Friday, March 30, 2007

The Great Philly Update

The Great Philly Update
Friday, March 30th

Week one in Philly was crazy, both personally and professionally.

The crew here is great. I understand that load-in was a little bit trying for our road crew. IA Local 8 is all about their rule book and asserting that they’re just as professional as any other local in the land. That said; they’ve been great to run the show with; especially in comparison to Baltimore (where, apparently, stage hands go to die).

Right from our arrival in Philadelphia, a plague has descended on the company. Sir Galahad called out on Tuesday (almost unheard of for a principal to call out on the opening night in a new city). During Tuesday’s show, Jaki (one of our traveling dressers) started vomiting backstage. She proved to be seriously ill and missed more than a week worth of shows. The plague continued on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: Tony (Sir Galahad), Patrick (Lancelot), Eric (the cover for Lancelot and Galahad) and Jonathon (Ensemble) all called out at one time or another. The King and Sir Robin also caught the throat bug that was going around. Add to that several local dressers who also called out, and it was a very interesting week!

The tour celebrated its one-year anniversary with a party on Thursday night. It was quite an affair. Held at a restaurant a couple of blocks from the theatre; there were passed hors devours, a carving station, pasta, beer, wine and a DJ. It was really a good time. Everyone got dressed up for the occasion and I understand things got a little bit wild after I left.

As if the various illnesses were not enough, we were visited by our creative and management teams on Saturday. Thursday afternoon we brushed up the whole company. Saturday before the show, we all rushed around preparing for the arrival of Mike Nichols, Eric Idle, et al. Of course, they required a reception room at the theatre that had to be stocked with Evian, Fiji and Diet Coke. They arrived about an hour before the matinee and never went into their reception room! Instead they floated around the offices and dressing rooms backstage. I tried to stay out of the way. Mike, Eric and Casey (our choreographer) gave notes after both shows. The notes were mostly very positive (especially after the second show) and were very interesting to listen to (as one who wasn’t around for the creation of the show). The day kept us all on our toes almost non-stop.

Perhaps the highlight of Saturday came before the second show. The whole Spamily gathered for a group photo with Mike Nichols and Eric Idle. As we were waiting for everyone to get settled, Eric started singing the Python hit: “Sit on My Face”. There were maybe only three of us who knew all the words and could authoritatively join in. All those hours of listening to Monty Python tapes while driving around in Norman had finally paid off! Another life moment.

Thursday evening I was in the office sorting out the playbill stuffers (with all the illnesses, there were plenty last week). I bent down to pick up a box and as I stood back up, I felt a sharp pain in my lower back and saw stars. I lay on the floor for a while and took a bunch of Advil but really didn’t feel too bad (I even made it to the party on Thursday night). Friday morning, however, I couldn’t get out of bed. When I tried to stand, I fell back into bed screaming. It took four hours (sometimes crawling on the floor and often swearing) for me to get dressed and out of my hotel room. The remainder of the day was spent at the hospital (first in the Emergency Room and then where they handle Workers Comp cases). I limped out of the hospital with a muscle relaxant and some prescription strength Aleve just in time to go to work on Friday.

In the week since the sprain/strain, my back has steadily improved. Now, I mostly have soreness in my butt (though the doctor says that originates in my lower back). I’m limping less and getting around better. This morning, I woke up with a sore throat and a bunch of crap in my chest. I just can’t win!

Things have been more uneventful at work this week. Everyone is getting healthy (Jaki’s back!) and the understudies are getting a break. We’re putting in a new ensemble woman (welcome Julie Barnes). We had an understudy run through yesterday.

Next week appears that it will also be a busy one. In addition to finishing Julie’s put in (with a company stage rehearsal) and another understudy rehearsal, we’ll also start putting in another male swing. Lots of rehearsals are on the calendar for next week. I may never get to get out and see Philly!

Still hoping for a cheese steak…


Monday, March 26, 2007

An Eventful Week

An Eventful Week
Monday, March 26th

Week one in Philly was crazy.
I hurt my back and went to the E.R. for some muscle relaxers and pain killers. The computer died (or rather the charger for the computer died - a new one is on its way). I sang "Sit On My Face" with Eric Idle. Sheila and Andy came for the weekend.

All major events that I promise I will blog about soon.

