Be More Chill

This past weekend I went up to New York with a couple of my friends in what has unintentionally apparently become our annual March Broadway trip since this is our third year running. I went into the show fairly cold. I had a general idea of what the story was about, but I hadn’t heard any of the music yet. I knew the backstory behind its run in New Jersey several years ago followed by a cult online following of the album recorded for that production that then propelled the show to off-Broadway and now onto Broadway. It just opened on Broadway this week, so it’s been pretty easy to avoid unless I guess you’re a theatre obsessed teenager on Tumblr or wherever the teenage fandom hangs out online these days. Most people I know have never even heard of this show before.

In my mind the show is a cross between the tv show Chuck (guy gets computer implanted in his head that makes him cooler, but then it causes mental problems), the movie Can’t Buy Me Love (teenage dork does something to try and make himself popular, but winds up blowing off his good old friend in the process), and the movie Labyrinth (because the representation of the super computer in the boy’s head reminded me of David Bowie’s character in Labyrinth even though it was supposed to evoke Keanu Reeves’ character in The Matrix). In non-pop culture references the show is about a nerdy teenage boy who wants to be more popular and finds out about some super secret super computers “from Japan” the size of a pill called squips that you can drink and they will implant in your brain and tell you what you should do to “be more chill”. Then of course all the lessons about learning how to like and be liked for yourself that teenage stuff like this likes to teach you.

I waited to read the New York Times review of the show until we were driving home last night because I didn’t want their critic’s view of the show coloring mine. I’m glad I did because his basic assessment of the show was teenagers get off my lawn. I guess he felt like he just couldn’t completely outright pan the show because it already has such a large following and it broke the Lyceum Theatre’s box office record for weekly ticket sales. So instead he basically just said it’s a terrible show by theat-ah standards, but I guess it’s okay for you teenagers. No one over 21 should bother.

Well, I’m 40 and I thoroughly enjoyed the show as did the other three over 40 adults and yes two 13 year-olds I was with. The other adults sitting around me all seemed to really like it too. I heard multiple people around me during intermission talking about how much they were enjoying it. So sorry it wasn’t up to your exacting standards Mr. NYT Critic. Sometimes you just want to go to the theatre to have fun. Is it the best show I’ve ever seen? No, but was I thoroughly entertained for 2 and half hours? Yes, I was. Plus I’ve had the song “Michael in the Bathroom” stuck in my head since the show. Also that song leads to perhaps one of my favorite theatre callbacks ever which I won’t spoil here. That’s pretty much all I’m asking for in Broadway show, and Be More Chill delivers it.

I will agree with him on one thing though. The show is needlessly loud. They definitely can and should take the sound down a notch or two. There’s no need anyone needs to risk hearing damage at a Broadway show. Yes, the music is more rock based, but that doesn’t mean the show needs to be rock concert loud. Concerts themselves are out of control with the sound levels, but at least there they can make the excuse that they have to overpower the ambient noise of the crowd and the bar, which is not an issue in Broadway theaters.

Is this a show I’m going to recommend to my 70 year old mother? Probably not, but if you still have a soft spot for teenage related pop culture like I do then this show is well worth your time. And obviously if you have some teenage theatre lovers in your life then apparently this show was made for them.

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New Music Friday: Missed Connection by The Head and the Heart

I almost missed my connection to posting something for New Music Friday this week (ba-da-bump). I have a gross head cold. It’s the first head cold I’ve had in almost 3 years. It’s about as fun as I remember. I have a lot going on in the next few days for both work and fun, so I stayed home from work yesterday to rest up and try and knock it out. I didn’t wind up really sleeping at all last night, so I went into work for the one important meeting I had today and then came home again. Amidst all that I thought I might just skip my New Music Friday post this week because I didn’t have the energy to figure out what I was going to write about. Then The Head and the Heart dropped a new song in my lap today. I love The Head and the Heart. I’ve seen them in concert countless times. I don’t have the mental energy to say much about the song, but I do like it and look forward to hearing what follows.

New Music Friday: Common by Maren Morris feat. Brandi Carlile

The song “Common” by Maren Morris featuring Brandi Carlile was released as a single about a month ago, but it’s off of the GIRL, Morris’ sophomore album which comes out today. There are several reasons I wanted to write about this song today that actually don’t have much to do with the song itself.

