprisingly friendly and helpful (although it helps if you speak Chinese).
We saw two musicals—Cinderella and Pippin. Cinderella was the Rodgers & Hammerstein version, updated with a couple of new songs and a bit more humor than the original version. It was extremely well done, and all of us enjoyed it very much.
Pippin was excellent with very 70s-style music (or, as our daughter puts it, old people music) and a complicated and morally ambivalent plot. I liked Cinderella better myself because, of course, it had a happily ever after ending. Which Pippin also has but in a much more complicated way.
We always have a wonderful time in New York when we go and wonder why we don’t go more often. And then the credit card bills hit, and we understand why. ☺
Nevertheless, it was a marvelously fabulous trip!