Saturday, September 27, 2008

Road Tripping

For the travel day between Hartford and Toronto, I elected to forgo the company flight and drive. The reimbursement the company offered in lieu of the flight was sizable and both of the flight options involved changing planes with a considerable lay over. It was a 500 mile trip from Hartford to Toronto and a little road trip sounded like fun. David wanted to come along for the ride, making the whole thing sound even better - we could halve the expenses & I'd have someone to sing a long with...

I was up to see the sunrise in Hartford.

David and I were on the road shortly after 8 AM. Before lunch we had passed through Connecticut and Massachusetts (I can only imagine how beautiful the Berkshires must be in October) and were zooming across New York on the Thruway. As we zigzagged back and forth across the Erie Canal, singing our hearts out to the XM Broadway channel, our thoughts turned to food. It came to me in a flash - we needed to stop for Dinosaur Bar-b-que! Since we were mobile, it seemed only prudent that we should visit the original Dinosaur in Syracuse rather than the branch office in Rochester.

Dinosaur Bar-b-que

Dinosaur opened its doors in 1988 - founded by three bikers who made Syracuse their home after five years slinging bar-b-que at biker festivals. Originally, it was a take-out operation but it has grown into a full service restaurant and renowned blues club. While the show was in Rochester, I enjoyed the Dinosaur's Q several times - so I was anxious to try the original. David and I each ordered up big plates: mine was all ribs, his was a combo plate: pulled pork and chicken. When the food arrived, all conversation came to a halt while we dug in - a very good sign. While it's certainly not the best barbecue I've ever eaten in my life, it sure is tasty stuff (especially for barbecue in upstate New York)!

David with his Q

David and I vowed to return when the show makes its triumphant return to the States (we'll play Syracuse in October) and stumbled back to the car, sated. Once we had reached Syracuse, most of New York was behind us. Not too long after lunch, we were through Buffalo and at the border.

The que-up at the Canadian border

David and I were stopped briefly at the border by immigration officials. Most American citizens headed north of the border to work would need a work permit, but performing artists and their "necessary support staff" are exempt from this requirement. We had to pull over and visit the folks in the immigration office, but were soon on our way again.

Since we were making such good time, we decided to make a side trip to Niagara Falls. Both of us had visited the falls before, so we didn't feel the need to linger and when we saw that it would be $20 to park near the falls we hardly felt the need to stop at all! We ducked in a parking space of dubious legality, took a couple of photos and were on our way again.

The Canadian Falls (with the Maid of the Mist approaching)
No matter how many times I've seen them, the falls are impressive: their size, the volume of water that goes crashing over them, the noise, the clouds of mist, the number of tourist traps that surround them...

From Niagara, we headed west on the QEW across the farmlands of southern Ontario until we were slowed down in the suburbs of Toronto by a combination of rush hour traffic and torrential rain. As we neared Toronto, the sky turned black and the heavens opened on us. Fortunately, the rain lightened up as we got closer to downtown and by the time we reached our exit, the rain had become a fine mist.

I'm staying in a corporate apartment for the month here in Ontario's capitol city. It's a two bedroom that I'm splitting with Roy from Team Wardrobe. We're near the city's waterfront, spitting distance to the Rogers Center (nee the SkyDome) and in the shadow of the CN Tower. There are two legit theatres just outside the front door (The Princess of Wales - home to The Sound of Music and The Royal Alexandra - home to Dirty Dancing) and a whole passel of restaurants and bars surround us. It's a longish walk to Spamalot's home in Toronto (The Canon Theatre - nee the Pantages) but Toronto has plenty of street life to make the walk interesting.

TVFMHRW - Toronto
We're 20 floors above Toronto's "Entertainment District". Wayne Gretzky's sports bar is in the lower left of the frame.

The whole trip from Hartford to Toronto went very well. David and I had a great time singing and driving. The car was gassed up and returned with time to spare and we met up with Roy for a late dinner on King Street. Toronto was off to good start!


