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On my recent trip to NYC, I saw Mamma Mia on Saturday night so I had another opportunity on Sunday night to see another theatre show. I had a couple of options but chose This Is Our Youth. I chose this one because it was on a limited engagement so I might not get another chance to see it again. Also, this rendition casted Michael Cera (of Juno, Scott Pilgrim fame) in one of the roles (Kieran Culkin – Scott Pilgram’s gay roommate is also in the play).

The plot is supposed to be about 3 wayward tweeners in 1982, which seemed mildly interesting to me. In the end, I think I would have probably enjoyed seeing something else more. It is a play (rather than a musical) and the amount of dialog that each character had is impressive (there’s only 3 people in the play). I had to sit a little too far away to really make out the characters’ expressions (which, when contrasted with my seat for Mamma Mia was a big difference). And although I understood the plot and the character portrayal; I was confused as to what the play was trying to convey to me. I did not understand the implication of the ending at all.

I had a chance to be in NYC over a weekend so I took advantage of it and went to see some theatre. Usually if I’m in town for Sunday night, there’s no evening show or it’s early and I can’t make it in time to get rush tickets. This time I had a bit more time. My first pick was to see Once, but I was too late for their rush tickets. Then I tried my luck for the Wicked lottery – but didn’t get picked. Next I tried Mamma Mia for standing room tickets – they only sold those when the show was sold out, but I was feeling lucky for a warm Saturday night. I didn’t get standing room tickets, but they sold me a student rush ticket. It was “partial view (second row, and on an angle), but it wasn’t partial view for me (sure everything was on a slant, but I only noticed 2 times when I missed stuff – once because there was an ensemble member in front of me and another when they were purposely facing the other corner).

I actually didn’t remember that this musical was based entirely on ABBA songs until I sat down. I don’t mind though, although I’m not a huge ABBA fan, I enjoy their songs and I have a copy of ABBA Gold. In fact I think every song in Mamma Mia, except maybe 1, was from the disc (at least they sounded familiar to me). This gave the musical a leg up already, because I knew and liked the music. However, it was a drawback as well since the songs were sung by singers who didn’t sing as well as ABBA. One notable exception was the person who portrayed the Mom who had a distinctive singing voice in her own way (sounds like a country singer).

The songs were cleverly woven into the plot – actually the almost seem like they were written for the play (although we know otherwise) so that was actually pretty impressive. I’m pretty sure they changed some of the lyrics (probably in the verses), but I’m not a big enough ABBA fan to know. One thing I was disappointed with was the ending which, while the anticipated things happened, didn’t really go out with a bang. I guess that’s because ABBA never had any hits that were about happy times?

There was an encore of sorts, where they did a mini tribute band/dance party (Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen, Waterloo). That was good because it ended the night with high energy (something that the true ending didn’t do)

Usually when I make my work trips down to the US, I just stay over for one night and that night is usually taken up buy a team dinner. This time, I stayed for two nights and caught some theatre with my free night. Avenue Q was one of my alternates if I wasn’t able to get tickets to Chicago, but I was able to get tickets so I didn’t have to worry about that.

On the next day, it turned out that my team dinner was cancelled so after getting off work at 7PM I had a free night. I remembered that Avenue Q had a late start – most shows started at 7 or 7:30 but Avenue Q started at 8. I walked briskly up to the theatre hoping to get rush tickets and arrived at 7:20PM. The box office said there were no more rush tickets, but they were still doing their 20 for $20 promotion – where they would sell all their unsold seats for $20, 20 minutes before curtains.

I was able to get a great seat for $20 all-in. I sat in the fourth row, near the centre. There were a lot of seats empty – the theatre has a capacity for 581 but I figure there were only 100 people there.

I heard about Avenue Q several years ago but missed it in Toronto when they were touring. From what I remember, it was a play with Muppets that was an older version of Sesame Street and dealt with gay issues. I guess I remembered kind of right. It’s a Sesame
Street targeted to post-college students who are struggling to find their way in life. One of the story lines is about a gay character, but there were several other story lines that were just as prominent. Basically it discussed a wide range of issues.

