More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

Cabaret November 30, 2014

Filed under: Theatre — dwhren @ 9:54 am

As is my wont when we go to New York Paul and I took in a Broadway show while we were up there for Thanksgiving. For this trip I settled on seeing the newest revival of Cabaret. I saw Cabaret in its last run on Broadway during its 1998 revival. Though I actually saw it almost at the end of its over five year run in July of 2003. Alan Cumming had long since left his role as the Emcee, so when it was announced he was reprising his role I was excited for the chance to actually see him in it. However, I didn’t really care about seeing Michelle Williams play Sally Bowles. I don’t know why or what, but there’s something about her that’s always bothered me ever since her days back in Dawson’s Creek. Given that, having already seen the show on Broadway before, and the fact that there are always so many other shows I want to see in the few times I make it to New York per year, I didn’t actually have this show anywhere near the top of my list despite my desire to see Alan Cumming.

That is until they announced that Emma Stone was going to be taking over the role of Sally Bowles in mid-November at which point Cabaret jumped to the very top of my list. Unlike Michelle Williams, I have always really liked Emma Stone and I was curious to see how she would do in Broadway debut. She’s obviously a great actress in film, but that doesn’t always translate to the stage, especially when singing is involved. I was now very excited to see this show again, and I figured it would be much more memorable than the last time I saw it.

Other than Tom Bosley playing Herr Schultz I couldn’t even remember who starred in it when I saw it back in 2003. I looked it up out of curiosity. I can now understand why I probably didn’t find the performances very memorable, but I feel like the presence of this guy as the Emcee should have made an impression just for the ridiculousness of it.

Yep, apparently I saw Jon Secada play the Emcee and Melina Kanakaredes as Sally Bowles. I never watched her in anything else, but I spent many years as a child watching her on the soap opera Guiding Light, so I’m surprised I didn’t remember that either. I assume Playbill.com isn’t lying to me though and I just blocked all of this out as a horrible memory.

Happily, I shall have much better memories of this production. Alan Cumming as expected was phenomenal as the Emcee. I have no idea how long he intends to do this run, but if you get a chance he’s worth seeing no matter who else is in the cast. I’m really happy I didn’t miss out on seeing him.

Emma Stone acquitted herself well as Sally Bowles as well. Her acting as usual was great. I definitely got pulled into the character and didn’t spend the whole show thinking about it being Emma Stone. She doesn’t have the greatest vocal range, but for someone who isn’t a trained singer, I think Sally Bowles is almost a perfect leading role in a musical. She actually doesn’t have a ton of songs in the show, and many of them are sung by Sally in performances in the cabaret, so it makes sense for her to not be the strongest singer in the world. The only time her vocal weaknesses really stood out to me were when she sang “Maybe This Time” because that is a favorite among veteran Broadway actresses to sing in concerts and on albums. I’ve heard it sung a million times by Broadway actresses and Emma Stone definitely paled in comparison. Don’t get me wrong. Her singing isn’t awful. She definitely holds her own for the most part, but her strength in this part definitely comes from her acting and not her singing.

Cabaret is a great show and this is an excellent production of it. If you get the chance I would definitely recommend seeing it. I’m really glad I got the chance to go.

 

Songs I Love: Music Roundup November 19, 2014

Filed under: Music,Podcasts,Songs I Love — dwhren @ 8:37 am

I feel like it’s been awhile since I wrote about the songs that I’m really loving right now, so here’s a quick roundup of some of my favorites.

Saturday’s Song by Hiss Golden Messenger

Ok, so there’s not really much going on with song lyrically, but I love the jangly guitar in it so much I can’t even tell you. Despite the lyrics about how he’s going to “get a little crazy” when Saturday comes the music itself is super chill. I always like a song where the lyrics and music are juxtaposed like this. This song is definitely going on my chill summer playlist.

