Saturday, December 29, 2007

Washington, D.C. - Tour Weeks 45, 46 and 47

Saturday, December 29th

It's been great to stay put for a while. The first week here in D.C. was mostly taken up with put-in rehearsals for our new Sir Robin, James Beaman. Week two was all about finishing my Christmas shopping. In between, I snuck in a couple of visits home to NYC.

I dashed home late on Sunday night (December 16th) after the show and was happy to sleep in my own bed for the first time since April. Sheila Marie took the day off on Monday and we decorated a Christmas Tree. That evening, we met up with many, many friends for drinks and hugs. I caught up with friends I hadn't seen since my going away party in February! Of course, the whole visit went much too quickly and I was on the train back to D.C. on Tuesday.

I made a similar dash for home on the 23rd. (I would like to make mention of the toll situation between D.C. and New York - $24 in tolls!!! Everybody takes a cut: The NJ Turnpike, George Washington Bridge, Delaware Turnpike, Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and JFK Memorial Highway.) On Christmas Eve, Sheila and I wrapped and packed up gifts before we headed out for a New York Christmas Experience. We walked by the Music Hall, up 5th Avenue, past the windows at Sacks, under the UNICEF star, through the park, past Wolman Rink and finished up under the lighted stars at Columbus Circle. We wished a "Merry Christmas" to some Radio City Stage Managers (Kari, Joe and Erin stopped to say "Hi" on their way out after the last show) before we headed north with Kari. We unwrapped presents, put together toys and generally had a wonderful time up in Hopewell Junction with Kari, Paul, William and Sydney. We spent the night and continued the festivities on Christmas morning. So much fun to have Christmas with kids! Christmas evening, Sheila Marie and I just relaxed with Christmas Dinner at home. Wednesday it was back into a rental car for the trip to D.C. (what mapquest lists as a 4 hour and 10 minute trip, took us more than 7 hours - one of our ensemble women was on I-95 for nearly 9 hours!)

Yesterday, we went to see Sweeney Todd. Run - do not walk - to a movie theatre near you. It is genius. It's not for the faint of heart - the violence is stylized, but very bloody. Genius, I tell you.

Donn and Rhoda arrived yesterday afternoon and will hang out with us through the New Year. The three Westfalls are currently out on the town seeing the sights while I slave away on a two show Saturday. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the sights along with them on Monday afternoon (we have an early show on New Year's Eve) and Tuesday before Sheila has to go back to New York and Donn and Rhoda head back to Florida on the 2nd.


The National Theatre - home to Spamalot in D.C. The National first opened in 1835 (it's caught fire and been rebuilt several times - the current building was completed in 1920) making it the oldest continuously operating theatre in the US. The National is on Pennsylvania Avenue just two blocks from the White House. Every President since Andrew Jackson has seen a show at the National.

The interior of the National. Since the building is a historic landmark, the interior has to be maintained with historic accuracy. It's painted a shade that can best be described as Tiffany Blue that has started to spoil. It's a teeny house, around 1,500 seats, with great acoustics so it has very intimate feel. The actors love it - especially having come from 2,500 seat multipurpose halls like the Wharton Center.

My neighbor's house.

This shot is inspired by Fran's blog. This is the view from my hotel room window. That's the Washington Monument in the distance.

JV

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Homecoming

Homecoming
Wednesday, December 5th

I walked into the Wharton Center on Monday afternoon & it all came back. No tour of this theater necessary. The Stage Management office is across the hall from the dressing room Sheila Marie shared during The Taming of the Shrew ten years ago. The call desk sits 5 feet from the fly rail where I worked my first musical (Hello, Dolly!). Crazy to be back.


SM's dressing room.

My Office.

Of course, coming back to my hometown also means that I have a busy calendar. Load-in all day Monday and Tuesday with opening night. I also did 4 radio interviews on Tuesday morning and took a break from focusing the show's lights to meet with someone from the Alumni Association's magazine. Then there was the opening night party at Beggar's Banquet. This afternoon, we started rehearsals with James Beaman (who will take over as our new Sir Robin in two weeks). Thursday is family day - I'm headed home to Dansville for lunch with Mom, Dad and Grandma. Friday I've been invited to speak to students in the Theatre Department. Friday's show also has lots of family and friends in the audience. Saturday: two shows with family dinner between. Sunday: two early shows and load-out. Monday, I'm on a 7 AM flight to Washington, D.C. Not included here, of course, are all the restaurants, bars and stores I want to visit along with the people I hope to meet up with before and after the shows. I'm excited about all of it.