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hartford - A Second Time

Our return engagement in Hartford, Connecticut was one of the weirdest weeks of the tour. During our Philadelphia engagement, Karl announced to the company that the week in Hartford had been shortened to 6 shows - our Tuesday and Wednesday evening performances had been canceled. Through some combination of bad marketing on the part of the local presenter, a general economic slow-down and our having already played the Bushnell for two weeks, they were having difficulty selling tickets. While that's not an encouraging sign, most of the company was happy to take two more days off and go back to New York. The crew got a bit screwed, though: seeing an opportunity to cut costs, the folks in Philly postponed the load-out until Tuesday (our usual Sunday night/Monday morning load-out would have run into Labor Day holiday pay). The crew had to hang around Philly and wait for the load-out at 8 AM on Tuesday - at least they got a good night's sleep before the load-in at the Bushnell on Wednesday.

I took advantage of the extra time and returned to New York. I was happy with a couple of extra nights in my own bed. I did the short drive up to Hartford on Wednesday night.

TVFMHRW - Hartford
I could see the hotel I stayed in last time and the Connecticut River in the distance

Thursday night's performance marked the debut of our newest King Arthur: Jonathan Hadary. Jonathan performed the role of King Arthur with the Broadway company for nearly two years. He's a pro with more than a half dozen Broadway and several touring credits on his resume. It's been interesting to see four different performances put their distinctive spin on the role of the King. It's also been interesting to see what, if any, changes these men engender in the other performers on stage each night. Jonathan's opening night went quite smoothly (it's noticeably easier to teach the show to a local crew that has past experience with the show) and we celebrated with a champagne toast after the show.

Remnants of our previous visit to Hartford - the killer rabbit at Trumbull Kitchen

Friday morning, before rehearsal, Karl and I took a tour of the Connecticut state capitol. The Bushnell Memorial Auditorium is right across the street from the capitol building, yet I didn't make it inside for a tour last time around. While the Connecticut capitol is wonderfully different on the outside from many of the other capitol buildings I've visited (I think it looks like a giant French chateau, our guide described it as Victorian with Moorish influences), it's interior spaces were much like all of the others. Under the lofty dome is a magnificent open space displaying artifacts from the state's long history - including a hall of regimental flags. The state's two legislative bodies have ornate meetings rooms, though the House of Representative's chamber isn't air conditioned. The tour was an interesting peek into a beautiful building, none the less.

Karl and I were the only people on our tour - so we got a few extra perks.
Here I am sitting in the Lieutenant Governor's chair in the State Senate.
The chair is carved from the remains of the "charter oak" (the tree where the colonists were alleged to have hidden the colony's charter when King George tried to recall it).

The Connecticut State Capitol building as seen across Bushnell Park.

Sheila Marie arrived in Hartford Friday night after a publicity gig for Scholastic on the Connecticut shore. She met up with team Spama-management as we all traveled over to a party hosted by Ken and Geoff at Geoff's apartment. (Geoff is a professor at the Hartt School and resident of Hartford.) They provided a nice spread of hors d'vers and a really lovely evening - though I did think that Sheila Marie was going to steal Jeff's cat...

On Saturday, tropical storm Hannah blew through Hartford. It started to pour during the second show on Saturday evening and by the time shot night was over, water was leaking into the theatre all over the basement. I got soaked to the skin on the trek across the park and back to the hotel. Mercifully, Sheila Marie was waiting for me with a bottle of wine and some room service desserts!

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. Sheila Marie and I headed for breakfast and walk in the park before work. The carousel in Bushnell Park looked awfully inviting, so we stopped in and took a ride. The carousel was built in 1914 and features some 48 hand-carved carousel horses and a Wurlitzer band organ. It was brought to Hartford in 1974 by the New England Carousel Museum. For just a dollar a piece, Sheila Marie and were kids again!

