Something Not Rotten At All!

If you are a regular reader, you know I love Broadway musicals. For me, there is nothing like escaping from reality for three hours while a talented group of musicians and actors transports you to another world where people burst into spontaneous song and dance.

Some friends and I have been season ticket holders for the Broadway Series at a local theater for several years. We have seen great performances without needing to take the three hour train ride to New York City. Each year, we speculate about what shows might be featured in the coming season. As soon as we heard about Something Rotten! we put it on our list of “must sees” and hoped the tour would stop here. So we were all excited last year when it was announced that Something Rotten! would be part of this year’s offerings. I had hoped to see the show in New York City, but knew that wasn’t going to be possible once I broke my leg last year and travel became more difficult.

Because things have been very busy these past two months, and since I spent most of December withdrawn from the world due to my father’s death, I missed much of the publicity about the show. I also did not take any time to research the cast or read reviews, something I normally do. I knew the show would be funny, based on this sneak peek from the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. That was all I really needed to know.

Since I did not pay attention to any of the pre-show press, I was surprised when I entered the theater and saw Adam Pascal’s name on the cast list. To say I have had a mild infatuation with Adam for more than twenty years is like saying some cats like catnip. Not sure who Adam Pascal is? Maybe you’ve heard of a little musical from the mid-1990’s called Rent? You know, the one with the the song upon which I based Thursday’s blog post? Yeah – that show! Adam was the original Roger. He’s since gone on to star in other shows, such as Aida, Memphis and Disaster!

Let me put aside my obsession feelings toward Adam and offer my opinion on the show. It was FUNNY! You don’t have to be a Broadway musical geek to enjoy the show. But if you are? You’ll love it! I tried to count the many musical and lyrical references to other musicals and gave up after thirteen. Cats, Evita, The Fantasticks, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Sweeny Todd, Rent, South Pacific, Annie – the list goes on and on. I know I missed things because I was laughing, which only makes me want to see it again. If the show is coming to your city, I recommend you go. Three hours of fun and laughter, song and dance, plus a hot man who can sing who struts around with his shirt open for part of the show! Who can’t use that right now?!

While I loved the show, the highlight of my day happened after the final curtain. Knowing we had time to wait before the bus home, I told my friends I was going to try to get to the stage door for an autograph. Believe it or not I have only waited at the stage door after a show once before – when my friend Lauren’s brother Matt Meigs was in town with the tour of Mary Poppins. (Matt is currently performing in Holiday Inn and you should absolutely go and see the show if you are in New York!)

I held back as the crowds cleared the lobby outside the stage door, scoping my best course of action. After a few minutes, it became clear who was still trying to get out of the theater and who was waiting for autographs. I stealthily rolled around the crowd, doing my best to avoid running over toes while gradually inching my way between people until I was at the front, to the right of the stage door. I was just in time because once I got into prime position, the door opened and the first cast member walked out.

I waited patiently, preserving my space by occasionally moving my feet from side to side so nobody stepped in front of me. Then Adam came out and was greeted with loud acclaim. I was the first person he saw before people started shoving Playbills in his face. He autographed Playbills for everyone, graciously accepting their compliments and posing for photos as he turned towards me. When it was my turn, I simply smiled and handed over my Playbill as he leaned over and said, “Let me take care of this young lady.” Swoon!

He continued to stand next to me, signing Playbills and taking photos, thanking everyone for coming. I told him there was no way I could move out of his way because of the crowd.  “Oh, no, don’t move. You’re helping to give me space!”

Who said a wheelchair wasn’t useful?! I totally played the disabled card to get to the door, and it worked! When he was done, I moved out of the center of the crowd, which gave him a path so he could get to other people. Free from the crush, I finally brought out my phone and asked for a photo – which is how this came to be.

Selfie of a white man with blond hair and goatee next to a white woman with glasses and brown hair. The pair are smiling and are back-lit by hallway fluorescent lights.

Sure, the lighting is not perfect. But I got a photo! This theater geek is a happy girl indeed.

Sometimes, when we meet the people we admire, we are disappointed because they don’t behave the way we think they will. Or, perhaps they are rushed for time or having a bad day and the encounter is not what we wished for. Yesterday, I had the best celebrity encounter I could have imagined. Adam was kind, generous, gracious and appeared genuinely appreciative of the fans who waited to meet him.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to go listen to the Something Rotten! soundtrack yet again to see if I can catch more of those musical references. Feel free to stay and drool over that smile for as long as you like!

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SADWIN ’15

My bestest best friend Stephanie and I love Broadway musicals. We quote them regularly. We sing showtunes whenever we feel the moment needs music. We believe the world would be a better place if there were spontaneous song and dance numbers sporadically scattered throughout the day.

So in 2007, we decided it was time to form Stephanie and Denise Wicked in New York, or SADWIN. SADWIN is all about music, laughter and fun in New York City. That first year, we saw Wicked and Avenue Q. Over the years we have seen some great shows – such as Boeing, Boeing; Rent; The Book of Mormon and [title of show]. We still wax poetically about the afternoon I convinced her we NEEDED to see Broadway legends Elaine Stritch and Bernadette Peters in A Little Night Music. It was magical.