My first impression was that I liked this musical more than Chicago. The songs were catchy (i.e., more in a pop manner). The humor was sharper (especially when it was offensive) and it’s just amazing to see the Muppets in action. I figure I spent the first few musical numbers just marveling at the actors. Muppets basically have 2 mouth motions – open and closed, so all the emotion and expression was done by the actual muppeteers.

However, after awhile the novelty wore off. Beneath the veneer of humor, funny songs, and Sesame Street allusions; the story itself was not that interesting. I felt that it was too much like Sesame Street and they beat you over the head with the story and their morality. I would have liked it if it was faster paced. But for $20 it was well worth it and quite enjoyable.

I actually had a free night on this trip to NYC so I took advantage of it and caught a Broadway show. Before I arrived, I scoped out a couple of potential ones where I could get rush tickets, Chicago was my first pick because it is a well-known musical, has been running for a long time, and actually had Sunday night showings. The unfortunately things was that their rush tickets were sold starting when their box office opens, which since they had a Sunday matinee, meant that rush tickets would have been selling for more than 5 hours by the time I got there.

Fortunately for me, when I got to the box office a little past 5PM, the lady said that it was a little slow that night and gave me another seat for the same price ($37). I didn’t bother checking out TKTS or the other discount ticket places so I don’t know how that price compares. I felt I got a decent seat though. The only other theatre show I had seen on Broadways was Rent in 2007 and I remember that one of the reasons why I enjoyed it was because the theatre was small and intimate. I got a Row H orchestra seat so I was pretty close to the stage and it felt similar (however, upon exploring the theatre during intermission, I saw that it was very big – there were huge number of seats in the mezzanine). I was on an angle, but it didn’t take away too much. The people to my right also had rush tickets, so if I got there sooner, I could have had more central seats. However there were about 6 seats to my left with worse views in the row so I can’t complain.

I felt the story was great. It was simple to understand and I understood the singing. It made sense and drove the song & dance. The play focuses on 4 characters and I think they were all excellently portrayed. It felt like all the actors were playing parts they were born to play! In fact, because Chicago has been running since the 90s, some of the actors have been playing or reprised their roles that they played in the 00s. They were definitely pros as after doing the same show for so long, it didn’t felt they were dialing it in (plus there were no understudy substitutes on a Sunday night!)

I seem to remember that the music of Chicago garnered a lot of praise. I didn’t think the songs or music was that intriguing; although it fit well with the dancing and story. It was interesting that the orchestra was part of the set, and the conductor was actually used extensively as a “4th wall” character in the show. Another thing that is striking was that the set is super simple – there is no set! There are basically no costumes either – everyone was wearing sheer black or no clothing. The only tools were lights and a couple of simple props. It goes to show how strong the story is when they didn’t use gimmicks and I was still entertained.

Last Sunday, we caught the opening episode of CBC’s new reality series Over the Rainbow which is the quest to find Dorothy in the new Mirvish production of Wizard of Oz. We’ve watched some of the other CBC reality TV shows in the past, specifically Battle of the Blades and thought that it would be fun to be part of the live audience, but that particular one had an issue since we couldn’t both get out to the Hershey Centre by the time the taping started.

Over the Rainbow was taped at their downtown studios, which is a much easier location to get to. We got tickets to the Monday show, which was the results show where one of the original 10 Dorothys would be leaving. As this was our first live TV taping, it was a fun and interesting experience. We saw the stage crew getting things ready (they Windex-ed everything, a lot) and various hosts (the real one and an in-studio one) rev up the audience. They even practice introducing and announcing the judges even though the judges didn’t do anything that evening.

The actual show was fast, as it was 30 minutes with 3 commercial breaks (and some pre-filmed scenes). They did their intro song number as a group, and one new group song. Then they announced the two contestants who were on the brink and had them do a sing-off. Andrew Lloyd Weber, without much fanfare, picked one of them to save and the other was eliminated. The best part was that the loser had to sit on a moon that sailed over the sky as she sang Over the Rainbow. Since this was the first results show for this series, we didn’t know it was going to happen so that was surprising and emotional!

