Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eric's Gifts and "Evita" in Sacramento with Jessica

(Click on)James 1:17 With a heart full of gratitude for such a wonderful summer of travel and theater!

Since January, I have been on a mission to see Eric Kunze perform as many times as possible. I'd seen him first in "Whistle Down the Wind" and went back several times, taking Jessica with me. In June I was able to go to Boston to see him in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." July was St. Louis with Georg for "Miss Saigon" and now it was time for "Evita" in Sacramento. I invited Jessica to come with me because I knew she would love the play and seeing Eric again.

Our trip was filled with blessings and perfection. The blessings were from God. The perfection was from Eric. More about that later! All our flights and connections were on time, we had no problem with our luggage, our rental car was upgraded free, the GPS I had brought with me got us to our hotel in no time, and we got a beautiful quiet corner room at the Sheraton Grand on the 21st floor, complete with two picture windows with window seats a breathtaking view and pillows so Jess and I could each have our spot for morning devotions. We could even see the theater from our room.

This morning we went to the workout room and then walked around the area to get our bearings. We found a place to rent bikes and a place to get a manicure/pedicure. We had an amazing outdoor breakfast within view of the beautiful Capitol building. Jess had a Thai chicken soup and bagel and my omelet was perfection: smoked Gouda, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and basil pesto. It will definitely become my signature omelet from now on. We walked and walked and ended up in Old Sacramento. The original old buildings look like the set of some black and white Western, as if we could see a shoot out on the street at any moment. The area is filled with shops and restaurants and we were able to pick up some souvenirs to bring home and Jess bought some postcards.

We wanted to get in some sun and a swim before the theater, so we changed into our suits and headed over to the Hyatt, which was two blocks away. The Sheraton pool was being renovated and they have an agreement with the other hotel for their guests. The Hyatt pool was amazing, complete with misters to keep us cool. I enjoyed a Mojito and Jess proclaimed that we had to come here every day from now on.

After a shower and umpteen changes of clothing in search for the perfect outfit, we walked over to McCormick and Schmick for our pre-theater dinner. I had the seared ahi tuna appetizer and soft shell crab, while Jess had blackened catfish and seafood chowder.
The theater was within walking distance and we had a nice stroll to walk off our dinner. Jane H was meeting us at the theater. She had bid on and won lunch with Eric so she had lots of good stories to tell from her day. She is here for the week and is attending every performance.

The show was amazing. It was theater in the round so the actors had to play to the audience in all directions and they did a fantastic job. Here is where the perfection part comes in. We watched Eric perform this part four times in a row. Each time it was fascinating to watch him as his character evolved from night to night. Even on the last night when he was completely drained and not feeling well he performed with energy, enthusiasm and charisma. He made it his best performance yet. Much of the 2200 person audience lept to their feet when he came on for his curtain call. This role was yet another facet to his talent, playing the role of a cynical, sarcastic and sometimes angry revolutionary. In one of the scenes we are able to witness his ability to dance as well, during the waltz sequence with Evita. (I have found out since that he is called by some a "triple threat" because of his acting, singing, dancing talents.) The actors entered and exited the stage from the aisles through the audience. Eric made the run up the steep ramp from the stage to the exit many times in one night. At the end of the week we can bet his his legs were pretty sore. The stage itself revolved and the center could be raised and lowered depending on the scene. Eric had grown a short beard for this role and his hair was longer than the last time we saw him. (The promo photos below were taken pre-beard.) Jessica and I decided we really like him in a beard and longish hair.

After the show, Jessica and Jane were waiting for me at the stage door when my phone rang. It was Eric explaining he wouldn't be coming out that way because he was supposed to meet with the season subscribers who had attended that evening. He asked if we wanted to come back and attend a little cabaret concert. I said of course, and he sent someone out to get us. We were seated and treated to champagne. Some of the cast were performing on a small stage. The surprise was that after a short while they let us in to meet the cast and get autographs. I had made up fans as souvenirs for the fanclub and Eric blushed and pretended to be embarassed by them. He signed the fans for us and we made arrangements to get in contact tomorrow to meet. Jess and I floated back to the hotel, our heads filled with the sights and sounds of the evening. We had tickets again for the Thursday, Friday and Sunday performances.

The next day we took a leisurely drive to Napa and ended up at Copia where we had lunch at Julia's Kitchen. Jessica and I share an interest in food and cooking, so this was the perfect place for us to indulge those two interests. There are wine tasting stations where you buy a credit card which you insert into your choice of tastings. I am still into Chardonnays and concluded that my favorite was the Rombauer, which I happily have two bottles of in my room! After lunch for dessert we finished off the card with tastings of the ice wine.

