More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

February in New York February 25, 2018

Filed under: Friends,Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 9:22 am

My Christmas present from my husband this past year was tickets to see Hello, Dolly! as well as spend a day in the city going to museums. His company has corporate memberships with a number of museums in New York City, which means that he and at least one guest can get in to them for free. I often go up with friends or on my own to see shows. When we go up together we are usually visiting his sister and family. Hanging out with our niece and nephew is not generally conducive to going to art museums, and I can’t take advantage of the discount unless he’s with me so part of the present was spending a day in the city going to whatever art museums I wanted to go as well.

We rode the train up on Wednesday afternoon in time to get into the city, check into our hotel, and grab dinner before the show. For some reason I had zero interest in seeing Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler, but as soon as they announced Bernadette Peters I really wanted to go. It was an extra added bonus that Victor Garber took over from David Hyde Pierce since I was definitely way more into that casting too. I thought they were both fantastic. Normally if I see a show where an actor has replaced a different actor I’m familiar with I can see how the actor who initiated the part is informing what the replacement actor is doing. I could not see that at all in this case. Both Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber made the roles of Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder completely their own. I adored the show. This was my first time getting to see Bernadette Peters perform on stage and she was a complete delight. I was not the only one to be excited by her as I have never heard a crowd go as crazy for an actor not only during initial entrance applause but multiple times during the show and of course during final bows. Her ability to make me laugh uproariously with just the way she moved her eyes in certain scenes was amazing. I don’t remember the last show I laughed at as hard as I did this one. I could have done without the woman next to be singing along with all the music during the performance, but everything on stage was a complete joy. If you get the chance I highly recommend this show, and as a bonus unlike when Better Midler was playing Dolly I think you can actually get tickets for non-astronomical prices.

On Thursday we hit up a couple of art museums during the day. I wanted to go to museums I had never been to before so I chose the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. I particularly enjoyed the Incomplete History of Protest at The Whitney, which showcased protest art from their collection from the 1940s to the present. At MoMA I was taken by the Stephen Shore exhibit, which encompassed the entirety of his photographs from his five decade career. I wasn’t familiar with him previously, but he apparently became famous for his photographs of the mundane using a variety of cameras including a cheap children’s camera that looked like Mickey Mouse. He continues his work today in digital platforms including Instagram. It was interesting see the timeline of his photos showing mundane daily life as he traveled around the country over several decades.

Thursday night we were supposed to meet up with some friends who live in NYC for dinner, but unfortunately she came down with the flu and was still not better by Thursday night. Apparently what you do when your dinner plans fall through is you go buy half price tickets to see the SpongeBob Square Pants musical. Our hotel was literally right above the Palace Theatre where it is playing and we had both heard surprisingly good things about it, so we decided why not. I’m not mad that I went to see it, but I definitely did not think it was great. I don’t have a huge background with SpongeBob, but I know enough to know the characters and their mannerisms. The best part of the show was seeing how they staged everything and how the actors evoked the characters without being costumed like them. As for the actual story and music, eh. I expected it to be a lot funnier than it was. I don’t think I really laughed much at all. The audience was full of kids unsurprisingly and I expected to hear lots of kids laughing and shouting during the show, but it was a lot of silence. Squidward was definitely the best part of the show for many reasons, but the highlight of everything was definitely his tap number. You know how much I love a tap number. Unless you have a kid who really loves SpongeBob and wants to see this, you can probably skip it.

Friday morning my husband headed off to work and I met up with my other New York City friend for breakfast. I always like when I can catch up with my friends in real life while I’m in the city. After breakfast I caught a NJ Transit train out to New Jersey to visit my family where will pick up next time.


My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2017 December 30, 2017

Filed under: Books,Concerts,Movies,Music,Pop Culture,Television,Theatre — dwhren @ 10:24 am

Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2017, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2017. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

I saw quite a few movies in the theater this year, probably more than I have in a good long while and I enjoyed a great many of them. There were some really great comic book hero movies (Wonder Woman, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnorak) that seemed to bring something different to the table and kept me entertained without being so smashy smashy, which bores me to tears. I also saw a lot of great smaller movies as well including I am Not Your Negro, Lady Bird, and Call Me By Your Name. I very much want to give this category to The Big Sick, which I actually saw twice in the theater, which is something I haven’t done in at least a decade, probably two. I miss rom-coms and this movie was so sweet and funny. I hope it’s a harbinger of more movies like it. If it weren’t for a little documentary called STEP, The Big Sick would have taken this one.

STEP made me feel all the feelings. At a time when Baltimore feels like it is literally falling apart this movie, which follows a group of girls on a Step team at a Baltimore high school, showed what is good and bad about this city. There was so much joy and so much pain. Kids struggling to overcome hardships that no kids should have to deal with in order to help create better lives for themselves. It’s heartbreaking, delightful, and triumphant all at the same time. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

Movie I Watched at Home

Every year I threaten to get rid of this category because we so rarely watch movies at home. The only movies I can really remember watching are Mudbound, which I didn’t like and Get Out, so Get Out wins. I heard so many people raving about this movie before I saw it that there was no way it was going to be able to live up to my expectations. I did think the premise of it was very clever, but I’m not much of a horror person. I tend to find horror movies silly and boring, and those parts of it felt, well, silly and boring.