It was a fun experience to go to a taping, although there was a lot of waiting in lines before the show. I was also surprised that they did everything live, there were no retakes or practice. They also didn’t enforce a lot of rules on the studio audience (although we behaved); I suppose I could’ve brought in a better camera with a telephoto too! The next day, they posted the episode on CBC and I could check if we made it on TV. There were glimpses of us several times, but the above is probably the best shot when they panned the audience.

The last few years has seen the return of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ as an anthem. Some attribute it to being played on The Sorpranos, or maybe it was the dance version they started playing on the radio, or maybe it was a Rock Band effect. In any case, it has been a huge and recognizable hit in the last few years and is the hook to get you see Rock of Ages.

Rock of Ages is a musical featuring rock music from the 80s. The story is about a small town girl and a city boy born in Detroit. Basically the lyrics to DSB. It’s a love story set in LA where both of them try to make it big, but of course there is adversity that prevents them from being together or being successful. The draw is for the audience to hear the music of their younger years as part of the story (instead of custom pieces like other theatre shows).

I think I was a little too young as I didn’t recognize a lot of the music (and it doesn’t help that I didn’t really listen to rock). But the show was still lively, exciting and funny. The plot is easily understandable but not really that complex, so it is not as engrossing or heart-tugging as Les Miserables. In fact, I think the plot threads are too quickly and neatly tied up at the end. But Don’t Stop Believin’ at the very end more than makes up for it and leaves you in a good mood for the rest of the night.

The Luminato contest I won on Saturday gave me a pair of tickets to each of The End of Cinematics, A Throw of Dice, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Of the three, I only actually made it out to AMSND. At first the problem was that I had to pick up the tickets within business hours (9-5) at the Luminato office (downtown Toronto). Then they switched it to the box office, but still I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the events. In fact, I’ve read the description for the first one 3 or 4 times and I still don’t understand what it is.

This version of AMSND is also non-traditional. The Toronto Star describes Tim Supple’s version of AMSND as:

Supple’s play is cast with actors from all over India and while 50 per cent of the text is still spoken in English, the rest is delivered in seven different Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Sinhalese and Sanskrit.

As you can expect, it was very confusing. Athough I studied the play in English class, and read the synopsis beforehand; it was difficult for me to understand what was happening. Even when the players were speaking English, I had trouble comprehending because there was a double barrier: first I had to parse their Indian-accented english, and then I had to translate the Shakespearean English to what they’re actually saying.

It was because of this that I was immediately put off. I don’t think I was alone, because the reception during its North America tour hasn’t been stellar, and there were a lot of empty seats. Our entire row was empty! and we had decent seats (2nd row Mezzanine).

I didn’t think it was a complete waste of time though. If you’ve read AMSND, you’ll know that a large part of the story revolves around faries. By using ribbon acrobatics and wooden supports on the sets, the faries were able to be mimic spying of the humans. There were also no breaks between the acts (except for the one intermission) so Puck had the responsibility of updating or cleaning up the set while some of the other actors continued. There was also some dancing (not Bollywood style) and the aforementioned ribbon acrobatics.

While it wouldn’t be something I would pay to see, it wasn’t that bad; and if I had an Indian background, I would probably enjoy it.

This Saturday I had to go to work. Kind of. Work reserved my Saturday because they planned a team outing to celebrate/reward us for our recent efforts. It’s by far the most grandiose event since I started at IBM and from what I’ve heard I shouldn’t expect stuff like this happening very often. Oh well. Anyways, the event started with a matinee showing of (The Life and Adventures of) Nicholas Nickleby. I’ve heard this was in town, but didn’t know too much about it aside that it’s based off of a Dickens’ book. We had Orchestra level seats, right at the boundary where the second level starts (above us), which are the best seats I’ve had at the Princess of Wales.

I didn’t know much about the story or the play, fortunately the programme included a synopsis of what happens. It was also at this point that I realized that there was a Part 1 and a Part 2 of the play, and our 3-hour showing was only Part 1! Unfortunately for Nicholas Nickleby, it’s not Lord of the Rings. I realized this about half an hour into it as it went on and on about the life of some English guy. This is definitely not a show for my generation and maybe the movie would be more interesting.

