More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch and a Very Unfortunate Bus Trip April 27, 2014

Filed under: Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 5:29 pm

2014-04-26 18.41.06Whenever we go to New York City to visit my sister-in-law and her family I drag my husband to some sort of Broadway show, but occasionally I will also take a day trip up to see a show with friends. With it being about a 3 and half hour trip from my house assuming traffic is good going up and back in a day does generally make for a long day but is doable so that we don’t have to pay the expense of a New York hotel room, which would definitely mean we wouldn’t wind up going up like we do.

As soon as we heard that Neil Patrick Harris was going to be starring in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway after he finished with How I Met Your Mother, my friends Jenny, Sarah, and I decided we were definitely going to go up for the show. I bought us tickets in the AmEx presale as soon as they were available and we had been looking forward to it in the 6 months ever since. Normally we would go up for a matinee leaving early in the morning, grabbing lunch, seeing the show, eating an early dinner and then heading home. There are no Saturday matinee performances of this show though. Instead they are doing a show at 7 and a show at 10 on Saturday nights, so we decided to go up around lunch time, get to New York in time to have dinner, then see the show, and then come home on the late side.

Rather than just go up and pick a random restaurant to eat at for dinner I put my Twitter connections to work for me and asked a couple of people I follow on Twitter who are quite familiar with the area where was good to eat around the Belasco Theatre, where the show is. There seemed to be some consensus around a restaurant called HB Burger, which mostly has various forms of burgers/sandwiches plus a few other entrees on the menu. They also have a good selection of beverages ranging from the Heartland Brewery beers, which they are connected to, milkshakes both alcoholic and non, and homemade sodas, plus a bunch of other things. I probably would have taken the suggestion anyway, but looking at the drink menu online was what sold it for me. Jenny, Sarah, and I were all very pleased with both our food and drinks but less so with our waitress who disappeared and literally never came back after serving us our food. After waiting almost 45 minutes, which fine because we had time to kill before the show which was only a block away, we did in fact need to pay our bill and leave. We eventually got a bus boy to get it for us, and made change at the bar so we could pay in cash and just leave it on the table. I never understand when that happens. You would think that someone who is making most of their money on tips would a. want to get a good tip from you, and b. turn over the table. There were plenty of people waiting to be seated by the time we left, and we would have happily left our table for them earlier if only our waitress had brought us our check at any point.

As for the show itself I really liked it and though Neil Patrick Harris was great in the role. I had seen the movie version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch a long time ago, but so long ago that I remembered very little about it. I never saw the original off-Broadway version, so I don’t know what might have changed other than obviously the more timely references. I hadn’t really read anything about the most recent production either as I prefer to not read reviews of shows I know I’m going to see because I don’t like to be influenced one way or the other before seeing it. Thus I didn’t really realize that the show is designed essentially as a monologue from the person playing Hedwig, in this case Neil Patrick Harris, through story and song. There is a 4 person band on stage as well as someone playing the character of Yitzhak, but s/he really doesn’t have much to do throughout most of the show. I don’t really feel like trying to explain the plot of the show, so if you aren’t familiar and you care let me refer you to the synopsis on Wikipedia.

The show is funny and dramatic and the music is good with a nice mix of ballads and more rock songs. Neil Patrick Harris was impressive in the role. He does a lot of running around and dancing on the stage in very high heeled boots. I can’t believe he was going to turn around and do it all over again right after we left.

