More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

Nashville Music Trip May 1, 2017

Filed under: Music,Pop Culture,Travel — dwhren @ 7:47 am

Reader, you may remember back when I wrote about my concert venue bucket list. If you don’t, no matter because my husband remembered it and bought me tickets to see Dawes at the Ryman Auditorium for Christmas. That of course necessitated a trip to Nashville. For some silly reason Paul had in his head that we would just take a quick overnight trip to see the show and then come home. I on the other hand was like why would we go all the way to Nashville and only stay for one night? Not only are there multiple other concert venues on my bucket list in Nashville, but I’d never really been to the city before. I was there once for a night when I was high school and went to look at Vanderbilt on a college tour. I didn’t really do anything in the city itself, so I was also interested in having time to check out what the city had to offer.

Adding to the fun of the trip, in looking for places to stay on Airbnb, I discovered that the person who owns the house they used as Deacon’s house on the tv show Nashville rents out an apartment built into the attic of it. I couldn’t resist getting to stay in Deacon’s house, so that’s what we did. The house they used in the first season where Scarlett, Avery, Gunner, and Luke all lived in various configurations was right next door. We also happened by where they shoot the Highway 65 offices when we were walking around downtown, so we had a whole little unintended Nashville location tour.

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The house they used as Deacon’s house in the TV show Nashville. We staying in an apartment in the top of it.

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Deacon has a pretty nice back yard.

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The house used to film Scarlett, Gunner, Avery, and Luke’s house in the early seasons of Nashville

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The space they used to film Highway 65 Records in the TV show Nashville

Aside from it being really fun to say that I stayed at Deacon’s house, it was a really great location too. It was in East Nashville just over the Cumberland River from downtown and a few blocks from the Titans stadium. It was just a little over a mile to walk from the house into downtown, which we did during the day. The neighborhood has definitely been gentrifying over the past decade or so. We felt plenty safe walking around in the light, but between the footbridge over the river and our house was the dark area by the stadium and a not well lit public housing unit so we were a little wary walking to downtown after dark. We had a rental car so we just drove over instead. It probably would have been fine, but without really knowing the area we didn’t want to do anything stupid. There were several decent little restaurants within walking distance. We pretty much stuck in East Nashville for our meals. It was a perfect place for me to stay. Convenient to everything we were doing, but out of the crazy fray of downtown. I don’t even want to think about all the drunken bachelor and bachelorette partiers we would have been contending with in a hotel downtown.

We flew in Thursday afternoon. I had been hoping to go the Bluebird Cafe on Thursday night, but it was not meant to be. Usually there are two shows a night, but they were closed for a private event earlier in the evening and thus there was only a late show even further limiting our chances of getting tickets. It will be a good excuse to go back to Nashville again some day, but the fact that the tickets don’t go on sale until the week prior makes it difficult to actually plan and not pay last minute for everything.

I’m really happy with what we wound up doing Thursday night instead. We wound up at City Winery seeing Uncle Earl and I Draw Slow. Uncle Earl is an old-time bluegrass sort of band made up of¬†KC Groves, Kristin Andreassen, Abigail Washburn, Rayna Gellert. I already knew I liked Abigail Washburn, so was curious to see what this band was. They formed in the early-2000s, but aren’t really an active band at the moment. They joked up their one night world tour. They were a super lot of fun. The music was great, and I happen to appreciate that they were very much sort of stumbling through the set not knowing song orders or who was supposed to be standing where because they were just back together for the night. They had great rapport with the audience and the whole thing was just a lot of fun.

I Draw Slow is an Irish band who plays Irish folk and Bluegrass music. They were also really wonderful. I had not ever heard of them prior to this concert, but I really love their music and will definitely be listening to them more. They just released their third album, and this was their album release show in Nashville. I really liked how they explained the story of each song and what influenced them to write it before playing. I always like that kind of insight into the music I’m hearing. I definitely recommend checking them out.

Friday morning we toured the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. I very much enjoyed it. It reminded me about all the things I love about country music even though I could pretty much do without most mainstream country music at the moment. The special Brad Paisley exhibit made me realize that I hate every Brad Paisley song I know except for his duet with Alison Krauss. There was also a special exhibit that’s there until the end of the year on Bob Dylan and how his work in Nashville on the Blonde on Blonde album (obviously the 50th anniversary of it being the reason for this exhibit) influenced other non-country artists to record in Nashville. It was interesting, but it was really large in comparison to the rest of the museum and by the end I was a little mad that I spent so much time reading about Bob Dylan in a museum about country music. I thought the exhibit on session musicians was really well done though. They had a little areas for each one where you could step in, read about who the musician was, what he played, and then listen to a sampling of songs that musician played on. I can’t say how much interest the museum would hold for anyone who is not a fan of country music, but I loved it.

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If you’ve ever paid any attention to music related posts here, you should know I love Jason Isbell so much. Thus I was very happy to see this display in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Display of one of the session musicians in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Friday afternoon we did a tour of the Ryman Auditorium. I’m not sure I think it was worth the $20, but I certainly learned a lot about the space and it did give me a new appreciation for it going into the concert we saw there on Saturday. We also walked around downtown a little. I got off of Broadway as quickly as possible and tried to avoid it for the rest of our trip. It like Bourbon Street in New Orleans and Sixth Street in Austin is full of crowded bars, loud music, and horrible crowds of drunk people. It may be what a lot of people go to Nashville for, but it is 100% my nightmare. We didn’t step one foot into any of those bars, and I was happy to get far away from the packs of bachelor and bachelorette parties roaming everywhere.

Friday night we had tickets to the Grand Ole Opry. Oddly enough some of my friends from Baltimore were also in Nashville this past weekend to run the Rock N Roll Marathon and were also at the Opry on Friday night. I loved the Opry. I love when music has a sense of history and everyone is aware of it and it informs what they are doing on stage. The Opry with its nightly mix of new and old country and bluegrass artists is nothing about that. Plus with every artist getting only two songs it’s really about the show as a whole rather than any single artist playing. Old Crow Medicine Show was the “headliner” so they got three songs. I very much appreciate them saying that someone (I forget who) told them if you’re given the honor to play the Opry you should play the song that got you there, so they of course ended on “Wagon Wheel”, which is always some sing-a-long fun. Josh Turner, who has an amazingly deep voice, was probably the other biggest current name on the bill. I however was especially excited to see Pam Tillis. I adored her back in the 90s when they actually allowed female artists to be played on mainstream country radio stations. Getting to see her made my 90s country loving heart very happy. I also very much loved one of the old-time bluegrass bands I hadn’t heard of before playing “Rocky Top”, which is a bluegrass standard and something I have wonderful memories of from my childhood. It was an excellent evening and definitely lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

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Paul and I at the Grand Ole Opry

It turns out that the marathon I mentioned earlier ran within a block of the house were staying at and right by the restaurant we ate breakfast at on Saturday morning. We didn’t intend to watch any of the race, but right as we were leaving the restaurant it became apparent that the male leader was about to round the bend to where we were at about mile 20. We decided to stay and cheer him on and then wound up sticking around for about an hour to cheer on some of the other racers until I decided it was getting too hot and sunny for me to be standing about with no sunscreen on. It was a terrible day for a marathon. They even moved the start time up 2 hours because of the predicted heat and humidity.

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The male leader of the Rock N Roll Marathon running by

Our actual agenda for the day was to go the Hermitage. It was a little bit more difficult to do then it should have been because of the marathon. It’s really hard to navigate around a city you don’t know when there’s a marathon going on. Knowing streets are blocked off is only so useful if you don’t know the way to get around them and Google only wants to tell you to go the ways that are closed. We made it there eventually though.

The Hermitage, in case you don’t know, was Andrew Jackson’s estate. Apparently not everyone even knows who that is. I stupidly read the post-it comment wall they had at the end of the exhibit for people to say what they learned about Andrew Jackson or thought about him. Someone posted that they learned he was the president. Anyway, there is a museum exhibit that walks you through a lot of information leading up to Jackson’s presidency and information about his personal life with actually very little about his presidency itself. If you were wondering what they would say about the Trail of Tears, the answer is not really anything. There was enough there that seems way to relevant to today, but this isn’t a political blog post so we’re just moving on. You also get a guided tour of the house itself and an audio tour that goes with various markers at other places around the grounds. It’s worth visiting if you’re in the area.