Fiction Book

My favorite fiction book of the year was hands down Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied Sing. As usual Ward creates a detailed world in rural Mississippi that draws you in and makes you feel like you are there. The book deals with important themes like race, death, and family but it always feels real (even when delving into the spirit world). It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking book that continues to bolster Ward as one of the great authors of our time.

Non-Fiction Book

Like with my fiction book, there was no contest this year that my non-fiction book choice would be The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. This is the first and only item on the list this year that was not actually released during 2017. However, there could not have been a more perfect book for this  year. I picked it up because it was the first book club selection for the Make Me Smart podcast (see below). Haidt uses moral psychology to discuss people’s views on politics and religion. If anything it made me feel even more hopeless about the current state of our country, but at least it did help shift my perspective to help see where others may be coming from even if I vehemently disagree with them. I guess that’s something. Aside from that I just found it a really fascinating book. As someone with multiple degrees in psychology this book fell perfectly in my sweet spot.

TV Show

Everyone is calling right now the golden age of television where there is so much excellent tv to watch you can’t even keep up. To some degree that’s true if you are into all the prestige television shows. I do enjoy a good number of them, but in some cases I’m getting tired of them. I don’t need all the television I watch to be capital I important. Sometimes I just want to have something that makes me want to invest in characters lives. I want a good family drama or a good teen or even adult drama with some love triangles or a decent will they or won’t they thing. They don’t seem to make those any more. I have tried and tried to like This is Us, but I just don’t even though I’m still watching it because it’s the only thing remotely resembling a family drama on television now. The CW, which used to be the go to for that kind of show has turned into all comic book hero shows all of which I have given up on (Supergirl excepted) as their plots have become convoluted and the character arcs that were driving the stories in their early years have fallen by the wayside. I feel like I’ve even watched my way through every television show that I missed the first time around so there aren’t even any older shows for me to go back to and fill the void at this point.

All that being said the way I choose my favorite show of the year is by thinking of the one I can’t wait to watch when an episode shows up on my DVR or if I’m binging it on a streaming service that all I want to do is stay at home and watch the show. This year the show that came closest to fitting that description was The Bold Type. I will refer you to the full review I wrote about it earlier this year. Happily it did get picked up for another season, though with a new show runner so hopefully it doesn’t change too much. I also want to give an honorable mention to the One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix, which was a sweet, smart, and funny sit-com that brightened my days considerably in the immediate fall out of garbage president taking office. I’m very much looking forward to its second season dropping in January.

TV Episode

Until I looked back at my picks for 2016 in preparation for writing this post I had forgotten that my favorite tv episode from last year was from Halt and Catch Fire, which is appropriate I guess because that show also features my favorite television episode from 2017. As I said last year I am so happy that I gave this show another try or I would have missed out on how wonderful it got. Thank you to every television critic who told me to give it a second chance. My favorite episode this year was Season 4, Episode 8 – “Goodwill”, which I don’t want to say too much about because it does give away a major plot point. It just treats its characters so lovingly and true to who they are. It also uses the Dire Straits’ song “So Far Away” so perfectly that I have a whole new perspective on it. I adore what this show became and I definitely always chose it first to watch when it showed up on my DVR. It’s the loss of another character driven show that I will miss immensely.


No one who has been here long should be at all surprised that my favorite album of the year was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this album when he first announced it. Southeastern and Something More than Free, which were my favorite albums of 2013 and 2015 were both him solo and had a much more folky sound for the most part. When he brought back his band for the whole album this time I was afraid I might not like the rock sound nearly as much. I needn’t have worried one little bit. He’s still an amazing songwriter whose lyrics drill right down into my soul. With songs like “Hope the High Road”, “White Man’s World”, “The Last of My Kind”, “Cumberland Gap”, and “Anxiety” this album was perfectly written for 2017.


There should also be no surprise that my favorite song of 2017 came from my favorite album of 2017. “If We Were Vampires” is the song that everyone talked about off of this album, and rightly so. It is by far the lyrically and creatively superior song from the album, but “Hope the High Road” was my mantra for 2017. If you only knew how many times I sang the lyrics of this song to myself every time something new and terrible happened over the past year. So basically hourly.

“We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more”


For Christmas last year my husband gifted me with a trip to Nashville to see Dawes play at the Ryman Auditorium. Because I am who I am I have a concert venue bucket list and the Ryman was second on it right behind Red Rocks. I also got to check The Grand Ole Opry off my list on that trip, but seeing Dawes, a band I adore, play in that amazing venue was the highlight of my concert year. For as many concerts as I see every year I just figured out this year that when a concert is listed as “An Evening with …” it means that there is no opening act. This was An Evening with Dawes at the Ryman Auditorium and they played for a good three hours. It was wonderful and everything I hoped it would be.

