Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tales from the Front Row: Jesus Christ Superstar in Redondo Beach

Ahhh, California…

I’ve been blessed to visit California three times in the last eight months. Each time, I find myself wishing I could move there. There is something about the weather, the people, the vibe that resonates in my soul. Sun has a lot to do with it. It definitely sets the mood for me. At home in Michigan we don’t see a lot of sun. When I’m checking the weather we’ll be overcast, with clouds or rain most of the time, whereas in California there will be an uninterrupted series of days with nothing but sunshine. Ahhh. The only thing holding me back is my family and loved ones back home.

I flew into LAX and rented a vehicle from Midway at the Radisson near the airport. I had to take the Radisson shuttle, which seemed to take longer than other rental car shuttles. It was not a big problem to me, but might be if someone were in more of a hurry. I had gotten a good price online and I got a nice vehicle for the price (Toyota Camry which came to $124 for three days.)

I had my own GPS and was at my hotel in no time at all, the Manhattan Beach Marriott, which I had gotten through Priceline for $90 a night. The only drawback to this hotel was the $12.95/day charge for internet (not wireless) and $19 valet parking. Self park was $15, but it was worth the extra $4 bucks not to have to search for my car in the parking structure. The hotel was nice enough, with a bar, restaurant, outdoor heated pool, fitness center and golf course. The service, from front desk to valet was super polite and efficient. When my hair dryer conked out I had another delivered to my room in less then 10 Minutes. The bed was comfortable, the room was clean. Within a five minute walk was a shopping plaza with a Gibson Farms grocery store (kind of like a Trader Joes) and other stores. I stocked up on snacks from Gibson Farms, which tided me over to the point where I only ate out once during my visit. My room had no view and no mini-fridge which were the only drawbacks. Best of all, it was only a ten minute drive to the theater and a 20 minute drive to the theater.
My first night I drove to the theater and saw my first performance of JCS (see review). After the show I waited at the stage door for Eric and was relieved to see he had survived the brutality that had been inflicted on him in the past two hours, and we had a nice visit catching up. Later at the hotel I enjoyed a nice glass of Chardonnay and made it an early night (for me) trying to adjust to the time change. (See more of Eric Kunze and read my review of Jesus Christ Superstar at http://www.erickunze.com/. )

I had planned to spend Saturday at the pool, but the weather that day was in the 60’s (and ironically in Michigan it was unseasonably warm at 90 degrees). Not fair! I spent a nice day shopping and driving down to Manhattan Beach, which was only 20 minutes away. The entire strand has dedicated biking and walking sidewalks, bordered by homes overlooking the ocean. It seemed everyone was out, walking, running, skateboarding, biking and surfing. That’s one reason I love California. People are outside all the time. They love the outdoors, as I do. I purposed to return here the next morning for a closer look. The rest of the afternoon the sun had emerged and I indulged in some sunbathing and reading poolside.

I was meeting Jane, from the Eric Kunze fanclub, for dinner. She had recommended Il Forniao, and Italian restaurant very close to both our hotels. I was happy with the choice and enjoyed a beef carpaccio appetizer and a spinach/bacon salad, while Jane had a vegetarian pizza. We had met in Sacramento when I was there for Evita and held the first “annual” Eric Kunze Fanclub meeting, which she attended. We drove together to the performance that night. This performance was the official opening night and the house was packed. The show was flawless, including and especially Eric.

One of the cast told me it was very difficult for them, as the Apostles, to be lying down pretending to sleep while Eric was singing Gethsemane. They just wanted to watch to be a witness to his awesome singing. As a side note, another person who worked on Evita in Sacramento wrote to me that when it came time for Eric to sing “And the Money Came Rolling In”, whether performance or rehearsal, all the interns and tekkies would stop what they were doing and peek through the curtains to watch him sing. The high note Eric hits in both those numbers is a high G, a note which is at the top of a Soprano’s range. It is truly unreal, not only in terms of the perfect pitch of the note, but the power which which it is delivered. When Eric is hanging on the cross, you are able to clearly see how developed his diaphragm is under his ribcage. That and his phenomenal lung capacity comes from many years of hard, hard work.

After the show we waited for Eric again. There were many people at the stage door this night and it took awhile for him to greet every one on his way over to us. We were blessed to be able to join the cast party for a little while and had fun talking with some of the other performers.

Sunday dawned sunny and warmer and I decided to drive over to Manhattan Beach for my morning exercise. Eric had told me “take lots of quarters” for parking, which of course I forget. So it took me awhile to find a store which would supply me with the necessary coins to make it possible for me to park there. Walking on the sand next to the ocean is far preferable to watching Good Morning America on the treadmill. What made it more interesting was watching the wetsuit-clad surfers navigating the waves next to the pier. I watched in amazement as they steered their surfboards between the stone pillars and under the pier to the other side. After my walk on the beach I strolled the path next to the fabulous homes overlooking the water, taking copious photos for remembrance. How heavenly it must be to stay in a home with those large glass windows and take in that view!