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The Hermitage

On our way back from the Hermitage we stopped at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. I had heard many people talking about this ice cream, so figured while we were in the area we should try it. It was good, but I’m not sure that it lived up to the hype for me. Probably because I have The Charmery right down the street from me.

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Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream – Half Almond Brittle, Half Brambleberry Crumble

Saturday night was the Dawes concert at the Ryman Auditorium. They were excellent as always. They played all my favorite songs, which they don’t always do. Of course this set was literally three hours long, so it was going to be pretty hard for them not to play all my favorite songs. They ended the evening playing “All Your Favorite Bands”, which was the absolute perfect song to end the night. They stopped playing for the final chorus, put their instruments down, and stood and watched the crowd as we sang it to them. I’ve seen them do this with various songs at any number of concerts now, and I will never stop loving the look of awe and wonderment Taylor Goldsmith gets on his face every time. The fact that the still gets so much joy and to some degree still seems surprised that the crowd knows his songs makes me so happy.

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Dawes at the Ryman

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Taylor Goldsmith playing an acoustic solo song.

The Ryman was an excellent place to see a concert. I could have done without the obnoxious Baby Boomer guy in front of me. I routinely find Baby Boomers to be the worst concert goers. This guy insisted to me multiple times before the concert started that as soon as the lights went down I was required to stand up for the entire concert. Yeah, no man. My back can’t take standing for 3 hours right now, and I don’t need to tell you that for you to leave me alone and not turn around and gesture for me to stand up whenever I was sitting down. It would have been one thing if I insisted he sit down because he was blocking my view, but that was not the case. Aside from him and his equally obnoxious friend who was sitting behind me who kept yelling loudly things like “Testify” at the stage, it was an excellent show and I enjoyed it very much.

It was a wonderful weekend, and I’m so happy to have gotten to check a few places off of my concert venue bucket list with three excellent nights of live music.

 

Songs I Love: Hope the High Road by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit April 17, 2017

Filed under: Music,Pop Culture,Songs I Love — dwhren @ 10:12 am

I’ve been meaning to write about this song since it dropped almost a month ago, but I almost never have the mental energy to write blog posts these days. I’m off work today though, so I have no excuse. Jason Isbell and his band the 400 Unit have a new album, The Nashville Sound, coming out in June so probably expect this to the best the first of several posts about it. I know no one reading this really cares because despite my repeated attempts over the years to turn everyone I know onto Jason Isbell’s music I have failed. But I can’t stop, won’t stop writing about how much I love his music.

Prior to hearing this song I wondered how much I might actually like the music from his new album as all the interviews with him I had seen about indicated that it was not going to be full of sad sack songs like the previous two albums that I loved so much. He said it was going to be much more of a rock and roll album with the full backing of the 400 Unit hence it’s a Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit album and not just a Jason Isbell album. “Super 8 Motel” is the most rock and roll of the songs off Southeastern and decidedly my least favorite, so I wondered if I would still feel the same love for the songs on The Nashville Sound.

If “Hope the High Road” is any indication I have nothing to worry about. I am once again going to love this album. It definitely has much more of a rock and roll vibe to it than most of the music off of Southeastern and Something More than Free, but at its heart it still very much sounds like a Jason Isbell song. The lyrics that cut straight to my heart, the great guitar, Amanda Shires voice echoing in the background. I love everything about it.

The full album is released 2 days before my birthday, and then I get to see him in concert 2 weeks after that so needless to say I’m looking forward to June.

 

Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture April 14, 2017

Filed under: Life — dwhren @ 9:37 am

Last Sunday I went to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which opened last year. Like the other Smithsonian museums admission is free, but at this point you still need to have a timed admission ticket to get into this museum. They generally release blocks of tickets about three months ahead of time and you have to be on top of it to get them because they go fast. My husband managed to snag four tickets back in January for this past Sunday.