It’s International Women’s Day, so it felt important to talk about a song written and sung by a woman. By now anyone reading this should know my love of Brandi Carlile. She has been out there fighting the good fight with her music and her foundation, The Looking Out Foundation, and in many other ways for a long time. She also talks a lot about forgiveness and finding common ground too, and this song is just another example of that. I don’t know nearly as much about Maren Morris, but I do know this new album is in part a response to her experience in country music where women are insanely sidelined.

That leads me into what I really wanted to talk about in this post and which this song is the perfect segue into. This week it was announced that Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, and Maren Morris are teaming up to form a straight up country super group called the Highwomen. The name is a nod to the Highwaymen, a super group formed by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. I’m super excited about this and cannot wait to hear the music. They are all somewhat country adjacent in their musical leanings. Brandi is more Americana and folk than straight country. Amanda Shires stuff ranges from more old school traditional country to a more pop country on her newest album. Maren Morris is decidedly pop country and often leaning more on the pop than the country. Of course in many ways that’s mostly what country music is in many respects anyway these days. I’ll be curious to see in direction they go with this and what in their minds constitutes country music.

They are doing this to fight the fact that country music pretty much discounts women artists. It’s maddening. I personally way prefer female country to male country, but the powers that be seem intent on keeping women out and then blaming it on the listeners. It’s insane that country music has gone backwards in this. When I started listening to country music in the 90s there were so many female artists. Arguably they were bigger than the male artists at the time. And of course if you go back into country history there are some power house women. Brandi has been big on promoting other female artists and doing whatever she can to build up the next generation of women musicians. She grew up loving country and said she doesn’t want her daughters growing up and not having any female country artists to listen to. It remains to be seen whether country radio will play anything put out by the Highwomen. Maybe. I wake up to Baltimore’s country music station every morning and listen while I’m getting ready for work. They talked about this yesterday. Of course they had no idea who Brandi Carlile or Amanda Shires were. So we’ll see, but they talk about Kacey Musgraves all the time and all her success with her new album, but have I heard them play a single song from it? No I have not. No matter what the country music machine decides to do with this album I for one will be listening to the heck out of it whenever it drops.

And just one final amusement from this. They’ve all been posting lots of photos and videos this week as the Highwomen get to work. There were a lot of everyone involved getting Highwomen tattoos. Brandi Carlile got hers across the top of her spine and said it was so painful she wanted to stop partway through, but Jason Isbell, who is Amanda Shires’ husband, told her if she stopped now she would have a tattoo that just said MEN.

Anyway, “Common” is perhaps a little taste of what might be coming for us. The ooh oohs at the beginning of this song give me chills every time.

Trip to Universal and Disney Part 2

Since we were already going to be in Orlando to go to Harry Potter World I figured we should also add on some days at Disney. I was around 10 the last time I was at Disney World and I was a sophomore in college the last time I was in DisneyLand, so it had been awhile. We did one day in the Magic Kingdom and one day at Animal Kingdom.

Y’all I have no idea why anyone would ever want to subject themselves to the Magic Kingdom. I have several friends even those without kids who really love Disney and go on a regular basis. Now having gone as an adult I am at a loss as to why. Even with being there on supposedly one of the slowest weeks of the year it seemed really crowded. I felt like all I did all day was stand in lines surrounded by screaming children. Since it’s geared at little kids there were a lot more rides that I could go on than at Universal, which was a plus, but all the animatronics seemed super outdated in this day and age. We also had several rides break down on us. We were in the Aladdin flying carpets and the ride just stopped with us up in the air. Luckily they were able to get it started and bring us back down, but they made us get off and then they ran the ride through once empty to make sure it was working before letting us back on to do the ride. The Buzz Lightyear ride also stopped on us twice while we were riding through. The park in general just seemed old to me. I was particularly annoyed by the lack of food options. Apparently if you haven’t made reservations for one of their insanely expensive experience restaurants you don’t get to eat unless you want a hotdog or hamburger. We finally after much searching around the park found some really mediocre pizza, which they billed as flatbread to make it sound fancy. I’ve had better school cafeteria pizza. While Paul used a Fast Pass to go on Space Mountain, I went to get myself a Dole Whip. Everyone always raves about them, but I didn’t even like that. I thought it was cloyingly sweet. I was also shocked at how poorly the parking lots were signed. I have no idea how I was supposed to know I was parked in the Aladdin parking lot because there certainly weren’t any signs telling me. I just had to figure it out staring at a map at the transit center. My favorite parts of the Magic Kingdom were the shows like the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor and Mickey’s Philharmagic.