I also have to say a word about the final Tom Petty concert I will ever see. Tom Petty has meant so much to me over the course of my life. He’s really the first artist whose passing has really felt like the gut punch to me that see other people have for celebrity deaths. I am so happy I got to see him perform one final time in a sing-a-long love fest that seemed like the perfect ending to a 40 year career.

Broadway Theatre Production

I saw a good number of wonderful things on Broadway this year, but my favorite was definitely Come From Away, which is the best thing I’ve seen since Hamilton. Based on the true story of a small town in Newfoundland that took in 6000 displaced airline passengers after 9/11, it mad me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile with pure joy.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to put in this category this year. The Center Stage season was short due to renovations on the theatre, and I wasn’t overly excited about a lot of the things I saw during the parts of the Hippodrome seasons that fell in 2017. It was nothing new and certainly not the best production of Rent I have ever seen by far, especially given that I saw most of the original Broadway cast perform in London, but I’m going with the 20th anniversary tour of Rent because it is still one of my all time favorite shows. Every word is still burned into my brain, and it was fun to revisit it after a good long time away.


I have an overabundance of podcasts that I listen to, so I always have a backlog of episodes. Like with television shows I choose my selection for my favorite podcast by thinking about what podcasts I listen to as soon as they drop and which ones I let episodes build up on until I have nothing else to listen to. This year a number of my previous favorite podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour, Invisibilia, and Out of the Blocks have made changes in their formats that I am not a fan of and has made me like them less and/or not even listen to everything they drop. However, a new podcast for 2017 topped my list. Make Me Smart with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood of Marketplace was by far the podcast I looked forward to listening to the most this year. He’s an economy reporter and she’s a tech reporter so they talk a lot about those topics, but that’s not all they cover. The tagline for the show is “none of us is as smart as all of us”, so they always have guests that they interview about various topics as well as always include feedback from listeners in the form of voice memos that are sent in. When the podcast started out they talked about politics a lot, especially in a segment that often started the show called the news fix. As the podcast went on they got away from doing the news fix, which I do miss sometimes. I don’t know if they’ll bring it back at all in the future now that they’re done with the long series they did on moral capitalism, but that was really great too. They also do book club episodes where listeners vote on a book to read and then they devote an episode to discussing it. My favorite non-fiction book for the year came out of that. It’s also fun to listen to people answer what they call the “Make Me Smart question”, which is what is something you once thought you knew, but then found out you were wrong about? They have a really great rapport and they always make me laugh even while I’m learning a lot. I’m super sad that they’re abandoning me until mid-March when season 2 of the podcast starts up.

Podcast Episode

My favorite episode from a podcast I listened to this year is actually a three part series from NPR’s Code Switch and Education Week called Raising Kings: A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep. Education Week reporters followed students, parents, teachers, counselors, and other staff at Ron Brown College Prepatory school, a newly opened high school specifically aimed at black boys in Washington, D.C. and staffed almost exclusively by African-American men. It’s a wonderful series full of so much to think on in terms of education, race, and inequality and how even people with the best of intentions can disagree about how to address the systemic issues facing these many of the kids attending this school.


NYC Weekends December 3, 2017

Filed under: Family,Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 5:39 pm

I spent the last two weekends in New York City. As we often do we went up to the city for Thanksgiving with my sister-in-law’s family. The day after Thanksgiving we did a number of things around the city. We started off by visiting the Intrepid museum, which was my niece’s vote for what to do. We decided she made a good choice because the weather was actually pretty nice, but the museum wasn’t overly crowded.

As a perk from his company my husband gets into a number of New York museums for free along with a guest. This is the first time we’ve really gotten to put that into practice, since a lot of times I go up to New York without him and can’t take advantage of his discounts, or we’re up there with his family and aren’t going to the places where he gets a discount. He got the two of us into the Intrepid for free.

2017-11-24 11.39.11

I feel like we spent a decent amount of time there, but with two six year olds we didn’t really spend much time looking at anything and we certainly didn’t have to the chance to really stop and read anything. This was a good for a first pass, but some day I’ll probably go back and actually spend time looking at and reading the exhibits.

After the Intrepid we took the twins bowling for the first time. With all the back issues I’ve had over the past year I decided to sit out doing any bowling myself because I didn’t want to screw it up any more than it already is. I decided tossing heavy balls around was not the best idea. The kids did pretty good for their first time. My nephew even managed to get a strike in which the ball didn’t even bounce off of the bumpers on the way down the lane.

2017-11-24 14.58.47

Paul giving our nephew some sage bowling advice.

Friday night Paul and I headed out on our own. We ate dinner at Chai Thai. I’d eaten there with a friend before, and knew Paul would like it so I decided that would be a good place for us to grab dinner before our show. After that we had time to kill so we wound up walking over the Schmakery’s for cookies.