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We met up with some of our friends who live in DC. Our tickets were for entry at 11:45. We were in the museum for almost 6 hours until they kicked us out at their 5:30 closing time and I still didn’t feel like I saw everything. I didn’t stop and watch any of the many films throughout the museum, and the further we went along the less I read because I realized I was running out of time.

I’m not sure what time the museum actually opens, but at least when we got there we were able to head straight into the exhibits without waiting in any lines. When we got back up though there was quite a line of people waiting to get in. The history part of the museum is three floors of exhibits underground. You have to queue up to ride an elevator down to the start. They recommend you to use the bathroom as you exit the elevator and they aren’t kidding. It’s the last time you’re going to see a bathroom for awhile unless you backtrack a lot or rush through the exhibit.

The exhibit starts in the 1500s with the beginning of the slave trade and ends around 2008. It covers all the things you would expect from slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, Civil Rights, and more recent issues of race.

After we spent a few hours winding our way through the history exhibits we stopped at the cafe for a late lunch. Like some of the other newer cultural Smithsonian museums the cafe is an extension of the exhibits with the food representing traditional foods from African-American culture. It’s pricy but it was delicious.

After lunch we headed to the exhibits on the upper levels of the museum. The upper levels are more of the cultural parts of the museum with the African-American experience and influence on American cultural institutions. There are exhibits related to sports, the military, television, theatre, film, food, fashion, music, and art. I definitely ran out of time to give all of these their proper due.

There are also some really nice views of the National Mall from the museum.

It is a really well done museum, and if you get the opportunity I highly recommend checking it out. I definitely want to go back again at some point in the future and spend more time in the areas I gave short shrift to on this visit.

 

Future Islands at the Ottobar April 10, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 7:58 am

Saturday night I went to the second of four album release shows Future Islands was doing at the Ottobar in Baltimore for the release of their new album The Far Field. I really appreciate it when bands still honor where they came from even after they make it big. The Ottobar is a tiny dive club in Baltimore, where Future Islands is from, that holds about 400 people. They could certainly sell out much large venues at this point, but they chose to go back to their roots and play the place they grew up in.

For their Baltimore shows they also gave a showcase to other different local bands at each show. We had 83 cutlass as the first opening act. He’s a rap artist, which isn’t really my thing. He was decent, but there was only one song that I would say I actually really liked. It’s not his fault as a performer, it’s more my personal tastes in music. I’m much more a melody person than a lyric person, so unless you’re singing rap that has a strong hook behind it or leans more towards hip hop with a strong musical beat behind it your rap is not going to be my thing.

The second opening band was called Jenny¬†Beseztz. Their synth rock music was much more in line with Future Islands’ music. They’re actually not from Baltimore, but are old friends of Future Islands from North Carolina, which is where Future Islands relocated to Baltimore from. I liked their music well enough. The friends that I was with liked the music behind the songs, but were really not in favor of the singer.

This was the first time I had seen Future Islands live, at least playing music. I’ve seen them hanging out a bbq place in my neighborhood before but I don’t think that counts. I’d like to say that since they’re from Baltimore I knew them when, but I really didn’t. I found out about them pretty much the same time the rest of the world at large did, and thought oh hey cool when I found out that they are from Baltimore. They played at one of the street festivals in my neighborhood a couple of years ago, but of course that was literally the only year I missed it because my friend decided to get married that weekend.

Everything I had heard about Samuel Herring, their lead singer, performing live is true. He is amazingly fun to watch as he dances all around the stage. He’s in constant movement doing everything from just general bouncing around to Russian kick line dancing to sort of sexy stripper undulations. He was apparently dancing vigorously enough that he ripped his pants at the beginning of the show and the rip kept getting worse as the night went on until he eventually left us in the care of the rest of the band while went to change his pants. They played a long set of 25 songs filled with a great mix of old and new stuff.

It was a really fun show, and I’m glad I managed to snag some of the very limited tickets to it. My only complaint, which is a general complaint about shows at the Ottobar, is that it started too late. I am too old and too tired to go to shows where the openers don’t go on until 9 and the main act doesn’t take the stage until 11 when I’m normally in bed. I could barely keep my eyes open by the time they finished around 1 am. Someone really needs to create concerts for old people that start around 6 and end by 10. I’m guessing that’s not actually going to happen though.