And then there was our unfortunate bus ride home. We were already scheduled to get back to the northern suburbs of Baltimore a little after 1 am, which meant by the time I drove the half hour to my house in the city it was going to be almost 2 before I got home. That is way past my bedtime, so I already wasn’t looking forward to it. If only I had gotten home at that point I would have been very happy in retrospect. Instead what actually happened was our bus driver pulled over at the Clara Barton rest stop on the New Jersey turnpike, which is the last stop before you hit the Delaware Memorial Bridge in about 5 miles. That’s just a little over an hour from the bus stop so I was actually thinking oh good it won’t be too much longer before we’re back. Ha. ha. Our driver pulled over and went to the bathroom on the bus, but then when we went to leave it was obvious that something with the bus was not right. When he first started it up again something seemed like it was weird, but then it seemed ok that us until he was pulling onto the entrance ramp and trying to pick up speed. Then the bus just started groaning and obviously wouldn’t go any faster than a crawl. He pulled over to the side of the ramp and called Megabus headquarters to tell them about the problem, then informed us that there appeared to be a transmission problem and they were going to send a replacement bus but it would be about 2 hours before it got there. Because the bus wasn’t completely dead and there wasn’t really any traffic on the ramp at that time of night he slowly backed us up back into the parking lot. Then for reasons I cannot explain he then proceeded to see if he could get the bus to work again not by testing it out inside the parking lot, but once again trying to drive out the entrance ramp where we promptly had to stop at the exact same spot about halfway up the ramp. At that point he opened the door and told us we could get off the bus and go to the rest stop if we wanted. My friend Jenny yelled at him to try and back us into the parking lot again instead of making us all unsafely hike along the side of the ramp. He did, and then we got off the bus. Bizarrely only maybe 1/4 of the people actually chose to get off the bus and go wait inside the rest stop. I have no idea why they would want to stay on a stuffy, cramped bus when they could be sitting inside with real restrooms, food, and room to stretch. To each their own I guess. At least the people who came inside were fun and we had a good time with each other while waiting. We heard about 2 hours after we had been waiting there that a couple who had stayed on the bus got into a domestic dispute and started hitting each other and slamming each others heads into the bus wall. I’m not sorry I missed that. Our replacement bus finally showed up after about 2 and half hours and we made it back to the bus stop around 4am and I made it fully home at 4:30. Needless to say I’ve spent Sunday walking around in kind of a daze.

I’ve been less than impressed with Megabus through the whole situation. Other than an autotriggered email they sent out after the breakdown was reported no one apologized to us. Not our old driver or our new driver. The driver of our original bus was very bad about providing us with any information, and as of yet I have not heard anything about Megabus refunding us money for this trip or providing us vouchers for future travel funds. I imagine they’ll give us some sort of compensation if we complain, which we will, but really we shouldn’t have to fight for it. They should acknowledge we had a crappy experience on their service and attempt to make it right somehow. From where I live in the city I have the choice of taking both Bolt or Megabus and you can bet it will be a long time if ever before I consider choosing Megabus over Bolt again.

Because I like to look on the bright side of things here on this blog here are all the good things related to the generally crappy bus breakdown.

1. The breakdown happened at a rest stop so we were able to get off the bus instead of having to sit on the side of the road or worse yet on the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

2. I was with good friends who were also able to stay positive through experience. I told them I was glad this happened this with with them as opposed to last week when my husband was with me coming back from New York. I don’t think he would have had such a great attitude.

3. All the other people we were hanging out with inside the rest stop were fun people who also were trying to make the best of things. We actually did a lot of laughing during our wait.

4. The breakdown happened on the way home from New York instead of on our way up. It really would have sucked if we missed seeing the show we were going up for and had spent hundreds of dollars on because our bus broke down.

5. Unlike Jenny and Sarah I don’t have small children to take care of so I could sleep in and sit in a daze in peace.

All in all though as Jenny said when we were parting ways last night, even though it rained on us in New York, our waitress forgot about us, and our bus broke down I still had a really good time.

 

William Fitzsimmons at the Metro Gallery April 23, 2014

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 1:22 pm

Monday night I went with my friend Steph to see William Fitzsimmons play at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore. Up until the point I agreed to go to the concert I wasn’t really familiar with William Fitzsimmons, though looking at his Wikipedia entry I’m sure I’ve heard his music in any number of television shows. I’m not surprised because his music is a perfect fit for those closing montages set to music that so many television shows are fond of employing these days. Anyway, she was looking for someone to go with her to this concert, and since you know I’m always game for some live music, after a quick perusal of his music on Spotify to make sure I wouldn’t hate it I agreed to go.

This was only my second time at Metro Gallery, which is a small space used as an art gallery and live performance space. Last time I was there was a couple years ago for Super Art Fight. That event was really crowded and they didn’t have anything set up on stage, so being the shorty that I am I couldn’t really see anything at all. I anticipated having similar problems during this concert, but needn’t have worried. There were far fewer people there which helped, and I must say it was the first standing room only concert I’ve been to that wasn’t outside where people sat down on the floor. So really it turned in to a sitting room only show for the most part. The very mellow music of William Fitzsimmons definitely lends itself to sitting down as it isn’t something you need to be standing up grooving to.