Put My Heart Down by Sara Evans

“Put My Heart Down” is the second single off of Sara Evans’ album Slow Me Down, the title song of which I’ve already written about. I’m obviously really digging the singles coming off of this album, so I should probably actually take a listen to the whole thing, which I haven’t actually done yet. Again I don’t have much to say about the song lyrically, but that doesn’t really matter so much to me these days. I’m a visual person, so I don’t always pick up on lyrics when I’m not looking at them. Since I no longer have the time to sit around and exclusively listen to music while reading along with the lyrics like I once did when I was younger, I find that lyrics are the least important part of a song to me these days. I love the way the song sounds and that they lyrics are in fact easy enough for me to pick up enough of to sing along when I hear it in the car.

She’s Not Me by Jenny Lewis

I’m generally hit or miss with Jenny Lewis’ music. I like some of it and some of it I just don’t for whatever reason. I did really enjoy seeing her live at the Newport Folk Festival this summer though. I know so many people who loved “Just One of the Guys”, the first single off her album The Voyager from which this song also comes, but I didn’t really like it. I’m also the person who liked Under the Blacklight, the last Rilo Kiley album, which I guess real Rilo Kiley/Jenny Lewis fans consider to be far inferior to the ones that came before. Whatever, everyone is welcome to their opinion and sometimes there are certain songs that just aren’t for me. I allow others the same latitude. I’m about 50/50 on The Voyager album as a whole, but “She’s Not Me” is a great song and my favorite from the album.

 

Roundup November 16, 2014

Filed under: Concerts,Family,Life,Music,Theatre — dwhren @ 9:51 am

I haven’t had a whole lot of time to write anything on this blog this week, and the down time I did have I just didn’t feel like spending it writing anything here. Now that I have a little time I figured I would do one of my periodic roundups of things that have been making me happy recently.

1. My sister lives in Arizona, so I usually only get to see her maybe twice a year. I got have a bonus visit with her on Tuesday because she was briefly in Baltimore for work. She had a meeting with a doctor at Hopkins, so we planned to meet for lunch after that was over. Unfortunately her meeting got all screwy because the doctor had an emergency, so our nice lunch out wound up being a 30 minute visit in the hospital cafeteria, but it was better than nothing. I’m looking forward to spending much more time with her in a few weeks at Christmas.

2. Tuesday night I saw Next to Normal at Centerstage. My friend Alison and I have season tickets to the theatre, and they generally do a really good job. They don’t tend to do very many musicals, but every once in awhile one will show up in the season. Next to Normal is the first musical written by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, who also wrote If/Then which is currently running on Broadway. It’s a more understated musical with only five characters rather than the large productions typically associated with musicals. Additionally, it’s about a woman with bi-polar disorder and the ramifications that has had on her family. Not the normal topic you expect for a musical either. I quite enjoyed it though. I liked the music a lot, and I thought the production was great.

3. WTMD, Baltimore’s local NPR music station run out of Towson University, has been holding live concerts in their studio since the moved into their new space in the last year or so. Thursday was a live lunch concert with the band Stars. I saw them at Rams Head Live  about a year and a half ago. I thought they were great in concert, so I took a long lunch break to go up and see the show. Serendipitously it worked out that I was planning on staying late to make up the time because as soon as I got back to work I found out that I was going to need to stay late to get a last minute project dropped in my lap done before I left for the day. Stars was a lot of fun once again, thought it was an entirely different experience seeing them in the middle of the day in a bright studio as opposed to at night in a dark club.

4. Every second Friday of the month is the Baltimore area librarians’ happy hour. It’s basically librarians from a bunch of the universities from around the Baltimore area get together for happy hour. We totally welcome any sort of librarian, but because it was started by academic librarians that is who it tends to attract. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been to happy hour because it always seems like we have something else going on when happy hour rolls around. For a change we were finally free this Friday so decided to go. The location has moved around over the years, but has been meeting for a little while at Midtown BBQ & Brew. We usually meet in the upstairs bar. This time we wound up in an area I had no idea even existed off of the upstairs bar. It seemed like it was probably originally an apartment above/next to the bar that they just opened up into public space. There were some couches and a television that we had control of back there. We eventually wound up listening to the 90s music channel from the cable system on the tv, which somehow paralyzed us from leaving as we waited to find out what 90s song would show up next and reminisced about everything that was coming up. We usually stay at happy hour for an hour or an hour and half. We were there for over three hours apparently unable to drag ourselves away. It was quite an enjoyable evening.