I'm home in NYC for a visit and borrowing Shey's computer. Just wanted to put up a note that I'm not dead, but it might be a while before I can blog more...


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Academy of Music

The Academy of Music
Tuesday, March 20th

The Academy of Music was built as an opera house in the 19th Century. It opened in 1857 (they celebrated the 150th anniversary with a concert and ball earlier this year) making it the oldest opera house in the country still used for its original purpose. The Philadelphia Ballet and Opera Companies make their home at the Academy while the Philadelphia Orchestra has moved just down the street to the Kimmel Center and their new Concert Hall.

The opulent house seats about 2,900. It is designed like a European opera house with 3 horseshoe shaped balconies. (The folks seated on the sides of the balconies have seats that face the center of the auditorium, rather than the stage.) Walking out on stage, one feels like you're entering a scene from Amadeus! It must be said that our set looks a little strange sitting out there, but this is the big touring house in town.

The theatre from the street.

The auditorium.

The stage is plenty deep - we have tons of room upstage. It's wide enough for our set, but all of our quick-changes will have to be upstage of the set (there will still be tons of room). I don't see any major headaches coming - knock wood.

While we're here in Philly, I intend to create a blog (or maybe a series) entitled: "How We Do It". I hope to answer lots of questions about how we accomplish the show and how we move it. If you have any questions I can answer - drop me a comment or shoot me an email...


Monday, March 19, 2007

Moving Day

Moving Day
Monday, March 19th

The last weekend in Baltimore was a busy one. Friday night I did, in fact, head out to Bertha’s for some of their famous mussels. I went out with Mike (electics/pyro), Josh (electrics), Michael (a.k.a. Cuz – sound) and Pam (hair). We took taxis over to Fell’s Point, the Williamsburg-ish neighborhood on the waterfront. We had a really great time. We polished off 5 big bowls of the mussels; who knew mussels are such good bar food? They give you something to do (like peanuts), have a fun condiment (garlic butter), and take a long-ish time to eat (so you keep drinking). Unfortunately, they don’t soak up any alcohol in your stomach and I had plenty of time to drink. By the time we piled back into taxis, I was the proud owner of an “EAT BERTHA’S MUSSELS” bumper sticker AND t-shirt. The upshot is that we may have sold some tickets to the show; the bartenders were big Monty Python fans…

The bartenders at Bertha's & one of their infamous bumper stickers.
(One now graces my trunk.)
Tony (sound) and some other members of the Spamily edited one of the bumper stickers on an earlier visit ...

Saturday and Sunday were two show days. Sunday began with a bang, though: just after I got out of the shower, the Radisson had a fire alarm. It turned out to be a false alarm, but I was out on the street with many of the hotel guests for about ½ an hour. Thank goodness it was a clear and sunny day! Hannah came up from D.C. to catch the matinee on Sunday. We had a quick bite between shows and continued to catch up gossip. And then, of course, load out on Sunday night. My part in the load-out is brief: Ken does most of the packing while Francesca and I run the show. By the time the show’s over, all that’s left to do is pack up the lobby board (the company listing that sits in the lobby), collect the valuables bags and lock up our road boxes.

My Sunday morning wake-up call.

This morning, I finished packing up my suitcases and we boarded a charter bus for Philly. Much of the cast had headed back to NYC for their day and a half off (the crew left on a sleeper bus after load-out) so there was plenty of room to spread out on the bus. The trip was brief, only about 2 hours. We arrived in Philly around 2:15 PM. I checked into the Residence Inn across the street from City Hall. I LOVE MY ROOM! I’m in a corner studio on the 16th floor with windows on two sides overlooking City Hall. I have my own little kitchen (a dishwasher but no oven). Not only do they serve a hot breakfast every morning, but Monday thru Thursday they offer a “social hour” with free hot entrees and a bar. As fun as the mac ‘n cheese and wings they’re serving tonight sounded, I was too excited about cooking for myself to head down there. There’s also a full-on Laundromat in the basement. (There was a single washer in the Baltimore Radisson.) I’m digging this hotel a lot.

The Reading Terminal Market is right around the corner from my hotel. Even better than the Lexington Market in Baltimore, the Reading Terminal Market is a farmer’s and gourmet market with restaurants. I got nearly everything I need for the gorgonzola/sausage/broccoli pasta and salad I’m planning for tonight. I can’t wait until later in the week when the Pennsylvania Dutch bring their wares to the market! I’m awfully glad to have a kitchen with such an exciting culinary resource nearby.