Our show this trip was The Band’s Visit. I had been waffling on what to see because I wasn’t super excited about anything, and there were several things that were possibilities but hadn’t been reviewed yet because they were just in previews. This show got a rave review in the New York Times when it opened a few weeks before Thanksgiving, so I finally decided on it. By that time tickets were few and far between, so Paul and I actually didn’t sit together. We sat in mirror image seats on the right and left sides of the theatre.

2017-11-24 19.06.02

I’m not actually sure how I felt about the show. I think Paul liked it more than I did. I know the New York Times reviewer definitely liked it more than I did. I didn’t dislike it, but I also didn’t love it. Even weeks later I’m trying to even figure out how to describe it. It’s a very sedate musical about an Egyptian Police Band that winds up accidentally stuck in a small town in Israel overnight. The experiences the band and the townspeople share that night seemingly both affect their lives while changing nothing about them.

Saturday before we headed home we took advantage of Paul’s work discount again and went to the New York Historical Society museum. I’m definitely glad we got into this one for free because I didn’t see anything aside from the children’s area in the basement.

2017-11-25 11.18.26

My niece’s favorite part of the museum was reshelving all the books in the kids’ part of the museum. A future librarian in the making perhaps?

I headed back to New York again a week later just for a day trip to meet up with my sister. She just moved to New Jersey, and while she’s waiting for the rest of her family to join her, she asked if I wanted to meet up with her to see The Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular. As many shows as I’ve seen in New York, I’ve never been to the Rockettes so I said sure.


We had lunch at Brasserie Ruhlman down the street from Radio City Music Hall. The food was really good, but it was definitely a splurge as it was quite pricy. I don’t know if they’ve added new security to Radio City Music Hall since I’ve never been before, but I suspect that may have been the case and they didn’t anticipate how much it was going to slow down people getting in. They do 4 shows on the weekends and there is definitely not enough time in between them to turn the theatre over. We had tickets to the 2 pm show and after 45 minutes in line just barely made our seats right as the lights were going down. There were still a ton of people in line behind us, which was annoying because for the first part of the show you still had lots of people blocking your view as they found and got into their seats. I would have been even more annoyed had we had been one of the people who didn’t get inside before the show started. They definitely need to space the shows out another 30 minutes.

I can now say I’ve seen the Rockettes. I enjoyed it well enough, but I don’t think I probably ever need to see the show again. I mean if my nieces or nephew wanted me to go with them, I would. It’s definitely aimed at kids, but as an adult without kids I see no reason to go again.

After the show we just wandered around the city. Since we were right there and it was almost unavoidable we saw the tree in Rockefeller Center, which is something I once vowed I would never do again. Luckily this time it was a much less terrifying experience. The first time I went to New York with Paul after we started dating it was this same exact weekend, which is the first weekend the tree was lit. The crowds were insane and I got smashed in between so many people I literally got lifted up off the ground and was being carried along by the crowd. I had no control and had I fallen I would have been trampled. This year we were there before dark, so I suspect it was slightly less crowded than it might have been a couple hours later. At any rate, it wasn’t nearly as crowded, and I got to see the tree without thinking I might die.

2017-12-02 15.41.08

We did give up on walking down Fifth Avenue though because it was just too stupidly crowded full of people. Same with the Christmas Market in Bryant Park. We sort of looked at the Macy’s windows from a distance over the heads of the crowds of people. So basically we sort of did all the touristy Christmas things that the movies and tv make you think are so great, but are really terrible because they are way too crowded.

The weather was pretty good for this time of year though, and it was a pleasant day to walk around the city and catch up with my sister. It will be really nice to have her and her family so close by so that I’ll be able to see them more than the once, maybe twice a year I normally did when they were all the way out in Arizona.


New York Theatre Weekend August 8, 2017

Filed under: Friends,Pop Culture,Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 8:12 pm

This Broadway season has had an unusual number of shows I was dying to see including several plays. A lot of times I don’t get too sad about not getting to see some musicals on Broadway because I know they’ll eventually tour and I’ll see them then. That doesn’t really happen with plays in the same way, so I was exceptionally keen to get up to New York and see a number of shows.

April, May, and June were too crazy with other travel and things going on in my life, so I wasn’t able to go up at any point in the spring. My passion to make this happen got reignited after watching the Tony Awards at the beginning of June. Sadly, I did not realize until that night when I started thinking about planning a trip that two of the plays I wanted to see were closing June 25. There was no way I was going to be able to make it to New York before then, so I was very sad that I was going to miss out on seeing Sweat and Indecent.

But then the theatre gods smiled upon me and I got a little bit of a reprieve. I did indeed miss out on Sweat, but they wound up extending the run of Indecent at the last minute through August 6. After I found that out I vowed to make it up before it closed for real. I also planned to see Doll’s House, Part 2 during the weekend. It supposedly is not closing until January, but if it continues to be as empty as it was on Sunday, I suspect it’s not going to make it that long. I also decided I could fit in three shows over the weekend, especially since everything I wanted to see was only 90-100 minutes with no intermission, so I also added in the musical that was highest on my list, Come From Away.