When we left the Magic Kingdom we actually attempted to go eat somewhere that wasn’t a chain restaurant. We went to some local Italian place where everyone seemed to know everyone. The hostess told us it would be a 15-20 minute wait so we decided to stick around, but it quickly became clear that was a lie. It was super loud and then a live musician started making it even louder. After being overly stimulated by screaming kids all day I told my husband I needed to leave. We wound up getting prepackaged sushi from Whole Foods and eating it in our hotel room.

Animal Kingdom was a good way to the end the trip. It was much more chill than any of the other parks. There are far fewer rides in Animal Kingdom than any of the other parks we were at. That did mean that the lines there were a lot longer. Luckily we had snagged Fast Passes for the Safari and for Dinosaur. We did not wind up going on the Avatar ride that everyone says is amazing because we got there when the park opened and the line was never shorter than two and half hours and most of the time well over three hours. There is nothing I want to stand in line for that long. We did go on the Na’vi River ride first thing and got through really quick. For some reason the sign said it was a 60 minute wait, but we got through in 15. I was not complaining. We went to all the shows. The Lion King one was the best. It featured lots of acrobatics and fire spinning. The UP bird show was okay, but I like the Animal Actors show at Universal better. Finding Nemo the Musical was not great. At least as my husband said its existence is saving us from the much expanded Broadway version of it. There were large parts of the Africa and Asia parts of the park that were like nature trails and you could wander through and look at animals. Those were the best because they seemed more secluded and nature like without the hordes of people that were in the park in general. Plus there was no standing in line to do them. The coolest part of the park was the Safari ride though. I generally don’t like zoos because I always feel sad for the animals, but this seems like a really well put together preserve. Plus viewing the animals by driving through it in a safari truck made it feel more real. It’s the closest I’m ever going to get to a real safari because if I’m paying that kind of money to go see animals in the wild it’s going to be to go see polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba.

Animal Kingdom was also way better than Magic Kingdom in the food department. It was the reverse in that there were only a couple of restaurants you had to make a reservation to eat at and most of them were just walk up and order. There were also a lot more food choices including healthy ones. There is also alcohol available in the park including a couple of bars, which I thought was a little weird, but it worked out because we had some time to kill after finishing everything in the park except the Avatar ride before the River Lights show so we hung out at a bar in Africa and had some drinks. Well my husband had a beer and I ate a Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream sandwich.

Apparently one of the themes of my vacation was waiting around in theme parks for hours so I could see a 15 minute light show. It was very cool though and I’m glad I did it. Plus waiting around outside was not really a hardship because the weather was great the whole time we were there other than that one quick thunderstorm our first day. It was basically in the low-80s with low humidity. I really did not want to come back to the gross Baltimore winter weather. It made me even more anxious for spring to get here.

All in all I’m not sorry I did this trip, but I have no desire to ever go back to Orlando ever again. Theme parks in general and the Magic Kingdom very specifically are lost on me. I don’t get the attraction. I can’t even imagine doing this trip at a more crowded and hot time of year. I definitely wouldn’t have made it through if we tried this in the summer. The butterbeers and the beautiful weather were really what made the vacation for me. Since those were ultimately the two things that made us book this trip I guess mission accomplished. I’ll leave theme parks for the rest of y’all in the future.

 

 

Trip to Universal and Disney Part 1

A couple of years ago my husband I both had conferences in Orlando on opposite ends of the same week. I suggested we meet in the middle and spend a day at Harry Potter World. He said no to that, but when I was looking for somewhere for us to go on vacation he suggested we go to Orlando to do that and get out of the cold weather. I figured since we were making a vacation of it we should also do some Disney stuff. I hadn’t been to Magic Kingdom since I was around 10 and Animal Kingdom didn’t exist the last time I was there, so I thought it would be fun to do those too. So this post doesn’t get unreasonably long I think I will split this up into a post about Universal and a post about Disney.

We stayed at the Hyatt Place across from Universal Studios. On the map it looked like it was basically across the street from the parking and thus something walkable. Technically it’s true you could walk if need be, but because of the way the roads were it was more like a mile as opposed to walking across the street. The hotel had a free shuttle, but it had very prescribed trips in the morning and afternoon and was only really usable if you were planning on spending the entire day at the park. We took it over the first day, but wound up driving and paying for parking the second day because we didn’t go over until the afternoon. The actual physical hotel was great, but there were a few service issues that didn’t make the overall experience great. I really liked the room. It had a nice big sitting area with a sectional in it plus a desk and a little wet bar. The room was nice and quiet. I never heard stuff from the hall or other rooms once we were inside our room, which is often not the case in hotels.