I've eaten at El Azteco twice since I've been back in town. I'm happy to report that the Topopo Salad and the Cheese Dip are a good as I remember. Beggar's is still one of the most charming and inviting restaurants around. In sad East Lansing developments: The Spartan Sports Den is no more. In nostalgic ones: I know almost no one in the Department of Theatre - Frank and Gretel are Professors Emeritus leaving Denice Detmer as my lone remaining link. The grad student who arranged my talk with student Stage Managers offered to give me directions to the Auditorium or meet me at the Wharton and bring me over. It might have been nearly ten years since I took a class there, but I bet that I could find my way to the Aud blindfolded. (I'd also being willing to bet that I could still climb up the fire escape, through the window in the dressing room bathrooms and then up and out onto the roof.)

It's been snowing here - lending campus a Christmassy atmosphere. The lighted decorations are up on all the dorms. They are, so far as I can tell, unchanged from my childhood. I haven't been feeling very Christmassy myself, but being in Michigan and seeing some snow has helped. Sheila Marie and I bought two advent calendars while she was visiting Columbus and we've been opening a window each night on the phone. It sounds cheesy, but it's really fun! Maybe while I'm in DC, I'll decorate and get into the spirit a bit more...

The snowy courtyard outside the Wharton Center.

In any event - I'm enjoying being back in the land of my people & looking forward to the rest of the week!


Even Kitty and Baby are getting in on the act!

I was interviewed by Mike Hughes of the Lansing State Journal a couple of weeks ago. you can check out the story he cobbled together here. (Ignore the misspelling of my name and the factual errors.)


JV

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Seattle Recap - Part 2 - Photo Essay

Tuesday, November 6th

On the way back from our Whale Watching/Apple Picking/Jackuzi Tub anniversary weekend, Sheila Marie and I passed through Everett, Washington. Photo opportunities abounded:

City Hall (the little sign on the right says: Everett Police Department)

Mrs. Everett gets in on the act

Jazz hands!


All the way from Broadway




I had to chase down the Everett Transport




We're going to rock down to Everett Avenue

JV

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Seattle Recap - Part 1

Monday, November 5th

I loved Seattle. I didn't want to go. Of course, the tour leaves the not-so-great cities, so it must also leave my favorite. I was on a plane to Boise at 6:45 AM on Monday.

The last week in Seattle was the best week of the tour. Sheila Marie arrived on Friday the 19th and we really took advantage of a week together in a wonderful place. Her week long visit will need more than one blog entry - so this is the first in the series. We'll begin before her arrival:

In preparation for Ken's departure to Australia (he'll be in Oz until the second week in December - they're launching an Australian Tour of Spamalot and Ken was tapped to help get it off the ground) we welcomed Lisa Ann Chernoff to Team Spamalot Stage Management. She's a friend of Francesca's and is currently based in Seattle. Lisa joined us in the middle of the Seattle engagement and will stay with us through East Lansing. She is great and we're all pleased to have her with us.


Stage Management in Ken's absence: JV, Lisa and Francesca

Sheila arrived late Friday night. She had been in New Orleans on business Wednesday and Thursday, went in to the office on Friday, took the train to Newark Friday afternoon and made the cross-country flight Friday evening. Suffice to say, she was pretty beat by the time she made it to the apartment on Friday.

Saturday we headed straight for the sidewalk creperie. They whip up both sweet and savory crepes to order from a little stand on the street under the Washington State Convention Center. I must have eaten at least a half dozen crepes during my stay.



From there, we made a quick visit to the market. We shopped a bit for the ingredients to some of Sheila's favorite meals and took in the sights.


The first Starbucks...

Of course, I had two shows on Saturday so our sight-seeing had to be cut short. Which was fine with Sheila Marie, I think, as she was still a bit jet lagged. After the second show, however, Mitchell had arranged a trip to a haunted house. On the fall social calendar, a haunted house is a can't miss event for my wife. The haunted house Mitchell chose was run by a local radio station. There was an enormous line, but we skipped the line as VIPs! We had a great time shuffling along in the semi-dark waiting for masked teenagers to jump out at us.


Bright and early on Monday morning Sheila Marie and I took off in a rental car for points north. We drove up to Anacortes where we boarded a great big ferry boat for the hour ride to Friday Harbor. We ate breakfast on the island and did some poking around in the shops until the captain of our whale watching boat called. When I booked the whale watching trip, there weren't enough reservations to guarantee a trip. The night before, the charter company called and said that another couple had signed up - we might be able to go out on a small boat. Monday morning, Captain Ivan called and let us know we would be headed out on the big boat!