Our lunch at Julia's Kitchen was delicious. Perhaps a bit pricey for what we ordered, but I was very happy with our choice. My favorite, fois gras, was on the menu and I had a fabulous lobster and avocado salad. Jessica ordered the mushroom soup and crispy duck breast. The bread basket had five different kinds of bread, all house made and fresh. Afterward, we took a walk in the gardens and made our way to Yountville. Just driving aimlessly in the area was enjoyable. Much of the area reminded me of wine country in France. I kept thinking of the Russell Crowe film " A Good Year". Yountville was charming as well and we had our coffee and dessert at Bouchon Bakery.
The espresso macarons are to die for! We enjoyed sitting in the outdoor dining alcove, just people and dog watching, while the birds enjoyed our crumbs.

Our drive took a little further, just so I could take a photo of The French Laundry and say I had at least stood in front of this renowned restaurant. Lots of photo ops across the street too, of the picturesque gardens belonging to the restaurant. It's a good thing we allowed ourselves plenty of time to get back to Sacramento, because even though it is a Friday, not a weekend, we ran into lots of traffic. Took us a little over an hour to get there and 2-1/2 hours to get back. We were a little worried on the way because we had the theater again in the evening. But we made it in plenty of time. We stopped for Vietnamese Pho to carry back to the hotel and ended up with enough food for a small army. Felt really bad about throwing most of it out the next day, since we didn't have a fridge in the room.
The next morning we got a bit of a late start for our day trip to San Francisco and with the traffic we arrived noonish. It was really cold and windy, people were wearing parkas, so we scrapped plans for the bike ride across the Golden Gate immediately. Instead we took a boat trip out into the bay which went under the bridge and around Alcatraz. While it was windy, wavy and wet, it was a great experience and gave us views we might not otherwise have had. The guy running the tour was really funny and entertaining. I got some great photos while hanging over the side of the rocking boat and getting doused with salt spray.

The next thing we wanted to do was the cable car. We took one look at the 100+ people waiting in line at the foot of Hyde St. and decided to hoof it up the street instead. (We missed our workout this morning). We went all the way up and down again on Lombard St. It was fun strolling through all neighborhoods, all the way to Chinatown. On the way, we stumbled onto an Italian festival in Little Italy and had espresso and wine in a lovely espresso bar whose name escapes me just now. In Chinatown we strolled into a tea shop and ended up doing a tea tasting and getting quite an education about how to prepare and drink tea. We asked our server about a good, clean place to have Chinese food and she sent us to Washington Bakery on Washington Street. She certainly steered us right. The only problem is we ordered way too much, as usual and once again our leftovers went to waste in our room.

By this time it was 10:00pm. We had walked since noon from Fisherman's Wharf, up Hyde Street, down Lombard Street, into North Beach, Chinatown and then down to Pier 1and took the Embarcadero all the way back to Fisherman's Wharf again. No need to feel bad we didn't get our workout this morning! This was the only night we weren't going to see Evita and we were humming the tunes the whole time.

Now it was Sunday: the Big Day. I had planned a fanclub luncheon to meet some of the wonderful ladies I have corresponded with via email from the Eric Kunze fansite. I had settled on Morgans in the Sheraton Grand because it was convenient and private. They set up a long table for me which we decorated with the Eric fans I had brought with me from home.

First I had a visit with a friend I had gotten to know from the Fodor's travel site and his great wife. Then people started to gather and finally, in came Eric with his parents who had flown up for the last performance. We had a great time visiting and asking Eric and his parents questions. Hardly anyone knew each other, yet we felt like a big happy family. And we were so privileged they had made time for us out of their hectic schedule, especially Eric. The ladies lingered long after Eric left and none of us wanted to say goodbye.

That evening was the last performance and the end of a very long season for Eric. We were privileged to sit with Eric's parents at this performance, which made it even more enjoyable. (They are wonderful, warm people. It's not surprising Eric is as nice as he is.) Eric wasn't feeling well that day, but he nevertheless turned in a stellar performance. The best of all of the four we had seen. He adds a note at the end of "And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)" when he goes into a falsetto that is so high and pitch perfect it seems super human to me. He is standing at the center of the stage surrounded by the other players and we, the audience, can't believe our ears. He received thunderous applause and cheers each night at the end of the number each night.

After the show, we gathered with his folks at the stage door. He had just a few moments to come out to say goodbye, as his obligations took him to the patron area again. We sadly took our leave of them all and walked back to the hotel to prepare for an early departure in the morning. It will be a while before I am able to see Eric perform again. I will sit tight, with my fingers crossed, that it won't be too long, or too far away!

View a slideshow (click on photos to see larger images with descriptions):
(Click on "Sacramento 2008)

To see more of Eric, see the fansite at: