Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Payment is Due

Debbie Calvo and I first worked together at The Dolphin Group in 1981 -- she was fresh out of UCLA and I was still a student at USC. That fall we bet lunch over the USC vs. UCLA football game. I don't remember which team won that year (probably USC) and we've been betting lunch on the game ever since.

The deal is the loser has until next year's game to buy lunch. We've gotten into the habit of paying off the bet from the previous year in the week before the annual rivalry game. And with this year's showdown set for this Saturday, Debbie had the honor today of taking me out to lunch for the sixth year in a row. (Don't feel too bad for Debbie -- I think I took her out for something like 10 years in a row in the late 80s and 90s.)

We met for lunch at Casa Vega on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. It may not look like much from the outside, but it's a good Mexican restaurant on the inside. And if the photo above looks like the window is covered over, that's because it is -- Casa Vega is one of the darkest restaurants you'll ever eat in. That's part of the fun. And Debbie said she was happy not to pay an arm and a leg to pay off last year's bet.

At the end of lunch we shook on lunch for this year's game. The Trojans are undefeated this season and the Bruins are 10 and 1 -- so it could be a very exciting game. Let's just hope Debbie is hosting again a year from now.

I saw the new movie "Rent" tonight. I saw the stage musical a few years ago at the Ahmanson Theater and didn't really like it. I liked the movie better -- I could understand the song lyrics and the story more easily.

It's still very touching that Jonathon Larsen put his heart into writing this show and then died the night before the first preview. And after nine years it's still running at the Nederlander Theater in NYC.

Last week the New York Times ran an article about the geographic errors in the movie. For instance, in the movie one restaurant is set on a corner while "everyone" knows it's in the middle of the block. Such a New York attitude!

Thanks to everyone who stopped by my blog this month. Reached another new high with nearly 600 hits. Check out the site meter and see for yourself. It's free.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Snow Job

Saw George Clooney's interesting new movie "Syriana" tonight. It's set at the intersection of the oil industry, the U.S. Government and Middle Eastern theocracies. I found it hard to follow all the twists and turns and to know the good guys from the bad guys. But I think that's the director's point.

It started to snow while I was at The Grove tonight. I thought I had left that kind of weather behind back in New York City. Fortunately, it was in the 60s and the "snow" was actually soap bubbles. A couple of kid seemed to figure that out when they went to eat the "snowflakes." Posted by Picasa

Santa's House is now open at The Grove. I remember going to Buffum's Department Store in downtown Long Beach for my annual photo with Santa when I was growing up. In the 60s Santa just had a big red chair and a couple of trees. Looks like the years have been kind to old St. Nick. Posted by Picasa

This tower has been a part of Farmers Market for decades. They moved it to a more prominent position when they developed The Grove. Posted by Picasa

The tree is now lit at The Grove. Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Tough Way to Start the Week

This poor schlub was passed out cold on the cement platform of the PATH Train Station at the World Trade Center this morning at 4:00 a.m. The police had to wake him up. The cop on the left used the stick in his right hand to tap on the ground to wake up Paulie Passed-Out. Tap, tap, tap -- hello? -- tap, tap, tap. Then they escorted him to the train station's exit. Before the police arrived I was going to take a picture of him facedown on the ground -- but that just seemed too rude. I hope whatever he did last night he had fun doing it.

And what was I doing at the station at 4 in the morning? That's what time I caught the train to get to the Newark Airport in time for my 6:30 a.m. flight home. Now I'm going to go home and pass out. No photos, please.
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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Underground Theater

Went to the matinee this afternoon of "The Other Side" starring Rosemary Harris and John Cullum (except at today's performance I saw Cullum's understudy, Bev Appleton). The show is running at the Manhattan Theatre Club's New York City Center Stage I.

It's an intense little show about war -- between countries and between parents and their children. Harris gives an amazing performance as a Mother who has been waiting for the return of her son for over twenty years.

The Manhattan Theatre Club produces a subscription season of shows in a handful of theaters around Manhattan. They have two smaller theaters in the basement of the New York City Center -- a beautiful Moorish style building that has an enormous auditorium on the street level -- the Alvin Alley Dance Company is currently performing in the Main Auditorium.