 

Formula 1 US Grand Prix November 6, 2014

Filed under: Travel — dwhren @ 7:52 am

We spent this past Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas for the Formula One US Grand Prix, which is why we were in Austin in the first place. We actually had tickets for the practice rounds on Friday and Saturday as well, but chose not to use them. I pretty much paid the ignorance tax on that one. Having never bought tickets for a Formula 1 race before I had no idea how it worked. When the tickets went on sale all that were available were 3 day passes, so I assumed that’s all they sold. Months later it turns out they do put single race day tickets on sale. There was nothing I could do about it at that point, so I just chose to forget about all the extra money I needlessly spent. Don’t let that be you though race fans.

The parking rates for the lots immediately adjacent to the Circuit of the Americas were priced at insane levels, so we wound up buying a space in the satellite lot that only cost us $20 (well $60 if you count the fact that I again paid for 3 days and not just one). We had to take a shuttle to the actual track, but that wasn’t a big deal. I think it turned out better for us in the long run anyway because it kept us away from a lot of the race traffic. I had no idea what to expect as far as traffic since over 100,000 people go to these things. It was about a 45 minute drive from where we were staying without traffic, so we left around 10:30 assuming that we would definitely make it there by the race start time of 2. Even with taking the suggested long way around to our parking lot to avoid traffic, which in hind sight I think we didn’t need to do, and having to catch the shuttle to the track we were still there around noon.

We entered the track right around turn 11. We went for the cheapest ticket option, which meant general admission. There are grandstands set up all around the track, but with general admission you just get to stand or sit wherever you find space on the lawn around the track. Lots of people brought those collapsible camping chairs to set up. Again a thing we didn’t realize was possible. All this information we learned that we will have no use for. Hopefully someone else reads this and makes good use of my insight. At any rate there was a retaining wall right next to the turn where we came in that people were sitting on. There were still a few spots left on it, so we grabbed them. It also put us in view of a display monitor for the near by grandstands at that turn, so we could see the whole race and not just the cars as they zoomed by our particular turn. It wound up being a great place for us to sit too because as soon as the race was over we were out the gate and onto a shuttle bus back to the parking lot with no wait.

We got there just in time to see the last 7 or 8 laps of the Porsche race that was going on before the F1 race. After that we had a few hours until the race started, so I decided to take a walk and see what else was going on. At Turn 11 we were pretty much at the far side of the track from the Main Grandstands and where the biggest hoopla at the track was going on at the starting line. The track is almost 3 and half miles around, so it takes awhile to get around to places, especially with all the people. I figured I would find something to eat along the way, but there were insane lines at every place to get food. I made it around to Turn 3 where the crowd of people got way too insane for my taste, and I figured there was no way I would get back in time to let Paul, who stayed to guard our seats, have a chance to walk around before the race if I kept going. I found a drink line that was fairly short who was also selling peanuts, so I grabbed a bag of those and we subsisted on those for lunch.