Also a first for me at this concert was that the opening act, Jake Phillips, is also part of William Fitzsimmons backing band. I’ve never been to a show where the opening act played, then went off stage and came back as part of the main act. I enjoyed Jake Phillips. It was just him up on stage with an acoustic guitar occasionally tapping out a little rhythm on the side of it. Sometimes it’s nice to hear just the bare bones of music.

As for William Fitzsimmons himself, I enjoyed him quite a bit. If you’ve ever read a single other concert review I’ve written on this blog you should know that I have a list of things in my head that I think contribute to creating the best live experience, and he pretty much checked off all the boxes. Lucky for him production values are pretty much just a footnote on my list. They can be cool, but are in no way necessary to be a great live artist. They just mean you have money. This was about as bare bones as you can get. Just some guys up on a stage playing music, which is fine by me.

First and foremost you know I love an artist that interacts with the audience, and William Fitzsimmons was great at that. I always like a like storytelling with my music, and he definitely had some stories to tell. Some true, some false, some who know, but all humorous. Second I always enjoy when artists mess around with cover songs during live shows. He did a little medley of Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (maybe, writing that down I’m now completely questioning which Nirvana song he actually played), and Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”. There was more during the encore, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Not that it mattered much to me since essentially all his songs were new to me, but he played a good mix of songs from his new album and his older stuff.

Speaking of interacting with the crowd, for most of the encore they got really up close and personal with the crowd. As I said it’s a tiny venue and it wasn’t super crowded, so it’s not necessarily the most impressive instance I’ve seen of a band playing in the audience but I appreciate it nonetheless. They unplugged, came out into the crowd, and told everyone to circle around them because they were going to finish out the show campfire style. Given the small space and the number of people there they could totally play completely acoustic and still be heard, so that was fun. One of the songs they played during this encore was Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers”, which is one of my most favorite Tom Petty songs ever and a great cover song to be heard played that way.

It was a fun show, and I’m glad I went despite it starting late (all advertised times were doors 7, show 8, but they didn’t start until 9) and keeping me up past my old lady bed time.

You can take a listen to “Beautiful Girl” one of his songs that I really like.

and also the title song off the new album Lions.

 

Violet April 22, 2014

Filed under: Pop Culture,Theatre — dwhren @ 8:43 am

As always when I’m in New York I like to take in a Broadway show. This time I was excited to see Violet. Technically I saw it in it’s last night of previews. When I decided I wanted to see the show and looked at the dates I realized it would still be in previews the next time I was in New York, but given that it opened the next night I didn’t figure a lot if anything was going to change between when I saw it and when it officially opened. So bear that in mind just in case, you know, they completely overhauled the entire thing in the 24 hours between when I saw it and when it opened.

This production of Violet is a sort of revival of an off-Broadway production from 1997 that never managed to make it to Broadway. It was originally revived as a one night Encores! show back in the summer, and ultimately spun up to a full-fledged run from April 20-August 10. The show stars Sutton Foster as the titular Violet, who was badly scarred across her face when her father accidentally hit her with an axe blade at the age of 13. Now 12 years later she is traveling from her small town in North Carolina to Tulsa to meet a televangelist she believes can take away her scar. Along the way she meets two military men going to their station in Arkansas before possibly shipping out to Vietnam (the show is set in 1964), who she befriends and who start to make her see her life differently.

If you’ve read anything about the show you’ve probably seen that Sutton Foster goes completely make-up free during the show. They decided to let the audience use their imagination regarding her scar, and it did work for me. Foster does a good job of portraying someone who is trying to hide a large scar across her face, and the rest of the cast members recoil when they first meet her and see her face.

I saw this show referred to in a couple of places as a bluegrass musical. There are definitely some bluegrass and country influences in some of the songs as well as a strong gospel influence, but overall the music still sounds like it came from musical theatre. I liked it a lot though, and will probably pick up the cast recording once they actually record it.

The show is fairly minimalist for a Broadway musical. The musicians are set up on a riser on the back of the stage, and the rest of the set is a fairly low-key bus station set. There isn’t really anything in the way of dancing, but there is some interesting choreography throughout. It sort of reminded me of Once in that way. As with that show I thought the whole thing was very lovely even though it’s not a giant production.