Philly feels much more like New York than any of the places we’ve been on tour thus far. Though we’ve been in the downtown areas of many of the cities we’ve played, but this is the first time it feels like that there’s everything you need in walking distance and there are not big weird gaps along your walking route. Though Atlanta turned out to be very walkable, it was clearly a driving city and there were some sketchy low-rise areas along the way. In Baltimore and Memphis the downtown area had very clearly gone downhill and hadn’t rebounded all the way yet. (In Memphis it may have still been declining.) Though I enjoyed all of those towns, I feel the most at home here.

Tomorrow’s the long day. (The presenters are throwing us an opening night party after the show.) Wednesday we have two shows. Thursday there’s a full company brush-up in the afternoon and a one-year celebration party after the show. So, Friday will be my first real opportunity to get out and see the city. Sheila’s coming down this weekend with Andy D. and I can’t wait! With just one matinee on Sunday, I should be able to be back in NYC for a late dinner. It doesn’t look like I’ll be seeing much of the Philadelphia this week, but we’re here for a total of three weeks, so I’m sure I’ll be able to get a good taste.

I compared the baseball schedule to my tour schedule and was a little disappointed with the results. There’s only one game I can get to here in Philly. It’s a 3 PM matinee on the last Thursday we’re in town. I’ll probably go, but will have to leave early to make show call. After that, we’re in a bunch of towns with no major league team (Hartford, Rochester, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Louisville) until we’re in Texas. Even then, there’s only one game each in Dallas and Houston. I had hoped to see a lot more games and stadiums while on tour… Oh well, I’ll be sure to go to some minor league games. (I am home for the Yankees home-opener, but the game is, of course, sold out.)


Friday, March 16, 2007

The US Naval Academy

The US Naval Academy
Friday, March 16th

Yesterday, Tony (Sir Galahad) took us on a road trip to visit his alma mater: The United States Naval Academy. Annapolis is about 35 minutes south of Baltimore and a little farther down the Chesapeake Bay. It is also the capital of Maryland and the statehouse sits in the middle of a cobblestone traffic circle in the middle of town. The whole place is picture-postcard pretty and has a very colonial-era feel.

The midshipmen (as the students are called) were on Spring Break while we were there. Tony explained that even if you had nowhere to go for spring break, “you would sleep in your car just to get off the Yard.” The whole complex is surrounded by an 8 foot masonry wall; everything inside the wall is “the Yard” (i.e. campus). As a midshipman, permission to leave the yard is a privilege – especially if you are an underclassman. The campus is very pretty. It sits (as you would expect) right on the water and is all done in the federalist style that much of Washington D.C. is. Everything feels very grand.

The chapel at the Naval Acadmey

The midshipmen all live in one gigantic dorm (they claim that it is the largest dorm in the world – home to around 4,000 students). There is no off-campus living. In your first year, you must leave the door to your room open whenever you are in it. There are prescribed study, drill and sleep times. As a first year, you may not sleep except between lights out and revele (11:00 PM and 6:30 AM), if you’re caught sleeping you are punished. The reverse is also true, you are not supposed to be awake between lights out and revele – you can also be punished for that. Tony said that there was much studying with a flashlight under your blanket. Your quarters could be inspected at any moment with various punishments for mis-folding your tee-shirts and having dirty grout. It was everything you imagine military school to be. Everyday there is brigade-wide drill before lunch.

Of course, it is also a world-class college. There are 19 majors; 16 of them are engineering and math related. In addition to calculus and thermo-dynamics everyone also takes classes in weapons systems and naval architecture. The faculty is mix of Navy and Marine officers alongside civilian professors. There is also a large physical fitness component. You must run a mile and a half every semester and be graded on it (an “A” is something like 6 minutes).

The midshipmen also have to take summer “cruises”. These are your more specific naval training. You learn to sail. You learn to live on (and escape from) a submarine. You also learn what teargas feels like. After graduation, the newly minted officer is obligated to the Navy or the Marines for at least 4 years (more if you want to fly or be a SEAL).