I know next to nothing about Formula 1 racing. I can rattle of a number of driver’s names just from hearing them when Paul is watching the races even though I mostly am not around when he does so. Since they take place all over the world a lot of them wind up being in the middle of the night and instead of watching them live he’ll record them and watch them on Sunday mornings when I’m at church. I have no idea what teams anybody drives for and I don’t really understand the different things like the constructors stuff and the points, etc. I randomly picked Lewis Hamilton as the guy I was going to cheer for not knowing if he was any good this year or not. Turns out he is. He won the race, and is currently the leader for the season. Paul was cheering for his Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg, who came in second. Rosberg was in first for about a 1/3 of the race before Hamilton managed to pass him in one of the few interesting things to happen during the race. There was some back and forth in the drivers in the middle of the pack, as if I care who comes in 9 or 10 place. I’m sure the driver’s do, but I didn’t and that’s mostly the positions that were being talked about during the race. Hamilton and Rosberg were so far ahead by the end they weren’t even in the same race as everyone else. I found it enjoyable to watch for about the first half because it was a novel experience and it was fun to watch the cars all zoom by. When they started to get more spread out, and it was just watching a lot of cars zoom by over and over I got kind of bored. At least it was a nice day out, and the race has to be finished in 2 hours so it wasn’t that long.

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Despite everything I had heard, the race wasn’t nearly as loud as I was expecting. I came well prepared with ear plugs, and didn’t even wind up using them. I mostly didn’t see other people with them in either. There were a few, but most people I saw had no ear plugs, or had them handing around their necks and not actually in. I wonder if it’s because this track is out in the middle of nowhere in a field so the sound isn’t bouncing off of buildings like it is on some tracks. I’m not someone who is shy about using earplugs. I pretty much never go to a concert without them, so if I felt like they were warranted I would have totally used them, but I didn’t.

Hopefully Paul enjoyed getting to see a race live though. My husband is rather stoic unless he’s expressing anger or frustration over something. Happiness and sadness are not emotions he expresses much, so I can never tell if he actually enjoyed something or not.

 

 

Austin Trip November 4, 2014

Filed under: Food,Travel — dwhren @ 4:10 pm

This past weekend my husband I took a long weekend trip to Austin. Paul is a fan of Formula 1 racing, so for his birthday/Christmas present last year I gave him a trip to see their American Grand Prix. Almost an entire year later we finally got to when that actually was. Despite having spent my last 3 years of high school in Dallas I had never really spent much time in Austin. My father wanted me to apply to UT. I didn’t want to, and never did at least as an undergrad. I actually wound up applying for grad school there, and my only other trip to Austin was a quick one night trip to go interview there. I can’t even remember if I got accepted to their program, but if I did I obviously chose not to go.

When I started looking at places for us to stay in Austin I discovered that all the hotel rates were jacked up to insane prices because of the race. So I started to look at VRBO rentals instead. I’m partial to renting a house or condo when we’re staying somewhere for a week because I find it nice to have more space than a hotel room. Plus it’s nice to have a kitchen so you don’t have to eat every meal out. For shorter trips like this one, I don’t tend to go that route. However, I determined even though we were still paying a premium because of the race, it was going to be cheaper to rent a place rather than book a hotel room.

I wound up finding this little apartment in the Hyde Park neighborhood, which is about 4-5 miles north of downtown Austin. That’s about the same distance our neighborhood is from downtown Baltimore, so it felt like a reasonable enough distance especially since I knew we would have a rental car. The apartment was part of a house divided into three apartments. We didn’t wind up using the kitchen at all on such a short trip, but it was nice to have an actual living room since we spent a decent amount of time at the house. There’s also a little office in the back that we didn’t use, but the place would definitely be great for someone coming for SXSW and needing to do work while they’re there.

Hyde Park is a great little residential neighborhood. There were always lots of people out running and walking their dogs. The houses all seemed very cute, but it also seemed like there was a mix of people from apartment dwellers to small houses up to some rather large houses. It was a mostly residential area, but there was one little business district with a little grocery and a handful of restaurants. We ate at Quacks 43rd Street Bakery and Cafe every morning for breakfast. It was a great little bakery and coffee shop. Definitely a neighborhood place as they didn’t even have a drink menu up other than their specials.

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We arrived really late on Thursday night, so we didn’t do anything but head to the apartment and crash. Friday we got up and eat a leisurely breakfast and took a look around the neighborhood. Then we decided to walk to the University of Texas campus, which was about 2 miles from where we were staying and go to the LBJ Presidential Library. It was the first presidential library I’ve ever been too. It was pretty interesting, and I definitely know way more about LBJ than I did before.