 

Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City March 20, 2017

Filed under: Baltimore,Podcasts — dwhren @ 8:59 pm

Remember how I keep saying I already have too many podcasts to listen to and I can’t keep up, but that I couldn’t resist listening to another one? Well you can add one more podcast to that list because I am now in love with Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City, which just started its second season. It airs locally on public radio station WEAA every other Friday, but then like many radio shows these days is available in podcast form which is how I’m listening to it. It’s part of a documentary radio series called Finding America produced by AIR and funded in part by the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (insert something here about why funding for public media is important).

Host Stacia Brown provides an oral history of Baltimore institutions and places via interviews with people involved with them. It provides a look at some of the things that make Baltimore truly great and the history behind them, but she does not sugarcoat anything. The problems of the city both historically and at present are incorporated into the stories. She’s done stories on things like Shake & Bake Family Fun Center, the Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Druid Hill Park, and my own neighborhood Hampden, which is obviously a favorite episode of mine. Episodes are under 30 minutes and there’s only 14 of the at this point, so you can very easily catch up. I highly recommend doing so. I somehow missed that this existed until 2 weeks ago when someone who is not even from Baltimore recommended it on Twitter, so don’t think you need to be from Baltimore to enjoy this. Obviously Baltimoreans will have a different appreciation for it, but anyone who is interested in cities and people should enjoy it. Go give it a listen.

 

Beauty and the Beast March 18, 2017

Filed under: Movies,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 11:33 am

I’m not sure I’m totally on board Disney’s plan to remake seemingly all of their animated features as live action movies, but I admit I was extremely excited about the prospect of Beauty and the Beast. It’s my favorite Disney movie, and I got chills starting from the first teaser trailer that completely emulated the one for the animated film.

As the opening day for the movie neared though I grew a little apprehensive about it especially as the reviews for it seemed to be middling. I thought what if it is just an inferior shot for shot remake and I should have just stayed home and rewatched the animated version instead. And when I thought I might be left to see it on my own I started to reconsider if I should, but then I found out a group of my friends was going so I decided I should put aside my worries and go see it.

I’m glad I did because I loved the movie. It doesn’t supplant the animated movie, but this is an excellent companion piece. The casting is brilliant. Everyone is perfect for their parts. The shot for shot moments of the film, which is a good chunk of it, only added to its greatness for me instead of making it seem like a sad copycat film. The movie is much longer than the original, so there are a number of things that are not in the original film. They fill out the back stories of Belle and her father more as well as add a little bit more to the Beast’s story.

They also filled out the movie with four new original songs. No one is going to be clamoring to hear any of the new songs again. I felt the same way about the songs they wrote for the Broadway show. I’m kind of curious why they didn’t just use those, but either way none of those songs add anything to either production. The original music from the animated movie is some of the best Disney music there is, so hearing all of that again made me really happy. I really did not anticipate having the physical reaction to the opening strains of the song “Beauty and the Beast” when they start coming down the stairs to the ballroom dance scene, but my heart swelled.

Most importantly they fixed the major problem with the original movie in which Belle treats the local bookstore like a library. They clearly say it’s a book store and yet she seems to borrow and return the books that she reads from there. Given no one else the town seems to care about reading I’m not sure how that store is still open. In the live action movie they make it a library, which makes so much more sense. I’m glad to see someone at Disney was as bothered about this as I was.

Seeing this movie with an audience was great too. Everyone seemed to love it. I was amused that the people in my audience clapped for the Le Fou gay scene that has caused so much brouhaha over nothing. Seriously it’s like 1/2 a second long. If you blinked at the wrong time you would miss it. I’ve also never been in a movie theater where people applauded at the credits as if they were at the live theatre. I’ve obviously seen movies where people clap at the end in general. People did that here, but then the credit sequence was one of those where each individual character is shown on the screen with the character and actor name. People the theater applauded each actor cheering louder for the ones they really liked and booing Gaston. It was a perfect way to end a wonderful reimagining of a beloved Disney movie.

 

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.

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.