The whole place was very impressive. It also made me really appreciate and respect the commitment that the members of the armed services have made. I can not imagine committing 8 years of my life right out of high school. I further can not imagine going through the “plebe summer” of being yelled at, having all my “civilian” possessions taken away and saluting all the time. All that training and investment clearly turns you into a top-notch fighting professional; it is truly a shame that the people at the very top of the command structure are not similarly professional and well trained. Lastly, the whole experience made me glad that I went to MSU.

At the end of the first year, the seniors place a "firstie's cover" (the white naval hat from "On the Town") at the top of this pillar and grease it with 5,000 lbs. of lard. The "firsties" then struggle to replace it with a midshipman's "cover". When they do, the freshman are all allowed to exchange their hats for that of a midshipman. Tony said it took his class about 4 hours...

After our tour of the Yard, Tony took us into Annapolis for an experience I was more familiar with from my college education: beer and pub food. As I mentioned, the whole town looks like it was lifted from illustrations of the colonial period. Many of the streets are cobblestone or brick. They’re all too narrow and winding. The buildings all are also narrow and none are more than two stories. Lovely.

We ate lunch at an Irish pub, McGarvey’s, near the water. It started out warm enough for us to eat our oysters and drink of Guinness outside, but by the time we were finishing our entrees we retreated inside. Next door, there was a market building converted to house ice cream shops and bakeries. We all indulged at a little Italian bakery that was celebrating its 51st Anniversary (a 51 cent cannoli – how could I pass it up?). There was time for a brief constitutional along Main Street before we had to load-up and head back to Baltimore.

Before rehearsal this afternoon, I headed back to the Lexington Market for what maybe the final stop on my Crab Cake tour. I partook of Faidley’s version of the venerable Baltimore tradition. It was delicious. Of course I went for the all lump-meat variation. It came with a side of slaw (runny and with lots of non-cabbage goodies) and cucumber salad. The crab cake was perhaps a tie or maybe a close second to the one I had the first day at Mo’s (maybe it was just the surprise of how much I liked the first one that lingers). I followed the crab cake up with a fruit salad and, on my way out of the market, discovered another Baltimore delicacy: Berger’s Cookies. These little bits of heaven are sort of an uber-Milano. The cookie is somewhere between the cake part of an NYC black and white cookie and a sugar cookie. The cookie is then topped with a thick fudgey frosting. You can imagine my delight!

A Faidley's crab cake. I'm drooling...

Bergers Cookies!

I had hoped to have many photos (from Atlanta, the National Aquarium and the B&O Museum) to share along with this post. Some exceptionally poor customer service at CVS as delayed their publication. Despite their assurance to the contrary, the CVS could not provide a CD of the photos in one day. So, we’ll make do with some stolen photos until I can scan some of the prints for future posting.

Tonight it is rumored that we’ll be headed to Bertha’s for some of their fabled mussels. I will, of course, drink a toast to all my friends in NYC celebrating Saint Patrick’s Eve with our favorite leprechaun.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I Like Baltimore!

I Like Baltimore!
Wednesday, March 14th

At the inner harbor.

Outside the Hippodrome

Sheila came down for a visit last weekend. SO good to see her! She arrived on Friday night and was just settling in when I got back from the show. Saturday, we slept in and ordered room service breakfast. Between shows, we headed down to the inner harbor to Phillip’s for some crab cakes. They were delicious; but were outdone by the crab dip appetizer. We were both scraping the bottom of the dish for more! After the evening show, Sheila came down to the lobby bar and met a few of my colleagues. We had a drink with Francesca, Ryan (Carp), Tony (Sound), Pam, and Suzanne (both Hair). It was nice to start introducing SM to the gang. Sunday between shows, Ryan and Francesca joined us for lunch at the taco joint near the theatre and we met up with Hannah. Hannah (who was a THR major at MSU w/ us) drove up from Washington to hang out for a couple of hours. She’s hoping to get back up here to see the show this week – but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see us both at once. I gave both of them the nickel tour backstage at Spamalot, before I had to get back to work. So glad that Hannah could come up and say “hi”, it’s only too bad I didn’t have more time to spend with her.