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The LBJ Archives

The LBJ Archives

The scariest thing I saw on Halloween, animatronic LBJ.

The scariest thing I saw on Halloween, animatronic LBJ.

After spending several hours at the library, we decided it was time for a late lunch. There wasn’t anything immediately close by so after a recommendation from a Twitter pal to eat at Torchy’s Tacos while we were in Austin, we sought out the closest one of those and walked over. Someone really needs to expand that chain to Baltimore right now. Those were some tasty tacos. I wound up eating a lot of tacos on this trip, and the barbacoa tacos I ate at Torchy’s were by far the best ones.

Delicious barbacoa tacos from Torchy's

Delicious barbacoa tacos from Torchy’s

During our walk around the neighborhood on Friday I pointed out to Paul that the houses were all really decked out for Halloween. Since it seemed like we might be at the house when it got to be trick-or-treat time I told him that we should pick up some candy just in case. We grabbed a couple of bags of candy to have on hand if needed. I was not wrong. It was a good thing we had that candy. Our house was on a corner. Turns out that the block directly across the intersection is Halloween central. It was actually coned off so people couldn’t drive down it. This is definitely one of those neighborhoods that people drive to in order to trick-or-treat. At first it seemed like everyone was by-passing the houses on our block and heading straight to the crazy Halloween block. The girls in the house next door, who were obviously UT students started just sitting out on their porch and yelling at people that they had candy. Then the lady from one of the other apartments in our house sat out on our porch and gave out candy too. So I figured maybe it was like our Baltimore neighborhood and if you were giving out candy you had to sit outside to do it, otherwise no one would bother you. I’m more than happy to hand out candy if you ring my bell, but I’m not going to sit outside for you. Sorry. However, I was wrong. As soon as it got dark out and people could see clearly that I had put the porch light on we started getting a lot of trick-or-treaters. We ran out of candy about 10 minutes before The Amazing Race, which we were watching, was over. So we turned the light off, finished the show, and headed to dinner. We decided to just walk to one of the places in the neighborhood since it was late, and trying not to hit the hundreds of kids roaming the streets in the car seemed like a good idea. Walking over to dinner the whole neighborhood was crazy. The people in Hyde Park seriously go all out for Halloween. I have never seen anything like it. The elaborate set-ups these people had at their houses were insane. Now I’m curious as to what the neighborhood is like at Christmas.

One of my favorite houses. Though this was really nothing compared to some.

One of my favorite houses. Though this was really nothing compared to some.

We wound up eating at the Hyde Park Bar and Grill. It was fine, and yeah somewhere I would eat again if I lived there because I could walk to it. If I lived in Austin, but not in that neighborhood I wouldn’t bother going back.

Saturday we went in search of barbecue for me. When I asked people on my Facebook page where I should eat while we were in Austin every single person who replied included Salt Lick BBQ in their list. Then the packet left by the owner of the house that included recommended places to eat in Austin said Salt Lick BBQ, the drive is worth it. I was pretty determined that the despite the fact that my vegetarian husband couldn’t really eat much there, I really wanted to go. There are two locations, both of which are in the suburbs of Austin. The Driftwood location is the original, but the Round Rock location had a slightly larger menu that included a salad, so at least there was something more than just cole slaw and potato salad that Paul could eat. I got their 2 meat platter with brisket and sausage, which also came with beans, cole slaw, and potato salad. Paul ordered the vegetable plate, which was the same as my food minus the meat. He also got a side salad. He of course couldn’t actually eat the beans because there was meat in them. I also had some blackberry cobbler for dessert. I fear that Salt Lick couldn’t live up to all the hype for me. Don’t get me wrong. It was some good BBQ, but I’m not convinced I couldn’t have eaten some equally good BBQ elsewhere in Austin and somewhere Paul could have eaten a better meal. I’m not sorry we hunted it down though, as I always would have wondered what I had missed out on.