The audience today seemed like a real New York crowd. I'm guessing most of the audience were subscribers to the theater. I liked the show, but I heard a lot of discontented muttering on the way out. In fact, when the show was over several seemed unsure if the show was actually over or if it was simply an intermission. Posted by Picasa

Tonight I went to see the off-Broadway musical comedy "Altar Boyz" at the Dodger Stages.

"Altar Boyz" is a funny show about a religious Boy Band seeking to cleanse the souls of their audience -- and finding the crowds in New York City to be a real test of their abilities.

The Dodger Stages opened earlier this year. What's interesting is the five auditoriums are all entirely underground. Building underground on the site allowed the developer to create public open space at the street level -- and this entitled him to build a tall condominium tower next door. Posted by Picasa

Inside the Dodger Stages are very modern. They use runway type markings on the floor to direct the audience to the correct auditorium. Posted by Picasa

I had dinner tonight at Trattoria Dopo Teatro -- an Italian Restaurant just off Times Square on 44th Street.

The food was good, but I couldn't get over them wanting to charge me to refill my ice tea. I've only encountered that at one other restaurant in NYC -- Carnegie Deli. It just seems so greedy on the restaurant's part. Posted by Picasa

George M. Cohan giving his regards to Broadway. Posted by Picasa

New York City City Hall. Posted by Picasa

Horrifyingly Good

This afternoon I was able to "attend the tale of Sweeney Todd." This is one of the best shows I've ever seen on Broadway.

This revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" is very stripped down from previous productions. No set changes and the cast of actors doubles as the orchestra. (You haven't lived until you've seen Patti LuPone playing the Tuba."

Reducing the show to the music, lyrics and basic staging ups the intensity of the story of a murderous barber who teams up with a woman who needs "meat" for her pies on Old Londontown.

LuPone (who won the Tony for her performance in "Evita" in 1980) is great. But Michael Cerveris (who I previously saw in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and who won the Tony for his performance in "Assassins") steals the show with his powerhouse performance.

The way the show is staged much of the drama takes place in your head -- which is far more frightening than seeing it acted out on stage.

I'm confident this show will win the 2006 Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.
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Went and saw the 2005 Best Musical Tony Award winner "Spamalot" tonight. I had very low expectations going in.

My friend, David Musso, said it was hilarious and a must see. My friend, Jim Brown, hated it so much he walked out at intermission. But since neither of them reads this blog, who cares?

I thought it was very funny in a silly sort of way. It makes Mel Brooks' "The Producers" seem sophisticated. But every now and then you have to feed your inner-9-year-old. And this show does just that. Tim Curry as "King Arthur" was particularly impressive. Posted by Picasa

This Times Square Subway Station musician is saying, "$3 to take my picture." Apparently not. Posted by Picasa

Had a lovely lunch today at the Union Square Cafe, which is -- surprise -- just off Union Square. Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 25, 2005

Surrounded by Jim Browns

Pretty impressive for 71 years old!

Went to a preview performance tonight of Chita Rivera -- The Dancer's Life, which is a look back at the career of a Broadway legend.

I loved this show! Rivera dances up a storm and tells some funny and touching stories (the book is by Terrence McNally -- so I knew it would be good going in.)

My friend from Washington, DC, Jim Brown, was able to get us seats in the third row, center section of the Orchestra -- so that made the show all the better.

On the way to our seats I bumped into my other friend, Jim Brown, who used to live in Los Angeles and now is a professor in the Drama Department at Central Florida University in Orlando. Talk about your small world. We had a nice visit before the show -- even if people were complaining that we were blocking the aisle. Hopefully we'll have a chance to get together sometime this weekend while we're both here in New York CityPosted by Picasa

Went to the matinee today of "Fiddler on the Roof" starring Harvey Fierstein and Rosie O'Donnell.

The good news is this is such a strong show even Rosie O'Donnell couldn't ruin it. Fierstein made for an interesting "Tevye" and he certainly knows how to sell a song. But O'Donnell's singing isn't that great and she couldn't act her way out of a box. But it's a classic show and this is a beautiful production of it.