I returned to the hotel just in time to shower and change for the 2:00 matinee performance, followed by our fanclub gathering. Sadness was already beginning to settle on me as I prepared for my last day in California and seeing Eric. I have begun to notice a pattern to my “Eric” trips; Day One is excitement and nervousness, Day Two is elation, Day Three is depression. After the show I stood in the lobby holding up my Eric Kunze fan and everyone who had signed up for the meet and greet gathered around. Eric’s parents had very graciously set up our meeting room with wine and refreshments. Jane had made name tags and little boxes of chocolates. We were able to give people the chocolate, signed photographs of Eric and the Eric fans. James Blackman, the founder of Civic Light Opera and producer of Jesus Christ Superstar, stopped in for a visit and was just as funny in person as he was on the stage. He joked that he wanted me to start a fanclub for him and wanted his picture on his own fan. Eric spent time talking with everyone individually and a good time was had by all. I would count our second “annual” fanclub meeting as a success! Maybe by next year our numbers will have increased to the point that we’ll have to obtain a bigger hall!

After the show I stopped at Bristol Farms again and in my room enjoyed a feast of sushi and fresh strawberries for dessert (with a split of champagne J).

There’s not much more to tell. At the moment I’m on the plane and we just heard we were being diverted to San Antonio, (instead of changing planes in Houston) due to weather. Hopefully I will somehow be able to make my connection to Detroit and make it home tonight yet. Ahh, air travel!

Epilogue: Just made it home at 4a.m. Might as well stay up, since I have to get up for work in a few hours anyway. Gives me a chance to bring my blog up to date!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tales From the Front (Row)

Hi fans! I'm here in sunny California to see Eric Kunze star in Jesus Christ Superstar. After seeing him in six productions, he hasn't disappointed me yet. Each role has been so varied: from light (Joseph, Grease), to sarcastic (Evita), to heavily dramatic (Whistle Down the Wind, Miss Saigon, JCS). Whatever role he does, he gives 100%. A friend of mine, who has been in the orchestra for several of Eric's shows, said he was the gutsiest performer she had ever seen. He takes risks vocally and physically and they pay off. As an audience member you are sucked into his portrayal of the character. It's hard to take your eyes off of him when he's on stage.

I do have to look away, however, when he is being beaten or when he is hanging on the cross. It's so realistic I have to see him after the show to make sure he's OK. If they ever remake the movie, they'd be fools not to grab Eric for the lead.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Day Trip to Stratford: West Side Story

The Stratford Festival opened this weekend with the previews of West Side Story. Since my sister Rosi was visiting from Germany, it was the perfect opportunity to do a day trip and see some great theater at the same time. Stratford is about a three hour drive from us, so it is doable in one day, if the performance is a matinee. It was a lovely clear day for a drive, albeit a bit on the chilly side.

We arrived in time to do a little shopping on the charming main street in downtown after a forgettable hasty lunch at Bentley's Pub. We shopped at Scout, which was filled with modern design unusual one of a kind household items and Indigena, dedicated to Canadian crafts and art. I found the greatest silk wine gift pouches and silk/linen scarves for gifts.

Stratford has four theaters: West Side Story was at the Festival Theater, the largest of the four with 1,826 seats and a proscenium stage which juts out into the audience, enabling everyone to get a good view. Fifteen minutes before the performance you are alerted by a drumroll and a fanfare of four trumpeters announcing the start of the play. They repeat the fanfare from several different points around the theater.

I've seen West Side Story many times, but enjoyed it most at this venue. Perhaps it was the proximity to the actors which made it more personal for me, but I felt emotionally connected and was in tears at the end. The dancing was incredible. The original very challenging Jerome Robbins choreography is copyrighted and must be included in every production. The cast more than did justice to Mr. Robbins work. In fact, I felt the entire cast was equally responsible for the success of the show, rather than just the two leads, Chilina Kennedy and Paul Nolan. Of the pair, Chilina was most impressive with strong vocal and acting abilities. Jennifer Rias, as Anita and Josie Marasco as Anybodys were also outstanding and believable. If this was the first performance of the piece, it can only get better and better, which bodes well for a packed house to continue until the end of the run in November. I know I'd like to return for a repeat experience.


Before our drive home we took time out for a lovely dinner at Woolfy's in St. Mary's. Years ago we always included dinner at Woolfy's in our Stratford weekends. They have since moved to St. Mary's and morphed into a full fledged elegant restaurant. Owned and run by Chris and Mary Woolf, attention to detail is evident in the decor as well as food preparation and presentation.
Locally grown organic produce and meat is used on the menu. The proof is in the tasting. Flavors explode in your mouth and you savor every bite. I had to resist licking my plate. My bison filet with fig preserves was unique and delectible. For dessert, pavlova with mango and raspberry mousse a perfect ending. The service, which included the couple's 16 year old son, left nothing to be desired. When one of us dropped a fork, he appeared in two seconds with another. We asked him how he knew, and he replied that he had heard it fall. We wish them well and hope that they are around for a good long time to come.