At Phillip's

Outside the Stage Door w/ Hannah

Sheila headed back to NYC while I was doing the Sunday evening show. I followed her after the show. I had planned on taking the bus; the $35 round trip bus fare seemed a lot less than the $175 train fare – but I was soon to find out how Greyhound can offer their services so cheaply. I got a taxi to the bus station and waited for my bus to be called. I was holding a ticket for the 10:05 PM bus (arriving 1:50 AM). When the bus was called at 10:15, I lined up with 25, or so, other folks at the gate. The driver stopped the woman in front of me (with another 15 behind me) and announced: “The bus is full. You’ll have to take the next one.” The next bus didn’t leave until after 11 PM and connected through Philadelphia, arriving in NYC after 4 AM! After I determined that my ticket was non-refundable, I called another cab; this one to take me to the train station. The taxi driver hurried me across town and I ran in to Baltimore Penn Station and bought a ticket for the 10:50 train a couple of minutes before it arrived. The train was lovely: spacious, relaxing and smooth. I arrived at New York Penn Station around 2 AM. I got a third cab outside and we set off for Washington Heights. After sorting out that he should exit at 178th Street, rather than Dyckman, I thought we were all set. It became clear, as we were exiting the Henry Hudson, that he didn’t know where he was going. “Stay to left, please. Stay to the left or we’ll be on the George Washington Bridge! Left!” Now we were headed to Washington Heights via New Jersey. Once in New Jersey, he couldn’t figure out how to get back to the bridge. I’m giving directions from the back seat, he’s not doing as I tell him, but we’re finally back on the bridge to NY (albeit on the lower, more difficult level). We’re finally on 178th Street, but he can’t/won’t get over to make the left turn onto Broadway and we’re turning across three lanes of traffic. I’ve never been so happy to see 44 Pinehurst as I was Monday at 3 AM…

I had a nice visit in New York. Got some items crossed off the “honey-do” list and caught up with many friends. Also got to spend some quality time with Andy D. Dog while I caught up on the Tivo-ed programs. Had breakfast with Shey – BTW, the way that Sheila Marie squeezed all of our stuff into our room to make room for Shey was ingenious! Went to Jesse’s for lunch with David. Went to dinner with Erin, Cody, Jose, Deuce, Bambi and Sheila Marie. Again, nice to catch up with everyone and to remind myself where I live. Tuesday afternoon, it was back to Baltimore ON THE TRAIN.

Today, I walked west in Baltimore to the B&O Railroad Museum. It was a lovely spring afternoon (70 degrees) and perfect for walking. The museum was great. I had two great tour guides: one gave a tour of the roundhouse and the other showed me all the diesel engines in their collection. Just the number of engines (all sorts of steam, diesel and electric) as well as rolling stock in their collection was amazing. They have a replica of the “Tom Thumb” engine that was the first American built steam locomotive. (The B&O was the first “common carrier” railroad in the US. To showcase their service, the “Tom Thumb” raced (and lost) to a horse drawn rail coach in 1830.) I reverted back to a little boy – especially when they were talking about the Jersey Central RR, it made me wish my engineer’s cap still fit. I was also able to feel a little cool when they were talking about “humping” cars and talking about the job of the engineer and conductor. “Oh yes, my father-in-law showed me how they do that in the yard!” A great afternoon. Walking back to the hotel, I had to hurry a little, as the sky turned darker and threatened to rain. I hope it clears up by morning as we’re headed to Annapolis tomorrow.

The prettiest engine in the B&O collection.

A "Yellowbelly Hudson 4-6-4" Steam Engine. Designed to pull fast passenger service, diesel made it obsolete before it got its chance. It pulled freight until retirement (albeit with a lot of style!)

The roundhouse.

1 person can turn an engine around by pushing on the outside edge of the table (the wooden area just visible on the left).

Last week I also got back to the Lexington Market for lunch. I have to like any place that can serve me the following actual lunch menu:
½ dozen oysters on the half-shell
Malaysian shrimp noodles
Thai iced-tea
Sliced mango
Three different stalls, relatively near one another in the marker. Delicious! I have to go back to the market this week and try another variation on the crab cake. They also have a sausage stand that just smells so good!


Friday, March 9, 2007

The National Aquarium

The National Aquarium
Friday, March 9th

I had planned on this tour being an “eating tour of the US” but it appears that it’s turning into an “aquariums of the US tour”. Yesterday, for the second time in three weeks, I was peering through thick glass at strange swimming creatures. Having just been to the Georgia Aquarium, I wondered if I might have “been there and done that” at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I needn’t have worried; the two places could not have been more different.