The most interesting moment came after the show was over. This time of the year most shows are collecting contributions for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS by stationing cast members by the doors so audience members can make a donation on the way out. After the curtain call O'Donnell gave a speech explaining the fund-raising drive and asking for contributions. She really connected with the audience -- getting applause, cheering and laughter during her speech. And Fierstein, standing with the other actors behind O'Donnell, couldn't have seemed more miserable. He sure didn't seem to like someone else getting attention at "his" show. Finally he tried to cut her off by pointing out the cast needed time to eat before the next show began at 8:00 p.m.

No wonder they seemed so natural as a bickering couple. Posted by Picasa

Believe it or not -- this was actually a slow afternoon in Times Square. Usually the sidewalks are much more mobbed. Posted by Picasa

I can't believe the Howard Johnson's in the heart of Times Square has finally shut down after opening nearly six decades ago. This corner is a candidate for massive redevelopment. Posted by Picasa

Had a lovely lunch at the 21 Club this afternoon. They have a great bargain at lunch -- 3 courses for $33 dollars.

Since it was the day after Thanksgiving, it was a little more laid back than it's normal power lunch setting. One family came in with three children dressed up including a boy about 5 years old dressed in a blue blazer and tie. He asked the waiter for a Root Beer to drink. The waiter replied, "We don't have root beer, but I can bring you a real beer if you like." The little boy excitedly said yes -- and the whole room broke up laughing.

If you look closely at the photo above you can see they are putting up their Christmas decorations. Posted by Picasa

Had a nice visit with the best Washroom Attendant in America at the 21 Club. He told me a couple of interesting stories.

1) When the Wright Brothers first flew someone said to them, "If God meant for Man to fly, God would have given us wings." And the Wright Brothers replied, "If God didn't intend for Man to fly, why did he make the Earth so beautiful from up there?"

2) Thomas Edison tried 500 times to make a light bulb that would work. Someone asked him, "So you failed 500 times?" And Edison replied, "No, I didn't fail. I discovered 500 different ways to make a light bulb that doesn't work."

He also showed me cufflinks that First Lady Nancy Reagan recently gave him. He explained that he voted for Bush and has been making excuses for it ever since. But he also voted for President Reagan and never felt the need to rationalize it. Posted by Picasa

Here's a good view of the Brooklyn Bridge from my floor at the Millenium Hilton hotel. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Hey Big Spender

Went to see Christina Applegate tonight starring in "Sweet Charity." I was pleasantly impressed by the show.

I thought Applegate sucked the air out of the room at Radio City Music Hall during the "Sweet Charity" number at the Tonys earlier this year. And it's a big room with a lot of air!

But in the context of this show she does a really good job. As does Tony-winner Denis O'Hare as the nervous accountant trapped in an elevator with Charity Hope Valentine.

The book by Neil Simon and music by Cy Coleman are classic -- but I was especially impressed by the choreography by Wayne Cilento and the costumes by the always dependable William Ivey Long.

But mostly I sat there in shock thinking that my high school, Palisades High School, did a production of the show in 1978. My mother did the make-up and I helped backstage. I don't think I really got the plot when I was 15 years old -- afterall, the story is about a dance hall hostess hoping to escape "The Life."

I can't believe our Drama Teacher got away with doing this show with high school kids. But I do remember, after seeing the first performance in our school's Multi-Purpose Auditorium, telling my step-father that I was certain that our school's production was on par with any production of the show you'd see on Broadway. Well now that I've seen it on Broadway I'll admit that perhaps I was wrong.

Seeing it tonight, 27 years later, I didn't really remember much about the story. But watching it I suddenly remembered the black pit in my stomach left by the story's dark ending. Aren't musicals supposed to have happy endings? I guess we can't have little girls going to the theater left with the impression they can grow up to be dance hall hostesses and be happy.
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Earlier in the day I ventured to Bergen County, New Jersey for Thanksgiving Dinner at my friends, Michael and Randy's, house. A few old friends were on hand and I got to meet several members of Michael's extended family. They were all funny and kind in welcoming me into their annual get together.

The food was the best I've had at a Thanksgiving Dinner in several years. And John DeGregorio wondered why he hasn't been mentioned in this blog since we went to the Tonys in June -- so I'd like to single out his brussel sprouts par excellence.

After dinner I took a New Jersey Transit train from the Ridgewood Station (photo above) to Hoboken, where I caught a PATH train to the World Trade Center station across the street from my hotel. Posted by Picasa