Sheila rides the carousel

While I was going round and round, I got a text message from Francesca: "Is it true that the power's out at the theatre?" As we walked across the park toward the theatre, it became clear that something was, indeed, up at the Bushnell. The crew was gathered around on the lawn outside the stage door, milling about. It seems that the heavy rains from the night before flooded the theatre's transformer pit outside under the street and knocked out the electricity to the whole backstage. As a safety precaution, none of us were allowed into the dark building. After we stood around enjoying the unexpected time in the sun for a while, the theatre's management announced that both performances would be canceled. We took the performers in to pack up their dressing tables and trunks while the wardrobe and hair crews started their load-outs. We packed up our offices with flashlights in hand and set off to enjoy the rest of our Sunday in Hartford. The rest of the crew returned to the theatre at 5 PM to start their load-out with several generators lighting the way.

Cast and crew mill about near the capitol while the lights are out inside the Bushnell

Sheila Marie and I got a few more hours to spend together before her train left to take her back to New York. We got lunch and looked, in vain, for a way to stay together even longer. Too soon, Sheila Marie was on a southbound train and I was at liberty in Hartford.

I started packing, but temptation came a callin'. Since I had already picked up my rental car for the trip to Toronto, it was suggested that we make a trip to Mohegan Sun, a scant 45 minutes away. David, Wayne, Roy and I loaded up the car and paid a visit to some of the Indians of Connecticut. Though none of us proved to be very lucky, we had a great time. The casino is quite a place. It's enormous and fancifully decorated - there are sections representing the "air" and the "earth". Connecting the "air" and "earth" is a giant, and very high-end, mall. We whiled away several hours before we all returned to Hartford, poorer monetarily but richer in spirit.

Bright and early on Monday morning, I finished my packing and loaded up the rental car for a trip northward to Toronto.

Sunrise over the Connecticut River on Monday morning.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The last two weeks in Philly were busy ones. We said goodbye to two more Spamalot original company members, Keith Martin and Vera Pizzarelli, as well as our King, Gary Beach. We rehearsed our new King, Jonathan Hadary, and our newest ensemble member, Lenny Daniel. I also squeezed in some sight-seeing and a few more trips home to NYC.

At Keith Martin's going away party - so long, Coco!

I spent an afternoon seeing some of the sights in Philadelphia's Independence National Historic Park. I visited the Ben Franklin's grave in Christ Church burial ground, the site of Ben Franklin's home, his print shop and the Liberty Bell before I toured Independence Hall. I had been to Independence Hall before, but the experience was still moving. To stand in the room where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution took shape was really impressive. Having read David McCullough's 1776 recently (and having been in both Washington, D.C. and Boston on the tour), I had the events of the Revolutionary War-era and the personalities firmly in mind. To stand where they stood and to imagine George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams et al debating what was to become the United States got me all emotional. Of course, I was also singing the score to 1776 (the musical) all afternoon....

Independence Hall - nee the Pennsylvania State House

Thomas Jefferson's chair in the foreground with George Washington's on the dais.

Of course, I also celebrated my birthday in Philadelphia! My birthday fell on a Sunday - a two show day - this year. The company celebrated at intermission of the first show with pie and singing. (Who needs cake when you could have pie instead! Thanks, Tera-Lee for hooking us up.) My beautiful wife asked me what I'd like for my birthday meal between shows - I think she thought I'd go for something a little bit fancy - but, instead, we piled into a cab with Mike Berg and headed down to Geno's for cheese steaks! Greasy bits of heaven: simple, cheesy, tasty and portable.

Outdoor tables line the far side of the building for hungry Philadelphians. Cheese steaks (with provolone, whiz or plain - with or without onions), fries (with or without whiz) and sodas make up the whole delectable menu.

SME and her steak.