I had been to the National Aquarium once before: a family vacation when I was much smaller. The effect this time was very similar to that previous visit: it made me want to be a marine biologist. I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about how my job is pretty great, but watching the folks working with the dolphins, rays and the giant sea turtle reminded me of what I imagined (when I was 14) I would be doing for a living when I was 30. Funny how my dream jobs have collided in Baltimore.

I spent 5 hours at the aquarium yesterday. I saw dolphins poop, learned a lot about frogs, got a glimpse of a pygmy marmoset and spent 20 minutes looking for a sloth that I never did find. In a couple of places, the National Aquarium displays whole habitats, not just the underwater components. There’s a whole section devoted to the Amazon River Basin. The exhibit begins with the sea creatures and moves inland. As you move up the river, there’s a display with pygmy marmosets (the smallest of the monkeys) climbing in the trees above the spotted ray swimming in the river. Then you go up an escalator to the greenhouse on the roof that been turned into a rain forest; complete with a sloth (or so the signs assured me) and all manner of birds. They have a similar exhibit on the Australian Outback. It features a huge variety of turtles, birds, flying foxes and crocodiles. There’s also a large exhibit devoted to frogs. I figured, “what the hey, I’m here, I’ll go see the frogs.” and I’m glad that I did! I had no idea that frogs are so diverse and live in so many places. (Did you know that a tiny Amazonian frog is the most poisonous animal in nature? It contains enough poison to kill 10 people – more than any snake – in a body about ½ as long as my pinky?!?!? Just touching it is enough to make a person ill.)

Blue poison dart frogs. These guys are less than 2 inches long. They're not the uber-poisonous ones, but they do secrete poison through their skins. Their poison comes from their diet, so the guys who live in the aquarium are harmless (they get fruit flies and baby crickets dusted with vitamins and minerals). Their bright blue color is a warning to birds and other predators that they are poisonous and should be left alone.

A pygmy marmoset. These guys are 6 inches long. Not quite small enough to ride around on Sheila's finger, but still the smallest of the monkeys.

When I arrived, the aquarium was full of school groups. Cool. Obviously, the National Aquarium is a great place for field trips. (Though, I did feel a little weird as a balding guy in an over-coat sitting amongst a bunch of kids at the dolphin show. In fairness, I was there first; their chaperones sat the kids around me.) What struck me watching the people around me was how not curious many people were. Not the kids, but the people with them. For example, I was looking at the puffins exhibit when a child came running up shouting: “Look at the penguins!” His mother replied: “Those ain’t penguins. Those are birds.” Take a minute to enjoy that. But then, she didn’t ever bother to read what the animals were or tell her child what they were seeing. It was enough for most of the chaperones to say: “Look at that big fish!” but never to go any more into it than that. The aquarium staff and their signs spent a lot of effort explaining that most sharks are not dangerous to people and that not all of them have to swim all the time or die, but all around me, I listened to people repeating these popular misconceptions to their kids. I’m really glad that my parents encouraged my curiosity.

A puffin. Not a penguin.

I got back to the hotel in time to catch the second half of the Michigan State / Northwestern Big Ten tournament game. The Wildcats did not want their season to end. I sort of zoned out for a while when we were up by 13, but then in the final seconds, it took Northwestern fumbling an in-bounds pass to really put the game away. Holy cow.

I have rehearsal this afternoon, but I’m hoping to get over to Lexington Market for lunch beforehand. Tried to go back for dinner the other night, but they close at six so everyone was packing up when I wandered in.

Sheila comes tonight!


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

My One Month Anniversary

My One Month Anniversary
Wednesday, March 7th

Yesterday marked my one month anniversary with Spamalot. (It was also my 33rd show, but who’s counting). Four cities (Naples, Memphis, Atlanta and now Baltimore) that couldn’t have been more different. A great group of new people. A really fun show to go and do every night. All that’s missing are my wife, dog, cats, apartment and all my NYC friends…

Thus far, I’m really digging my life on the road. The whole company of Spamalot has been very welcoming right from the start. Many folks have really made an effort to include me in group activities and make me feel at home. The crew has really looked out for me and helped me learn the show. Everybody seems to be having a good time backstage. Moving the show is a crazy thing, but everybody does their part, we get through that first night and it’s always better the next night. (Heaven help me, I sound like Paul Allan. But, trust me; it’s not like opening a show at Gateway in each new city.)