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After lunch we headed into downtown Austin. As part of the race weekend they were holding the Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest down there, which involved a bunch of race related activities and free music on three different stages. Austin being the live music capital of the world and all you would think they could have programmed that better. Seriously with three stages you should stagger the set times so people can go to another stage during the set changes. Nope all three stages had the same schedule. Not that I cared about most of the music from what little I heard anyway. All the bands I actually knew were all playing on Sunday during the actual race. We wandered around for awhile and checked out all the booths. We stopped and listened to a couple of bands for a little bit, but none of them were any that really grabbed my interest. The best part of the Fan Fest, was getting to see some of the F1 cars up close. I had no idea how tiny they actually were. They don’t look that small to me when I see them on the TV. It’s hard to imagine how the drivers even fit in them. After that we wandered around 6th Street for awhile, which is the big nightlife area in Austin. It’s blocks and blocks of bars essentially. It’s not any place I would particularly choose to hang out at this point in my life. Saturday night we found a place a couple of miles away from our place called La Mancha to eat dinner. It was a Tex-Mex place. It had decent food, but again nothing I would say you couldn’t find equally as good or better at another place.

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Sunday was race day. I’m going to write up everything about the actual race in a separate blog post, so check back tomorrow for that.

After the race we went to neighborhood called SoCo, which is just south of downtown Austin on the other side of the river. There’s a couple of blocks there filled with cute shops and restaurants. We wound up eating at another Mexican restaurant, whose name I don’t remember because eating Tex-Mex or BBQ in Austin seemed like the thing I should do. I felt like I could leave the farm-to-table type restaurants for back in Baltimore. Of the three barbacoa tacos I ate during our trip, these were the worst. They weren’t awful, but if I was ranking them, these were at the bottom.

Monday our flight wasn’t until 3, but we had to be out of our apartment at 10, so we had a few hours to kill. We wound up going to the Texas State Capitol building and doing a tour of that. It was pretty interesting, and I learned things. Despite having lived in Texas and gone to school there for 3 years I must have been too old for much Texas related history or government at that point because I don’t remember learning any of the stuff we were told. For instance, I had no idea that the Texas House and Senate only meet every other year and their members are only considered part time employees. All the Senate rules about speaking that the tour guide told us I only knew because of the whole Wendy Davis filibuster.

We only got to see inside the House chambers because the Senate chambers have been undergoing a renovation. They apparently were supposed to be reopened that day, but they were not and our tour guide was super disappointed about it. They have also constructed a very large extension onto the Capitol, which was extremely well done. It’s actually underground because original plans to just add on to the historic building were scrapped since it would completely block the view of it. They did it in such a way that there is actually lots of natural light even though the extension is underground. It is a really great design, so well done architects of that.

After that we headed to the airport. Turns out that one of the restaurants in the airport is Salt Lick BBQ, so apparently we didn’t need to make a special trip anywhere for me to eat it after all. After assessing my dining options I did wind up eating it again. This time I got a chopped brisket sandwich. From what I could the quality didn’t suffer from it being served in an airport as opposed to an actual restaurant, so I guess we made a special trip to the restaurant for nothing. Oh well.

All in all it was a good trip. Austin wasn’t entirely what I expected. I had always heard how great of a city it was, but for the most part I didn’t seeing anything overly exciting about it or anything that made me think I need to go back again any time soon. Since it is so renowned for live music, I do wish I had had the chance to really get to experience some of that. Things were weird with the music scene period because of Halloween and then stuff going on for the race, so I don’t feel like my options in that respect were normally what they would have been if we had been there at another time. I would have liked nothing more to see a show at Austin City Limits, but that was not to be. Friday they had a Halloween show, and then on Saturday they had a Duran Duran concert connected to the Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest. I don’t care that much about Duran Duran, and they weren’t someone I was going to pay a premium to see. If I ever go back I’ll make sure that some live music opportunities will be in the mix.