I took the train up early on Saturday morning. I was happy that all my trains ran on time despite all the crazy track work that is happening at Penn Station right now and ruining everyone’s life. In a Smalltimore moment I wound up in a train car with another librarian from Baltimore that I know who was going up to New York for the weekend with her daughter. They were seeing Come From Away at the same time I was. I stayed with a friend who lives in mid-town, which of course was super convenient for all the theatre I had planned. It was nice to spend time with her between  all my shows.

The first show I saw was Come From Away. I loved every show I saw over the weekend, but Come From Away was probably my favorite. It’s a musical based on the true story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland that wound up taking in 7,000 plane passengers after their planes were diverted there when U. S. airspace closed on 9/11. The music has sort of a Gaelic feeling to it with both rock and folk influences. I loved everything about this show. It’s funny, moving, I adored the music and dance, it made me cry, and it reminded me that humanity does have good in it even when it’s being horrible. If you get the chance I highly recommend seeing this show. It’s probably the Broadway show I’ve loved the most since seeing Hamilton.

Saturday night I went to see Indecent. It is also based on a true story about the life of the play The God of Vengeance and the people involved with it.. It was written in 1905 by a Jewish Pole and was the first play to feature two women kissing on stage. It was an international sensation until anti-Semitism grew stronger around the world and obscenity charges were brought against the actors during a 1923 production in New York. The story continues into the 1950s after World War II when many of those involved with the play are killed. It’s a great story about the power of art and love to prevail over the worst in humanity. I do wish that I had read The God of Vengeance prior to seeing it, but I’m probably still going to read it now to get a better understanding to reflect on.

My final show of the weekend was A Doll’s House, Part 2. It’s a newly written play, but it is a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House. It takes place 15 years after the events in the original play with Nora returning to confront the husband she left after she finds out that he had never filed their divorce papers. The original play is pretty serious, so I was not actually anticipating how humorous A Doll’s House, Part 2 was going to be. It’s a very dry, sarcastic humor but very amusing nonetheless. I just missed seeing the original cast which included Laurie Metcalf who won a Tony for the role, but Julie White does an excellent job in the role of Nora. I would highly recommend this show as well if you can see it before it closes in January. You don’t even really need to be familiar with A Doll’s House to enjoy it. The play pretty much sets up everything you need to know. There was only one line that I think probably would be lost on you if you hadn’t seen the original show but it doesn’t really affect anything.

It was a great weekend with three great shows. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect weekend of theatre. I’ll definitely have to do it again sometime.





New York Theatre Trip March 2, 2017

Filed under: Friends,Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 8:18 pm

There are approximately 1000 shows currently on Broadway or set to open soon. There is sadly no way I’ll get to see them all, but I decided to take a trip to New York to mark at least a couple off my list. I get way more vacation time than my husband, so I decided I’d take a few days off work and take a mid-week solo trip up to see a Tuesday night show and Wednesday matinee. Hotel rooms in NYC mid-week at the end of February are fairly reasonable, and it turns out we had enough points on our credit card to pay for my hotel that way anyway.

Thanks to the credit card points I actually wound up staying at the Doubletree Suites in Times Square because it was the best deal with the best location for what I was doing. I really didn’t need a suite to myself especially just for one night, but I pretended I was all fancy for a night. The hotel was a perfect location and I was surprised at how quiet it was at least where my room was located. No usual traffic noises keeping me awake. The hotel itself could use a little updating. It was looking a little tired, but the bed was comfortable enough so I don’t have any real complaints.


My suite. I even had 2 sinks in the bathroom.


View from my hotel room.

I took the train up on Tuesday afternoon. Happily it worked out that for reasons both my friends in NYC were not at work during my trip so I got to steal them away to meet up. Tuesday night I met up with one at the bar in an Italian restaurant for called Casa Nonna for an early happy hour dinner. It was great to catch up with her in person and enjoy some delicious pizza.

After that I headed to the newly renovated and reopened Hudson Theatre for Sunday in the Park with George starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford. Sunday in the Park with George is one of those classic Sondheim musicals that I had never seen, but always felt like I should so I was super happy when this production came around and it started getting such good buzz. I immediately put it at the top of my list of shows to see given its limited run. It was great. Turns out Jake Gyllenhaal can sing. Who knew? He made an excellent Georges Seurat. Despite her Broadway bona fides this is the first show I’ve seen Annaleigh Ashford in as well, so I’m glad I finally got to see her perform too. The theatre itself was beautifully restored, though I suspect they’re soon going to regret their decision to serve wine in actual wine glasses instead of the normal Broadway sippy cups given the cream colored velvet seat covers.