One night last week, things had calmed down sufficiently backstage that while Ken was calling the show, Francesca and I were each able to spend an act away from the deck. I took the first act “off” and went out into the house just to enjoy the show. I had a lot of fun watching everyone up there on stage and really got to appreciate the show. I hadn’t seen the show, except from the wings, since that first night in Naples. In Naples, I was watching the show, trying to absorb everything. While I really enjoyed it then, I had a lot more fun watching the first act in Atlanta. Now that our rhythms are a little more settled, hopefully I’ll have the chance to see parts of the show more often.

Things went relatively well last night for our opening in Baltimore. Stage Left, where I teach the show and spend the first several nights, appears to be a retirement home for stage hands. Of my two SL carpenters, the younger of the two appears to be 65. The two of them crack me up! They’re both about deaf, so their conversational tone is pretty loud, even when they’re standing right next to one another – not exactly what you want backstage! I did make one major faux paus last night: I wandered out on stage in the middle of a scene. While Dennis and his mother where telling Arthur about their autonomous collective, I was looking for the Lady of the Lake and forgot there was no masking behind the castle and just sort of walked through their scene… Whoops. Callie, our Dance Captain, was out front taking notes and totally busted me at intermission. The whole male ensemble spent Act II asking me if I’d care to join them on-stage for a number. That said, I felt like I was much more aware of the crews’ cues last night and did a much better job of teaching them. It will go better tonight – and I won’t make an appearance on stage.

I'll wrap up with some photos from Justin's Going Away Festivities (thanks to Francesca for the pictures!)

Darryl acted as M.C.
He and the "Corn Hos" make their entrance. The girls are still in their husks...

The "Corn Hos" performing to Jimmy Crack Corn
Angelina, Siobahn, Piper & Amy

Attacking Justin w/ creamed corn. Yum!

Angelina, Siobahn, Justin, Piper & Amy

The Spamily invades the Savoy.
That's Robert (Sir Robin) toasting the camera.


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Atlanta Wrap-Up

Atlanta Wrap-Up
Tuesday, March 6th

I really enjoyed Atlanta. It turned out to be much more walking friendly than it originally appeared and the longer we were there, the more stuff I discovered in the near-by neighborhoods.

I took a walk to Piedmont Park one morning before rehearsal. It was the site of the Cotton States Exhibition – a sort of world’s fair – around the turn of the century that was converted into a Central Park-ish city park. It was landscaped by the Olmsteads; the same folks who originally designed Central Park. It also shares many of the same kinds of features: a central lake, a formal conservancy garden and lots of walking paths. Atlanta is so far ahead of New York, weather-wise, that the daffodils were in bloom! On the way home, I walked through some lovely, quiet neighborhoods full of pretty older homes.

The mid-town Atlanta skyline over Piedmont Park

The eating adventure continued; went for Thai food with Callie between shows on Saturday. (We were headed to MF Sushi, one of Zagats’ Atlanta picks, but they weren’t open for the evening yet.) The green curry was delicious as was the spicy shrimp salad. Ken, Francesca and Karl were at the next table and enjoyed purple rice (a dessert once reserved for kings!). Also had some very tasty and simple Italian at the place across the street from the hotel: Baronda. Went with several of the chorus girls, Patrick and his folks. I had a pizza with goat cheese and a very yummy beef carpaccio. Both of my olive skinned chorus friends loved the place (and ate there, literally, every night).

It was also great to have family around while in Atlanta. Sheila’s Aunt, Uncle and Cousins (the McCools) entertained me on several occasions. Hadn’t seen the McCools since our wedding (more than 2 years ago!!!!). They all came to the matinee the first Sunday and took me out to dinner. They also came down to eat with me between shows on the last day in Atlanta. So much fun to see them and to get caught up! Wednesday night after the show, Tim took me out to “the Atlanta neighborhood bar”: Manuel’s Tavern. It was a great, casual place & we had a nice night.

Saturday’s matinee performance was interpreted for the deaf. It’s always interesting to watch the interpreters work. For Spamalot, there were three interpreters; one would “play” a character in each scene, signing their lines. I learned a couple of new signs:
Holy Grail: hold your fore-arms parallel to one another a couple of inches apart and cup your hands. It sort of makes the shape of a grail.
Applause: is indicated put putting your hands at ear level on either side of head and sort of making “jazz hands”. I like this one!
One of our ensemble boys, Darryl Semira, is fluent in ASL, so he spoke with the signers (and presumably any deaf people in the audience as well) in sign language. He got a nice hand.