We did have a couple of problems though. First by the time we got there late on Tuesday night they did not have any king rooms available even though that is what we reserved. We spent the first night in a room with two double beds. We sleep in a king bed a home, so sharing a double bed is not something I find a tenable sleeping solution if I actually want to sleep, so we each took one bed. I asked the next morning and they were able to move us into a king room that had opened up. To their credit they did relocate all our stuff for us once the room was ready while were gone at Universal for the day. We just had to stop and get our new key when we got back. However for the next two days we for some reason could not get the wifi to work in our new room. The front desk’s only response was we’ll report it to our tech team and someone will call you. We never received a call. Although weirdly days later we had a message on our room phone from them that would have come while we were in the room, but the phone never rang. We finally got wifi for our last two nights.

In order to go to all of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter you have to buy tickets for both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks plus the park-to-park add-on so that you can move between the two parks on the same day. It really is a giant racket. I figured since we were going to two parks we needed two days. That was an incorrect assumption, especially since I don’t do roller coasters. I don’t like anything with big drops and with the back issues I’ve had the last couple of years I didn’t want to aggravate anything by doing even the smaller coasters. We pretty much stuck to the kid rides and shows, so we were able to do pretty much everything we wanted to do in one day. Even if we had ridden every ride in the park we probably still could have done everything in one day. We apparently were there on one of the least busy weeks of the year and there wasn’t really much of a line for most things. It did wind up thunderstorming at the very end of our first day so we left before the Hogwart’s Lights, which did give us an incentive to return for a second day.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is very well done. The Diagon Alley, which is the original part of Harry Potter, is the far better part of the park. You really do feel like you’re in some hidden old time London type place. There are a lot more stores in Diagon Alley than Hogsmeade as well. Hogsmeade, which is the newer part of the park built in Islands of Adventure was not nearly as cool to me. It does have the Hogwarts’ castle and the night time lights, which were very impressive and worth the stupid amount of time we spent just hanging around waiting for them. It also has the two roller coasters that exist currently if you’re into that. Since I didn’t go on the one that goes inside the castle and presumably has the special effects I can’t say if it’s worth it or not, but if you don’t care about roller coasters and can only afford to do one park I would definitely say pay for Universal Studios and go to Diagon Alley. The train ride between the two parks is well done as well. There is a slightly different story in each direction, so it if you’re going to pay for the park-to-park option it does make sense to take the Hogwart’s Express in both directions.

I’m not going to lie one of the top reasons I wanted to go to Harry Potter World was to try the butterbeer. It was totally worth it. I tried it in multiple forms. I started with the original, which is kind of like a cream soda with a buttery flavored foam on top. For an afternoon snack I got some of the butterbeer ice cream. It was a disappointment. It didn’t really have much buttery flavor at all. It mostly just tasted like vanilla to me. On our second day I had the frozen butterbeer. It was definitely the best version I had. The problem with the original version is that the foam mostly stays on top while you’re drinking it and then you’re left with a big pile of buttery foam at the end. With the frozen drink the foam seemed to sink and mix in which gave you a nice buttery flavor throughout the whole drink. I don’t know if it was due the consistence or because you get a straw spoon thing with the frozen version and not the original and where the straw was stuck in was where the foam seemed to sink. The internet tells me that the best version is actually the hot version, but that apparently is at the California park and not the Florida one or it least it wasn’t when we were there.

As I mentioned previously we really didn’t need two days at the Universal parks, so we definitely didn’t need to spend another full day there. I wanted to go over in the afternoon so we could see a couple of the shows we didn’t see the first day and so we could see the Hogwart’s lights. So in the morning we decided to go mini golfing. I am terrible at mini golfing, but I love it. We went to a place that had two different courses so we played both of them. I actually got 1 hole in one on the first course and 2 on the second one. It was an excellent way to spend the morning as opposed to wandering around Universal again.

The Hogwart’s lights didn’t end until the park closed, so to make finding dinner easy and to wait for some of the traffic to die down we decided to eat at the Mexican restaurant inside Universal CityWalk. CityWalk is an area with lots of restaurants, shops, and a movie theater that sits between the two parks. You can go there without having tickets to the Universal parks. You just have to go through the Universal security (metal detectors and bag scanners) before you go in. It was a good choice because I felt like dining around Orlando was an ordeal. Everything is chain restaurants, which I’m not the biggest fan of. Stuff is all super crowded and traffic is terrible. I can’t even imagine being there when it’s peak season. This just meant it was easy and not the ordeal dinner was every other night we were there.

Stay tuned for part two of our trip tomorrow.


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