Fortunately for us, we didn’t have to sit through part 2 because our agenda brought us to the CN Tower (no we weren’t doing the CN Tower climb). About 200 of us rode the elevator up to the Horizons Cafe (above the glass floor level) for some cocktails (no open bar though) before making our way up to the 360 restaurant. This was my first time there and I was kind of disappointed that the entire structure didn’t move, but only a track on which the tables are on. We had a set menu to choose from (Chicken, Salmon or Vegetarian) and were given color coded cards beforehand so that we could display them for the waiters. As you would expect from a group that took over half the restaurant, the food was mass produced and I didn’t think it was that good.

We got good seats however, and stayed around for almost two hours (or 1.5 revolutions) as the sun went down. I didn’t bring my camera SLR though, maybe I should have because the light was pretty good even if there was a bit of a cloud cover. After dessert, ever employee got a gift, which turned out to be a teal 1GB iPod Shuffle. It’s not too useful since I already bought a 2GB one, and plus I can’t sell it because it’s engraved with a personal message from IBM!

Judy had helped us buy tickets for Rent, they were reasonably priced ($57USD total) and I thought the seats were pretty good. We were in the middle, on the floor, about 15 rows back. The theatre itself was pretty small, I estimate 25 rows in total on the floor, plus some balcony seats; which is much smaller than the Princess of Wales. I was so tired from waking up so early the last few days that I started nodding off when the lights were dimmed; it didn’t help that some of the songs in the musical didn’t have a lot of point.

But overall, Rent was quite enjoyable. All the singers were mic’d but the sound and instrumentation was well-balanced and clear as only a live performance could be. The instruments I think were all electronic (i.e., synths, keyboard, electric guitar). The dancing and choreography was very good. The dancers were precise in their movements and it seemed like everyone was scripted to the last detail, even the people who were in the background. The story however, was difficult to follow. Part of it was because the story was sung, but another part of it was because there were too many plotlines and characters. I had tried to read the synopsis before going, but gave up because it was like reading a play. In retrospect, maybe I should have spent the time to read it beforehand.

In this trip, we had difficulty staying together. Joanna usually did her own thing, but she went along to see Rent. However, Richard and Victor decided to see another musical (Spelling Bee?) instead. We met up back up with Richard and Victor afterwards at the Virgin Megastore, but Joanna had magically disappeared again. I had also been texting my buddy from high school, Jon, to see if he was free and wanted to meet up, and fortunately he was so he also met up with us at Virgin to catch up.

We decided to split up again because I wanted to stay around Times Square, but the other people wanted to try a dessert place further south. So Pauline, Jon and I went to the Europa café to grab a drink. Here, I had yet another annoying experience with NYC washrooms, and had to wait 10 minutes just to #1. Afterwards, we walked around Times Square for a bit, took some pictures, and then on Jon’s suggestion went down to East Village for some food.

We went to this (actually) authentic Japanese place, which was surprisingly affordable (i.e., not a rip off). The food was quite tasty, and it was distinctly Japanese. They had Japanese b-movie posters on the wall, and part of their menu was written on the walls and priced in Yen (kind of how Chinese restaurants do it). The best part was that as part of paying your bill, they give you some cotton candy powder, which you can then use to create your own cotton candy from the machine outside.

It was getting pretty late, and having learned from Jon that the PATH does stay open past 12 (probably because it was a Monday at that point), we headed to the PATH station. But several of the stations were under maintenance so we actually had to walk pretty far to find an open station. We said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel. Upon reach our room, we were surprised (not) to find that all the guys were in our room eating Popeye’s and playing 4-player Tetris on their NDS. We weren’t surprised because this was foreshadowed by their NDS-playing on the PATH earlier this morning.

I went to see the Phantom of the Opera on Thursday night at the Princess of Wales theatre. I never saw it during its first run in Toronto when I was a kid, so I guess I am making up for lost time. It was reasonably entertaining although I am surprised that they are able to charge such a high price and fill the seats for an old show; maybe there were a lot of people like me. It was clearly dated, most notably when they had 80s New Wave beats beneath some of the songs and a lead character by the name of Christine. Phantom of the Opera 2007 should have a main character named Madison instead.