The role of Violet is definitely a departure for Sutton Foster, who has in the past played much more lively roles that include a lot of song and dance. Not that I had any doubts, but she handled a much more subdued character wonderfully. The show-stopping applause however went to Joshua Henry, who plays one of the soldier named Flick, for the performance of “Let It Sing”. I read the same thing in the New York Times review of the show, so I’m guessing that will be a nightly thing as well it should be because he was amazing. I was also suitably impressed with the 14-year old Emerson Steele, who plays the younger version of Violet. That young lady has quite a career on Broadway ahead of her I expect.

It wasn’t really going to take much for me to like this show. I love Sutton Foster, and I hunger for Broadway shows that are neither based on a movie or music previously in existence. Those are sadly few and far between these days. I adored everything about the show, and I don’t think it’s just because it was something I was completely in the bag for from the start because the reviews I’m seeing from last night’s opening night are equally as positive. If you’re in New York before August and are looking for a show to see I would highly recommend Violet.

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Easter in New York City April 21, 2014

Filed under: Family,Travel — dwhren @ 9:46 am

 

 

Paul and I went up to New York City for the weekend to spend Easter with his sister and her family including our 3 year old niece and nephew. It was a beautiful day on Saturday, so after lunch we headed over to Central Park. There are no shortage of playgrounds for them to play at. I think I’ve now been to 5 different ones with them. 2014-04-19 14.14.05 2014-04-19 14.12.34

 

They colored some Easter eggs. 2014-04-19 17.37.42 2014-04-19 17.37.40 2014-04-19 17.37.33 2014-04-19 17.37.18

 

Ryan and Uncle Paul draw on Uncle Paul’s tablet while Lily and Daddy take a nap.

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We were still asleep when they found the goods that the Easter bunny left for them, so here are some pictures of the aftermath. Ryan had apparently adopted the giant ducky at the Duane Reade and would say hi to him every time they went in. After the “Easter Bunny” bought it, Ryan went looking for it and was sad that he couldn’t find it in the store. Luckily for him the ducky lives in his apartment now thanks to the Easter Bunny.

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I don’t have any pictures of the plastic egg hunt, but apparently Lily refused to believe that there weren’t more eggs hidden around the apartment that she wasn’t finding. Also true to form she is the only 3 year old I know who was more interested in the eggs that had quarters in them than the ones with the candy. Ryan on the other hand was very interested in the candy. He collected all of it and put it in the bag he is riding around on his big wheel with.

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Where did Lily go? I wonder what the magician will pull out of his magic hat?

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Where did Ryan go?

2014-04-20 08.52.12Do you see him now?
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After Easter brunch we took another walk through Central Park. Ryan had fun using a giant tree that had fallen over as a balance beam.2014-04-20 12.53.29 2014-04-20 12.54.59

 

Lily was more interested in picking “daffodils”. I pointed out the actual daffodils that were growing all over the park to her and then she kept calling all the flowers daffodils.

2014-04-20 12.53.49It was a lovely spring weekend in New York. Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of Violet, the Broadway show we saw on Saturdya night.

 

 

 

Songs I Love: Stay with Me by Sam Smith April 18, 2014

Filed under: Music,Pop Culture,Songs I Love — dwhren @ 10:41 am

“Stay with Me” is the third single off of Sam Smith’s forthcoming debut album In the Lonely Hour. It seems kind of crazy that there are already three singles and the album isn’t out for over another month. It’s making me really look forward to the full album. Though I really like the first two singles “Lay Me Down” and “Money on Mind”, “Stay with Me” is my favorite of the three so far. I love the deep soulful feeling behind the song as a whole and then the chorale sound in the chorus. He reminds me a lot of James Blake. I also for some reason find it really endearing that his English accent still comes across in this song when I feel like so many English accents seem to disappear when the artist is singing. I highly encourage you to check out this song because it is lovely.

 

 

Say Anything April 14, 2014

Filed under: Movies,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 1:17 pm

Last night I was alerted to the fact that today marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the movie Say Anything by the headline on this post in NPR’s MonkeySee blog. I haven’t actually read it yet because I decided I wanted to get my own thoughts about the movie down before I did, so any similarities are purely coincidental. Not that I expect there to be a lot because my reflections on the movie are mostly going to be my personal experiences with it rather than stuff about the movie itself. Weirdly this morning at work in helping a theatre professor convert some recordings of productions from this year onto DVD I noticed a scene in one of the plays they put on included an homage to the scene in Say Anything where John Cusack holds the boom box playing “In Your Eyes” over his head. Part of me wonders if the college students watching the play even got the reference. I hope they did, but given that none of them were alive when this movie came out I have my doubts. I thought it was too funny though that I was already thinking about writing this post today and then I saw that. It was like a sign. Of what exactly I’m not sure, but a sign nonetheless.