Wednesday morning I of course got myself a bagel for breakfast and then took a walk on the High Line. I’d walked part of it in the past but not the whole thing. I figured it would be a good way to get my steps in for the day. Scenes from the High Line:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the afternoon I met up with another friend for lunch and then we went to see Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 together. The reviews for this show had been really great and my boss who also sees a lot of Broadway shows but doesn’t care that much for musicals told me she loved it, so that’s why it was also one of my top choices of shows to see. I’m definitely glad I saw it on Broadway because there is no way it’s going to translate into a touring production even remotely close to what it is now. The staging is set up in such a way that the actors are everywhere in the audience a lot of the time with staircases from the stage leading up into the Mezzanine. There’s no way they’ll be able to do that on a tour. There’s lots of seating on the stage as well, which will also be something can only be approximated to a degree.


The show itself is based on War and Peace, which is something I’ve never read so I have no idea how faithful the storyline was. Condensing a book that long into a Broadway show I’m sure results in a lot of cuts. I certainly felt the story lacking in certain places. Entire plot threads seem to show up in a song and then just completely disappear. The overarching love story was the heart of the show and made sense to me, but most everything else including Pierre and the Great Comet left me slightly confused. It’s a sung through musical, which I’m not sure I realized going in. It made me wish I had listened to the cast recording ahead of time as I know I always miss things when they’re solely in song form on first go around. At any rate none of that really mattered because it’s just such a fun production full of delightful dancing and costumes and hey did you know that guy Josh Groban can really sing? There were a lot of fun audience interaction touches too. At one point the second act they pass around Great Comet branded rhythm eggs for people to shake along to the song. Now I have a little souvenir from the show I can annoy everyone with. If you’re thinking about seeing a Broadway show I would definitely recommend this one because it is a really good time and you’re never going to get the same experience from a touring production.

It was an excellent trip. I’m really glad I decided to plan it for myself. Everything worked out perfectly. I should probably do it again some time.


My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2016 January 2, 2017

Filed under: Books,Concerts,Podcasts,Pop Culture,Songs I Love,Television,Theatre — dwhren @ 10:55 am

Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2016, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2016. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

I’m pretty sure I saw more movies in the theatre in 2016 than I have in a long time. I’ve seen 4 movies since Thanksgiving alone, which is very unusual for my life these days. I enjoyed most of the movies I saw, but I’m giving this category to La La Land. It was the one movie I saw this year that I almost immediately wanted to see again. It wasn’t a perfect movie. It didn’t quite live up to its promise as a movie musical. It started out with a bunch of musical numbers and then almost completely dropped them until the end. It was a little uneven, but I still loved it. It’s a beautiful to look at, and I really could just watch Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling interact forever. Their relationship seemed so real. At the time I saw it I was a little disappointed that they didn’t end up together even though realistically that’s what should have happened. Usually I would have enjoyed that ending, but wasn’t in the mood for at the time. In retrospect though I can appreciate it, and whatever my feelings about it were they did not detract from my love of the movie as a whole.

Movie I Watched at Home

Last year I said I should probably retire this category because I don’t watch that many movies at home, and I had a hard time thinking of any. I’m still singing that tune this year, but I’m apparently not quite yet ready to let it go because it’s still here. In doing a review I discovered I actually watched a lot more movies at home than I thought, but I literally had to go back and look because I couldn’t remember any of them. Once I did though the obvious choice was Sing Street. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a sweet little film that takes place in 1980’s Dublin about a teenage boy who starts a band to impress a girl. The songs in it were all written for the movie, but definitely evoke the sounds of 80s music. It’s a delightful little film.


Fiction Book

Alas my great streak with books I loved last year did not continue into this year. I did manage to meet my reading goal of 100 books for the year, but there were very few I rated above 3 stars on Goodreads. This category like several other ones exemplified how out of sync I was with pop culture this year. Almost every best of book list I saw had Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad as it’s top pick. I did not care for that book. The fiction book I most enjoyed did show up on most lists as well, so I guess I wasn’t completely off. It was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Essentially its a series of connected short stories, which makes it unusual that I would like it that much since I generally don’t care for short stories. The thread that connects them though is following two lines of a family through two sisters on the Gold Coast of Africa, one who is sold into slavery and the other who becomes a slave traders wife from their lives in the 1600s up through present day. Each story is essentially a new generation. It was a wonderful and heartbreaking book that really demonstrates how the sins of the past continue to haunt the present even hundreds of years later.

Non-Fiction Book

I had much better luck with non-fiction books this year than fiction ones. Most of the books I rated over 3 stars on Goodreads were non-fiction. My favorite non-fiction book of the year was another book that was not very uplifting, but was extremely interesting. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond explores poverty and housing through the lens of the city of Milwaukee. Desmond explores the intricacies of housing and the tenant/landlord relationship especially when dealing with people living in poverty. Many books like this seem to take sides, but Desmond does a really good job in following a couple of landlords and their tenants at showing how complicated the relationship and that there are failings on both sides.