Speaking of my birthday, one of my birthday presents from Mom & Dad was a pair of tickets to see the 26 time World Champion New York Yankees take on the hated Boston Red Sux at THE Yankee Stadium. Ken graciously gave me the night off so I could stay in New York and make one last trip to THE Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, the Bombers couldn't hold onto their early lead and dropped the game 7-3. (Curse you Alex Rodriguez!!!) It appears that it will be the only Yankee game I'll get to see this season (aside from the split squad spring training game I caught in Florida) as the Yanks are currently 10 games behind the Rays for the pennant and 9 games back in the wild card race. It was also my last visit to the House that Ruth Built. We could see Steinbrenner's new stadium rising beyond Monument Park - I shook my fist and shed a tear. Even though the Yanks lost, there were an awful lot of us who were slow to leave the ballpark and a lot of folks lingered behind home plate for pictures. I'm sure the new stadium will be a palace, but it won't have the aura of THE Yankee Stadium. Babe Ruth inaugurated THE Yankee Stadium with a home run in the very first game there on April 18, 1923 - no matter how much money Steinbrenner and Co. spend, they can't buy history like that. That said, THE Yankee Stadium sent me off with Sinatra ringing in my ears: "I'm gonna make a brand new start of it in old New York."

My last look at THE Yankee Stadium.

On my weekend trips home I got to see many of the folks that touring life makes me miss. Shannon, Brittany and Erin make the trek in to celebrate my birthday with me. I had lunch with Abigail. Erin & Cody showed off their new digs in the Heights - welcome new neighbors! David shared a nice dinner at Hispaniola with Sheila Marie and I and then a cigar on the stoop. So great to see so many of my friends.

Wine with Cody & Erin devolved into:

After dinner cigars with David & SME
(Congratulations, David, on your Broadway debut! He's the Assistant Director for Roundabout's A Man for All Seasons at the American Airlines. He's right there on IBDB...)

Back in Philadelphia, I took a "Taste of Philly" tour with Angela. We toured all over Reading Terminal Market getting a culinary history and a few samples along the way. The market actually predates the Reading Railroad Terminal by some 30 years (the trains for the former Reading Railroad came in on elevated tracks above the market); the first indoor market opened at 12th and Market in 1859 and the railroad terminal opened in 1893. The market was one of the first buildings to feature a modern refrigeration system: pumps and pipes throughout the half-million cubic foot basement circulated chilled brine and ammonia that allowed for adjustable refrigeration. Our tour left us both hungry, so we took advantage of the market's bounty for lunch!

Angela samples a soft pretzel with mustard (Philly's answer to bagels and cream cheese, according to our tour guide)

I had a great time in Philadelphia. It was great to be within easy traveling distance of home again, but Philly is so much more than just convenient to NYC. Philadelphia wears its history easily - the old and the new stand confortably shoulder to shoulder. It has distinct neighborhoods within easy distance of one another. Downtown Philadelphia is easily walkable, but their subways and trolleys are also accessible. After my two three week stints there, there's still plenty left to see, do and taste for many more return visits.

With my beautiful wife under Robert Indiana's iconic LOVE sculpture.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I'm Not Dead, Yet

Really, I'm not. I swear. I've been traveling back and forth to New York and generally enjoying life with my wife and at home. That has been wonderful, but it hasn't been conducive to regular blogging.

Now the show is in Toronto for a solid month. There are, unfortunately, no plans to see my wife for the next several weeks. I'm settled in. This should be more blog-friendly environment. I fully intend to catch things up with postings about the intervening 3 weeks (Philly Weeks 2 & 3 as well as the exciting return engagement in Hartford).

Now, however, it is time to open the big skit in Toronto.


P.S. - If you're starved for my comings and goings, check out my brightkite account. It's a live, location based mini-blog. I update it regularly with where I am and what I'm doing in real time. A couple of other cast members also have brightkite accounts and it's interesting (and occasionally useful) to have an idea where others are/have been in a strange city. It's probably too much virtual life for most, but if you're into it - I have several friend invitations left and am happy to share.