The first time I saw Say Anything was a few years after its theatrical release. For the two and half years my family lived in Massachusetts due to some error we had free Cinemax with our cable. My parents never subscribed to any of the movie channels when I was growing up, so this short period was the only time we ever had access to any of them. I remember watching Say Anything when it was on Cinemax and loving it so much I recorded a copy of it onto a VHS tape. I upgraded to a for real VHS tape of the movie when I went away to college. I remember special ordering a copy of it from the Sam Goody in the mall my freshman year of college. (Man this paragraph is making me sound super old.) At some point I upgraded my VHS copy to a DVD, and now Say Anything is streaming on Netflix Instant.

No matter how many more format changes occur during my lifetime I have no doubt that Say Anything will remain one of my favorite movies. I couldn’t even possibly tell you how many times I have seen that movie. My friend Lauren and I must have watched it a hundred times when we were in high school. I also remember buying the soundtrack to the movie while on a trip to the mall with her. I have listened to that CD a lot over the years as well.

There are so many things I love about that movie, but the relationships between the characters really are what makes it a great movie. You have Diane and Lloyd obviously, but also Diane and her father, Lloyd and his sister, and Lloyd and his friends. All seem like real relationships rooted in all the things that actual relationships are based on. I don’t know one girl from my generation who did not want Lloyd Dobler to be her boyfriend, and who would not count the famous “In Your Eyes” boom box scene as one of the most romantic scenes in a movie ever. And just in case you forgot or didn’t ever see this video, let me remind you about the time John Cusack gave Peter Gabriel a boom box while attending one of his concerts. It makes me so happy, and it’s all obviously because of this movie.

That moment is obviously what made me fall head over heals in love with this movie, but there are so many other great moments in it too. If I sat here and listed them all out from the humorous to the heartbreaking I would essentially be recreating the script here, so I will just leave you with one more of my favorites which is towards the end when Diane goes to see Lloyd after their break up and after she finds out about her father’s misdeeds. Lloyd asks her if she’s there because she needed him or because she needed someone and I always thought that was such a poignant question. I really do just want to keep listing things, but I’m going to stop because really you should quit reading things about Say Anything and just go watch the movie.

I now realize it has been far too long since I have watched Say Anything. That is something I’m definitely going to have to remedy soon.

 

 

 

90s Hip Hop Playlist April 10, 2014

Filed under: Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 8:16 am

Last Friday it had been a long week at work and it was super gloomy outside. I decided listening to some would be the perfect way to jump start my Friday. The day before I had heard Kris Kross’ “Jump” on the radio and was thinking about how great 90s hip hop was. I think we can all agree that 90s hip hop was the best, and that at least for people my age if you say hip hop that is the music they’re thinking of. Since I was obviously at work on Friday morning, I just used Spotify radio to have it throw some at me. I wasn’t super happy with the results because it didn’t stick with 90s hip hop, but it was good enough for a little while that morning.

I still wanted a playlist of what at least for me were the definitive 90s hip hop songs though, so last weekend I put together my own Spotify playlist. I’m pretty sure every song on this list is from the 90s, though I won’t guarantee it because I didn’t bother confirming. There could be some late 80s or early 00s that slipped in. It was interesting to me in putting it together to think that all of it was from the 90s. I kept thinking some of it should have been from another decade. At least in my mind there is a clear delineation between stuff from groups like Kris Kross and Bel Biv Devoe and stuff from people like Nas and Jay-Z. It’s probably because there was a shift in the music itself between the first half of the decade and the second, but also because there was a big shift in my own life at the time. In the first half of the decade I was in middle school and high school and the last half of the decade I was away at college. The shift from high school to college obviously is a big demarkation in my mind and I can clearly pick out music from between the two times in my life.

So here’s the playlist I put together. Have some fun listening to some 90s hip hop, and let me know if I missed anything that should clearly be on this list.