TV Show

With as much good scripted television as there is these days I feel like I’m going a little off book in declaring my favorite tv show of the year as Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. It was the biggest surprise to me because I was never the hugest fan of Samantha Bee when she was a Daily Show correspondent, especially towards the end of Jon Stewart’s run when she really seemed to be going off the rails a little bit. I didn’t even plan on watching Full Frontal because I figured it was just going to be more of the same stuff I wasn’t enjoying on The Daily Show, but my husband insisted that we at least try it out and I’m very glad he did. Full Frontal is really smart, and I appreciate having a woman’s voice in the late night world, especially one who will focus on woman’s issues in a way that no one else is. I’m definitely going to need Sam Bee’s outrage to help keep me sane as we move into the horrors of whatever this Trump presidency is about to bring us.


TV Episode

I stopped watching Halt and Catch Fire a few episodes into its first season, but decided to get caught up this summer after hearing so many people talk about how much better the second season was. So in a way it’s a little surprising to me that my favorite episode of the year was from the third season of this show. Season 3, Episode 7 – The Threshold is a great hour of television. Donna and Cameron’s relationship and their building of Mutiny together was the heart of season 2 and what turned this show into something worth watching. Watching it fall apart in this episode was sad but wonderfully acted and excellent to watch.


Music is where my tastes really did not converge with critics or other music listeners as my favorite songs and albums really didn’t show up on any best of 2016 lists. My favorite album of the year was Joseph’s I’m Alone, No You’re Not. Joseph is a group of three sisters who have wonderful harmonies but some of their songs also have a great pop sensibility. I love this whole album, and I hope to be able to see them play more of the album live in 2017.




I suspect the song I’m putting in this category has a bit of recency bias. I suspect that if I first fell in love with this song say back in March instead of November that I’d probably be sick of it and wouldn’t be including it here, but Wrabel’s 11 Blocks was the song that I loved to sing along to in the car more than any other song this year and the one I always hoped I would hear on the radio when I was driving which is what it earns it this spot. Realistically my choice here should have been Joseph’s SOS (Overboard), which I love and is probably the song I listened to most this year.



Every year my real favorite concert experience is going to the Newport Folk Festival. This year that was no exception. I was already beat down my 2016 at the end of July and that weekend was such a balm for my soul, but I always like to pick another show from the year for this category since Newport being a festival isn’t really a single concert. This year my favorite concert was Garth Brooks. I never got to see him back in the 90s, so I’m glad I finally got the chance. He is an amazing performer and manages to make an arena show feel intimate and so fun. It was so fun to sing along to all those songs of his I loved and also to see Trisha Yearwood perform some of her songs. They are some of the first country artists I ever fell in love with and it was great to finally get a chance to see them live.


Broadway Theatre Production

In last year’s post I named Hamilton my favorite theatre production of the year and said I’m going again in April of 2016 so maybe it will be my favorite show of 2016 too. Let’s be realistic. It was. But I also saw other great Broadway shows this year. So even though the best show I saw was Hamilton again, I’m going to put She Loves Me in this category. The production starred Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi and it was delightful. I even paid to re-watch it online when they broadcast a recording of it later in the year.

Baltimore Theatre Production

My favorite theatre production that I saw in Baltimore snuck in at the last moment. It was the touring production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The Broadway production won the Tony for Best New Musical in 2014 and I’ve wanted to see it for years. It was never something that I felt that I needed to see on Broadway though given the limited number of shows I get to see there each year. I always knew I was going to wait until it toured to see it, so I was happy that it finally came around as part of our season tickets to the Hippodrome this year. It was a great show and well worth the wait. It was extremely smart and clever and a show the likes of which I haven’t seen in a long time.


I already gave away in a post a few weeks ago that my favorite pocast this year was Out of the Blocks, a local Baltimore podcast from Aaron Henkin and Wendel Patrick. Their tag line One City Block, One Hour of Radio, Everybody’s Story pretty much describes what the podcast is about. It’s a fascinating look at the city and in the human condition. I highly recommend it to everyone not just people from Baltimore.

Podcast Episode

If Out of the Blocks didn’t exist Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs would have gotten my vote in the previous category. Instead they’ll get the mention in favorite podcast episode. I of course had to pick the episode where they discuss the song I requested, Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”.


Me in NYC November 7, 2016

Filed under: Family,Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 9:15 am

As is probably apparent by now I travel up to New York City fairly frequently. Usually I’m going up with my husband and we’re visiting his sister, her husband, and our niece and nephew. We usually take in a show while we’re there too, but the rest of our activities on those trips are rightfully dictated by what will keep two small children entertained. If I happen to be there not visiting family I’m usually doing the slightly crazy trip to see a show with friends in which we go up in the morning, get up to the city in enough to time grab lunch, see a matinee, grab dinner, and then head back to Baltimore. There’s not really much time to do anything else in those ventures. So there’s just a lot of things that the city has to offer that I never have a chance to do when I’m there.

Now that my husband’s office is technically in NYC even though he works from home it now makes sense to occasionally go up so he can go into the office and I can tag along and play by myself in the city. Our holiday plans got all switched around this year, so we’re not going to NYC for Thanksgiving like we normally do. I really wanted to see Sweet Charity, which has a limited run, so I told my husband we needed to go up another weekend in November. He said if that’s the case let’s go on a Friday so I can go into work and you can do whatever you want.