The whale watching trip was, in a word, amazing. There are 3 pods of resident orcas in the Puget Sound area. Each pod is a family of about 25 whales headed by its oldest female. The resident orcas eat fish - the salmon that make the Pacific Northwest so famous are their favorite food. There are also some transient orcas that move in and out of the Puget Sound. They don't hang out with their families, travel in smaller groups, and eat seals and other bigger animals. On Monday, there were no transient orcas around, but all three pods of resident orcas were all hanging out together - meaning that there were around 80 whales all in close proximity!!! Captain Ivan motored us quite a ways south to check out the whales. Along the way, we stopped to see Harbor Seals and Stellar Sea Lions lounging on the rocks. The seals looked puppies with their long whiskers and cute faces. The sea lions were enormous and sort of scary looking. The male sea lions grow to more than 9 feet in length and more than 2,000 pounds!


These are the harbor seals sunning on a rock. (JB, our naturalist, took these photos with his long lens.) Seals can't turn their flippers around to pull themselves along the beach, so they're very awkward when they're on land.



A Stellar Sea Lion. They're the biggest member of the seal family. They growl like bears - even from more than a hundred yards away, we could hear them clearly.

When we reached the whales - they were everywhere. The captain cut the motor on the flat seas under sunny skies and you could hear the whales blowing all around us. The crew lowered the hydrophone and we could here the whales clicking and squealing in every direction. We must have seen more than 50 individual whales. Some of them we saw often enough that I began to be able to identify them (the markings on their tails, the shape of their dorsal fin and their white body patterns are all a little different).



Too soon, it was time to head back to port. We must have spent nearly two hours with the whales, but it flew by. On the way back to port, there was a bald eagle perched on the rocks. It's easy to forget how big a bald eagle is, but when you see one, it's a very impressive animal! (Fun fact: an eagle's back talon contains a tendon that acts as a ratchet. Once the eagle seizes its prey, the "ratchet" is engaged. The bird can not let go of whatever it is holding until it sets the prey on solid ground and relieves the weight. Of course, this is meant to help an eagle hold onto a thrashing fish; but if the eagle gets ahold of a fish that is too big, it cannot let go and may actually drown.)

On our way back to port.


Nautical Sheila Marie.

Back on dry land, Sheila Marie and I checked into the Friday Harbor House. Our room was amazing. One wall of our room was composed of two sliding glass doors overlooking the marina. We had a fireplace and a raised jacuzzi tub - with a view of the water from the tub. It was the perfect setting to celebrate (only a little bit delayed) our 3rd anniversary.


Sheila taking in the view just after sunrise.

The good folks at the front desk recommended a local restaurant for dinner. It was a tiny place hidden around behind a landscaping business, but was a find. The Backdoor Kitchen was charming, with a small, but varied menu and a warm ambiance. We enjoyed our evening immensely.


The next morning, the sum streaming in through the glass doors woke us up early. This was the view:


video

That's the ferry making its first trip of the day.

We ate breakfast overlooking the marina, poked around the shops of Friday Harbor, and not long after were on the ferry as it made its way back to the mainland.


Sheila Marie on the return ferry trip with Mount Baker in the background. Shortly after this picture was taken, a group of dolphins was sighted near the ferry - all I saw were small splashes, though.

When we were back on terra firma, we sought out an apple orchard. Sheila and I have gone apple picking every year since we started dating. We even took a group apple picking the day before our wedding. I wasn't going to let life on tour mess that up! We went to Merritt Orchards in the aptly named Bayview, Washington. The orchard is situated between the Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains and the store is housed in a bright red barn. The place couldn't be more picturesque.




Mount Baker behind the orchard and fields of dahlias.

The trip was a pretty great way to celebrate our anniversary!

More to come -

JV

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lots of Photos and a Little Seattle

Monday, October 15th

Week #1 in Seattle was busy, busy, busy.

Tuesday: Load-in
Wednesday: Load-in and Opening Night
Thursday: 2 Shows
Friday: Rehearsal and 1 Show
Saturday: 2 Shows
Sunday: 2 Shows

Not a lot of free time to explore the city, but my impression remains overwhelmingly positive. It's very urban feeling, but there's water, mountains and trees nearby. There are lots of restaurants, bars and shopping. I can walk to everything I need. I take the monorail to rehearsal. I'm very happy.

Today was my first real day to myself. After the long week, I really wanted an easy day off. I went down to the waterfront for lunch with Erik Hayden. We met up at Emmet Watson's Oyster Bar near the Pikes Place Market. Emmet Watson's is a homey little oyster bar. The menu is printed on brown paper bags and contains only oyster house favorites: fish and chips, chowders, clams, mussels and oysters. We washed down our seafood with some local beers and left happy men.

