Friday, July 22, 2011

Miss Saigon and Philadelphia


Most people would think you were crazy if you told them you had gone to the same musical eight times in a row.  Even crazier still if this were the third time you had done that, albeit in different cities.  But always the same Broadway star:  Eric Kunze.  Thankfully, I'm at an age where I don't care what people think of me. The musical in question here is "Miss Saigon", which is ending its three month run in Philadelphia at the Walnut Theater, reputed to be the oldest running theater house in the U.S. with link to the Booth family(of John Wilkes Booth fame.)
Going to Eric's performances across the country has afforded me the opportunity to visit cities to which I might not otherwise have gone.  During the day I wander around and take photographs and in the evenings I meet other Kunze fans for dinners and attend the performances.  I have met the nicest people and formed lasting relationships with many of these fans and it has blessed me considerably.  Everyone has a unique story to tell and what binds us together is our mutual love and appreciation for a very talented performer with an angelic voice.

The first night I spent in Philly at an incredible all-suite hotel called AKA Rittenhouse.  It was located at the corner of Rittenhouse Square, one of the many little parks in the city.  The park was always full of people talking, eating, reading and walking their dogs.  My hotel room was huge, with two flat screen TVs - one in the living room and one in the bedroom.  I had a full kitchen as well, which inspired me to walk a few blocks to DiBruno Brothers a gourmet market where you could buy prepared foods and every imaginable specialty item.

I had always wanted to try burrata cheese, but could never find it locally.  DiBruno Brothers makes it in house.  It is a hand pulled mozarella formed into a sac and filled with a type of cottage cheese and cream.  It is tied and decorated with a leek leaf.  When you cut it open the filling oozes out.

Restaurants abound in the area.  I tried Parc on the square (French), Caribou Cafe (also French), the rooftop at the Continental Grill and returned to Marathon Grill for Friday's fan dinner.  Last visit we went to Buddakan, which still remains my all-time favorite.  There are so many great places to eat in the city.  Hopefully I will be able to return to try some more!

This trip, as with a similar trip to Philly in late May, I was a guest in the home of my oldest friend, Ingrid, who lives in Bridgeton, New Jersey, across the Delaware River about an hour's drive from the playhouse.  Bridgeton was the first place my parents and I lived when we emigrated to the U.S. from Austria.  Seabrook Farms, a large vegetable processing company, recruited them, along with thousands of other people from all over the world, and including the displaced Japanese from internment camps across the US.  In exchange for their help, the workers agreed to a one year contract at Seabrook Farms.  We were brought from Bremerhafen, Germany on US troop ships to the States and bussed down to Bridgeton.  Initially we were housed in army barracks and it was there that my parents met Ingrid's parents and other German-speaking immigrants.  I was five years old.  Our first Christmas was spent with these Germans, celebrating in the traditional European way.

We were only there a year but formed lasting friendship, such as mine with Ingrid and her family.  This weekend I met Monica, who was also a Seabrook childhood friend and the elderly Gundy, a friend of my parents from that time.  My parents are gone and so are Ingrid's, so it was especially sweet to meet someone who knew them 59 years ago during one of the most challenging times of their lives.  Ingrid and I were able to ask her questions that only she could answer.

She told us what it was like before they departed for the US (she didn't want to come because she felt the company representative treated them as though they were stupid).  She showed us a picture of the army troop ship they were on.  We talked about her recently departed husband and she shared with us how lonely she felt.  Speaking with her made me feel as though my parents were nearby and I cherish the memory of our visit. 

There was more to come:  I was able to meet four new Eric fans on two separate nights before the performances.  Friday night I had dinner with Suzanne and Sheri.  Suzanne's husband served in Vietnam and the play held a special significance to her.  She had seen it numerous times in many different venues and she told me that she had never seen Chris portrayed in such a dramatic way.  Sheri, who had never been to any kind of fanclub gathering and was embarassed to find herself there, was also drawn back to see the show again based on Eric's performance.  They were thrilled when Eric stopped in to say hello.  The second dinner was much the same, except this time it was Nikki and Susan.  Again, we conversed as though we had always known one another.  On each night, we met Eric in the lobby, as well as other cast members, who were gracious to spend time with us and pose for pictures, despite the exhaustion of performing nine shows a week, with two on Saturday and two on Sunday.
They were so nice in fact, that one cast member named Angelica (who plays Gigi) and I were chatting and she admired my necklace.  I wanted to give it to her, but she didn't want to take it for nothing.  I insisted I would be honored for her to have it and in return she gave me the necklace she was wearing.  We exchanged necklaces and the next night we found we were both wearing each other's!

Now that I am home I am still hearing the music of the show ringing in my ears.  I can't make it stop.  After a three month run, Sunday will be their last performance and each will go on to the next project.  Eric will have only one week off and then he will begin rehearsals for the same show in Sacramento, California, with a different cast. 

My next trip will be to Redondo Beach, California in late September for "Company" with the Civic Light Opera.  There is much to look forward to before then, but I can't wait to see Eric in that show - one he hasn't done before and a role that is very different from all the others.  Life is good!