After I derided it in my post about London, New York decided to finally offer me a beautiful fall weekend while I was there. We took the train up on Friday morning. The first thing on my agenda was an exhibit at the New York Public Library’s Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center about shows that have won both Tony Awards and Olivier Awards (London’s West End equivalent to the Tony’s). Since the weather was nice I decided to walk up to Lincoln Center from Penn Station.

The exhibit was great. It’s not crazy huge since it’s in a library not a museum, but I’m glad I went. They had lots of things from shows including footage from them and interviews with actors playing on televisions, lots of costumes, stage notes, production designs, etc. If you like theatre and you have a little time to kill I’d recommend it.

After that my plan was to head over to the Upper East Side to the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I don’t think I’ve ever been to. Though it’s possible I went as a kid with my family and I don’t remember. Getting there involved walking across Central Park, which wound up being slightly more complicated than I anticipated. The New York marathon was this weekend, and knowing nothing about it I managed to walk across the park at pretty much the exact spot where the finish line for the course is. This was Friday and the actual marathon wasn’t until Sunday, but apparently there were some kind of kids events going on Friday and a ton of kids were running to the finish line right when I got there. Getting through the crowds to get on the opposite side of the finish line so I could continue across the park was really annoying.

My plan was to eat lunch before going into the museum, and I almost stopped and outdoors at a Le Pain Quotidien in the middle of the park. They had a nice little patio I could have sat on and stared out at the park on a lovely fall day, but I decided I would prefer to find something non-chain to eat at. Big mistake! I wound up coming out of the park much farther north than I anticipated due to my race detour, and there was pretty much nothing around in terms of places to eat. I had one option, which was E.A.T., which I guess is fairly well known restaurant that I had no idea about and in retrospect I was annoyed at having to eat at. If there was literally anything else around I probably would have gotten up and walked out after I was handed the menu and I saw the prices. Those fancy pants Upper East Side New Yorkers might think it’s reasonable to pay $24 for a grilled cheese sandwich, but I do not. Aside from a small bowl of soup that cost $12 everything else that was literally just some regular types sandwiches were $22 or more. At least the soup came with a basket of bread, so it did wind up amounting to a decent lunch even though I was annoyed by the whole experience.

I spent the next four hours wandering around The Met, which is really, really large. I didn’t even come close to seeing everything. I specifically wanted to see the exhibit they had on Jerusalem: 1000-1400, which had a lot of artifacts from the city in that time period most of them having to do in some way with the three major religions that consider that city their Holy Land. There were a lot of illuminated manuscripts, but also all kinds of other stuff including pieces of buildings, weapons, pottery, tapestries, and other artwork. The other exhibit I didn’t set out to see but wandered into was Valentin de Boulogne, who was a French painter in the 1600s. Turns out I really like his work, so I’m glad I got to see that exhibit. I didn’t make a good plan for the rest of the museum, and I always get so confused in museums because there are entrances and exits on 3 or 4 sides of every room and I never know which way to go. So I saw a random amalgamation of things ranging from Egyptian artifacts, literal rooms from houses and hotels with fancy furniture and decorations that were removed from their original locations and installed in the museum, and I think most of the modern art.

After the Met, I met up with a friend who lives in New York for dinner before meeting up with my husband to see Sweet Charity. It’s not particularly one of my favorite shows, but this off-Broadway production is starring Sutton Foster who I really like. I knew from having seen a previous production of the show that there were a lot of instrumental interludes in the music that involved a lot of dancing. In my memory, which we have recently established is very faulty, I thought there was a lot of tap dancing which I love and which Sutton Foster is great at (I probably shouldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched videos of her tap dancing in Anything Goes on YouTube). I don’t know if this production is just different or I remembered wrong about what kind of dancing was in the show the last time I saw it, but there was only one really short tap number this time though of course still lots of other dancing. I’ve never been to an off-Broadway show before, so that was kind of fun and it was nice to be in such a small house and be so close to the stage. I’ll never be rich enough to afford tickets that close on Broadway, not even in Baltimore really. It’s still not one of my favorite shows, but I definitely enjoyed it more this time than the first time I saw it.

On Saturday we took my niece and nephew to the National Museum of Mathematics, aka MoMath. It seemed like they had a good time, but as an adult I can tell you it’s a pretty lame museum on top of which half of the interactive exhibits were broken. There were an awful lot of out of order signs on things in a place that isn’t all that big to begin with. For the things that did work their signage did not really give very good explanations about what you were supposed to go or what mathematical concept was being applied. I’m glad the kids had fun, but overall I give two thumbs down that museum and would not recommend it. We then had to race back home to get the kids to their swimming lesson on time. After that we took our niece to one of those paint your own pottery places. Then it was pretty much time for us to catch our train home. All in all an excellent couple of days in New York doing some things I don’t normally do.