I wandered through the market picking up things for tonight's dinner. I got fresh fruits and veggies, cheese, a baguette and pate. I spent the balance of my day off in the kitchen putting together a big pot of corn chowder and listening to the baseball games. (Are the Rockies unstoppable?) Happiness.

I did snap a couple of photos with my cell phone this week:

The Paramount Theatre in Seattle


I found this one on the web. It's a pretty good representation of the interior of the Paramount. The theatre was built as a movie palace with stage shows. It's enormous (nearly 3,000 seats) and retains much of its opulence.


After the show on Thursday night a bunch of us went out to a brewpub called Six Arms. This is a shot of their brew-room.


The Washington Athletic Club hosted a party for us after the show on Friday night. There was plenty of wine, but no beer. I'd be willing to bet there aren't many photos of our crew guys all drinking wine. Cuz, Berg, Jeff and Tony.


A bunch of us went out for late night oysters last night. I snapped this photo of the Pikes Place Market on the walk home.


I also got back three rolls of film back from Snapfish. The first roll started in Salt Lake City and stretched to Denver. The second roll picked up at Cuz and Maggie's party and went through the crazy playoff ballgame. The last roll wrapped up the visit in Denver with photos from my second wardrobe road-trip. The highlights:

One last photo from Spiral Jetty: you can almost see how pink the water is in this photo.

Play-off baseball!




Deep into the thirteenth inning: Fran and her rally cap.

Rockies win!


They don't call it "Lookout Mountain" for nothin'.


Fran and the bison.



The pinkish circle in the bottom third of this photo is a fossilized dinosaur bone.

JV

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Seattle, Day #1

Tuesday, October 9th

First, a message to hotel owners everywhere: Come into the 21st century - purchase fitted bottom sheets. Using a flat sheet isn't working. I wake up in the morning all tangled in a sheet that isn't secured to the mattress. No matter how nice your hotel is, I don't want to touch the mattress. Thank you, in advance.

Now that that's out of the way...

Yesterday afternoon I boarded a plane bound for Seattle. From the air I observed that there are a whole lot of mountains between Denver and Seattle. 3 hours of mountains. Wow. The show will open on Wednesday here in Seattle to give the trucks time to cross all those mountains, so I had the evening free last night. I walked and walked around downtown Seattle.

My first impression is entirely positive. The hotel (where I'm staying until my apartment becomes available) is around the corner from the theatre and the convention center, so there's plenty to do within an easy walk. I walked down Pike Street to the Public Market. I didn't explore it to thoroughly, but the guys throwing fish were readily apparent. I walked through the shopping districts (Sheila and I should have no problem spending my paycheck while she's here) and I ended up strolling along the water. So glad to be back in a town with lots of water. The view across the Puget Sound is amazing: there are even more mountains.

This afternoon I'll head to the theatre to observe the load-in. This is our last load-in with Ken for awhile (he heads to Australia near the end of our engagement in Seattle to help tech the Australian tour), so I had better have some idea what goes on at the load-in before I have to do one in Boise. Our first week in Seattle looks like it will be a busy one. Load-in Tuesday and Wednesday. Two shows on Thursday (to make up for the one we missed on Tuesday). A rehearsal with Ben Davis (our soon-to-be Galahad) Friday afternoon and show Friday night. Then the 4 shows on Saturday and Sunday. We'll also be rehearsing our new swing this week and for the coming two weeks. Not a lot of time for sightseeing, I'm afraid.

I stole a few pictures from Fran's blog of the week that was:

The October Baseball crew: Tony, Vera, Patrick, JV & Michael


The Rockies win!


Cuz & Maggie at home.


Cuz at his grill.


We named this guy "Big Daddy". Obviously the bull of the part of the Denver Bison Herd that we were able to see. Such crazy looking animals.

Last night I was also able to listen to the Yankees game in its sad entirety. (My hotel doesn't have TBS, so I was spared the visuals. Hooray, however, for XM!) I won't recount it here; suffice to say it made me both angry and sad - so many wasted opportunities. I'm not as sure as George Steinbrenner seems to be how to "fix" the team. Whatever they do, I hope the Yankees' Front Office doesn't lose Jorge Posada to free agency. I did get choked up at the thought that I may not ever see Joe Torre in a Yankees uniform again (as I did on Sunday at the thought that Roger Clemens' last appearance in any baseball uniform was such a sad disaster).

I will let this photo from the Times be the last word on the subject.



JV