We had a going away party for Justin (ensemble) on Saturday night combined with our shot night. Paula and Matt hosted shot night (Margarita shots w/ chips and salsa) in the rehearsal studio on the sixth floor. The shots were followed by a special performance by some of our ensemble that involved girls dressed as ears of corn, who then stripped out of their “husks” and smeared creamed corn on Justin. Quite a send-off – I’ll try and scam some photos off someone else in the company. Afterwards we headed across the street to the Savoy Bar (in the Georgian Terrace Hotel) for drinks and a concert by Justin. He sang a couple of really nice songs accompanied by Adam and Rick, our keyboard players, on the grand piano in the ballroom. (The night manager of the hotel tried to derail Piper’s carefully laid plans, but the bar’s manager – and our substantial bar tab, I suspect – got him to reconsider.) It was a really nice night & the whole company was sad to see Justin go.

Yesterday was our day off/travel day. We left the hotel at 7:30 AM and arrived in Baltimore around 11:30. We couldn’t check in the hotel until 3 PM, so we had some forced exploration time. I went to lunch with Francesca and most of the wardrobe and hair teams. The concierge at the hotel recommended Mo’s Crab and Pasta Factory for their seafood. The service was a little sketchy, but the food was delicious. I had the first of what I expect to be many crab cakes. It was as big as my fist and served with a mustard sauce. I’ve never had anything like it. Yum, yum, yum. I wasn’t sure I’d need to go on a crab cake tasting tour, but clearly I do. Everyone enjoyed their meal from the sea. After lunch, I had several more hours to kill, so I took a random walk around town. The inner harbor is beautiful. It was a sunny but cool and windy day, so the water looked great, but the wind off the ocean was fierce. Sort of got the lay of downtown Baltimore and found some places to revisit in a more orderly fashion. Near the top of my list is Lexington Market: a sort of cross between farmers’ market and food court. The place was heaven; butchers, candy-makers, oyster bars and Malaysian food all mashed together.

Lexington Market

Today is the long day at the theatre. The crew is mostly finished with the load-in and we’re wrapping up our to-do list. As evidenced by the fact that I’m working on my blog, things are less hectic than the load-in in Atlanta. We’ve plenty of room here at the Hippodrome. It’s also an old vaudeville and movie house, but its backstage areas have been recently enlarged and renovated. It’s now part of a larger performing arts complex called the France-Merrick PAC, but the interior of the Hippodrome looks as it did in the 19-teens. It’s the theatre where Frank Sinatra made his debut as a big band singer (with the Henry James Orchestra) in 1939!

The interior of the Hippodrome

I’m looking forward to exploring Baltimore – there seems to be plenty to do here – and to seeing Sheila Marie this weekend. She’s coming down on the train Friday night!!! I’m also looking forward to going home for the day off. I’ll leave after the show on Sunday night (it’s an early 6:30 curtain) and spend all day Monday in NYC before I take the train back to Baltimore on Tuesday afternoon for the evening show. We're also welcoming another new company member this week: Nigel Columbus starts rehearsal as a swing. A busy week ahead!


Thursday, March 1, 2007

Atlanta - Continued

Atlanta - Continued
Thursday, March 1st
Let's start with a couple photos from last week's Shot Night (with thanks to Fran):

The architects of the "Vanilla Late":
Cuz, Tony & Ryan
Recipe: Petron Cafe' (coffee flavored tequila) & Stoli Vanilla - Yikes.
The SMs partaking
Ken, Francesca & JV
Had some awesome Cuban food at "Papi's" yesterday after rehearsal with Callie (our dance captain). Delicious! The daily special was beef stewed with onions and peppers. It was served with rice, beans, salad and plantains. I needed a nap afterwards, but called the show instead.
**Note to other theatre professionals who may pass this way: neither The Varsity or Papi's are very good ideas if you're then going to have to sit and call a show...
More rehearsal today and tomorrow. Today's extravaganza is a dual purpose affair, it is both an understudy run through and a first pass at putting in our new ensemble man, Johnathon Brody. Tomorrow is a full-scale put-in for Johnathon. Then we're into the weekend with four shows and a load-out!