If we could go see a show every other weekend, we would. But life gets in the way. So we try for once a year instead, and even then we aren’t always successful. It has been at least two years since our last SADWIN trip, which is far too long.

I called her at the end of September. “Stephanie, what are you doing October 24? I don’t have to work. I think we need to see a show.”

It didn’t take much arm twisting. SADWIN ’15 was on!

Saturday we boarded the 7:10 AM train at the Albany/Rensselaer station. It was a perfect autumn morning in upstate New York. The rich colors of the fall leaves sparkled in the mist rising off the Hudson in the early morning light. The blue sky was a perfect backdrop to the colorful Catskill mountains. If you have to travel between New York City and Albany, the train is the most picturesque way to go.

Photo of the Hudson River taken from a moving train. The far bank of the river has autumn colored trees. There are wispy clouds in the sky.
The train trip along the Hudson River is beautiful in October.

After brunch with my friend David, we took a quick walk up to Central Park before heading to the Imperial Theater. This year’s SADWIN show was Les Misérables. While we usually see new-ish shows, Stephanie had never seen Les Miz (EVER!) and I pleaded with her to pick this show because I knew she would love it. I had a selfish reason for picking Les Miz too. Alfie Boe is currently starring as Jean Valjean and I have a bit of a crush on him am in awe of his voice.

Photo of two women in front of a Broadway theater. Both have brown hair and are wearing glasses and smiling. They are posed in front of signs for Les Miserables.
Getting ready for this year’s SADWIN show!

The production did not disappoint. The sets, inspired by Victor Hugo’s paintings, are evocative. The score is full of anthems as well as tender moments. The audience roared with applause after a rousing “Do You Hear the People Sing” and silently sniffled through “Bring Him Home.” Montego Glover, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Memphis, was perfect in projecting Fantine’s fear and devotion to her daughter, Cosette. Brennyn Lark, who is making her Broadway debut as Éponine, has a beautiful voice and made “On My Own” one of the highlights of the show. I think as she grows as an actor, she will get other parts and we will be hearing more from her. Gavin Lee, who was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Mary Poppins, was a charming and conniving Thénardier. And Alfie. Oh, Alfie. He could sing the phone book and I would swoon. Everyone, even the men seated behind us who were dragged to the show by their wives, was crying at the end of “Bring Him Home.”

The first time I saw Les Miz on tour back in the mid-1990’s, I cried for almost the entire second half. The second time I saw the show (also on tour two years ago) I only cried during “Bring Him Home.” This time I teared up at the end of the first act, and then cried again for most of the second half after Éponine died. I was not alone. Be prepared with tissues if you go see it.

Once Stephanie and I dried our eyes, we decided to head towards Times Square. Neither of us are big fans of walking through Times Square on a Saturday evening. But for convenience, we decided to avoid the tour buses on Eighth Avenue and cut across to the Broadway pedestrian walkway. Stephanie noticed a crowd gathering on Broadway and stopped when she realized it was the Naked Cowboy.

In our multiple trips to New York City, we have seen many street performers. We often stop to watch musicians and dancers. But until Saturday, somehow we never encountered the Naked Cowboy. Stephanie turned around to take a photo and I wheeled over to the curb to see what was happening. That was when he saw me.

Photo of a woman seated in a wheelchair next to a man wearing only a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. The man has a guitar strapped to his body, making it look like he is naked. His hat and boots have the words "Naked Cowboy" printed on them in red and blue letters. The man's leg is up across the woman's lap and she is holding it. They are in Times Square in New York City, in front of brightly lit electronic billboards.
Honestly, HE approached ME!

Upon spotting me, the Naked Cowboy (whose name is Robert Burck) came over and said, “Let’s take a picture!” Before I knew it, his hand was on the back of my chair and his leg was in my lap. In our brief exchange I learned he was not cold, even though he was essentially naked and I was all bundled up. I apologized for my cold hands on his leg, to which he replied, “Aw, honey, don’t you worry. Those hands will feel good on my butt!”

To prove the point, he turned his butt towards Stephanie and the camera, and reached behind me as I doubled over in laughter. Thank you Stephanie for capturing the moment.

After capturing the photos, we had a brief sixty second conversation about disability, wheelchairs, and his personal history with disability. There is more to the Naked Cowboy than a guitar, boots and Fruit of the Loom underwear. I actually wish we could have had a more in-depth discussion, perhaps with him in some additional clothing.

Photo of a woman in wheelchair bent forward laughing. A man is standing next to her, away from the camera. He is wearing a pair of underwear with the words "Naked Cowboy" printed on them in red and blue paint. He is leaning over her, with his hand on her backside.
I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time!

Stephanie and I walked back to Penn Station, stopping for frequent breaks as we had several laughing fits which brought us to tears.

The Naked Cowboy’s sweat is on my glasses!

He had his leg on your lap!

Dude – it looks like your head is in his armpit!

Your face is priceless!

Seriously, who has more fun than us?!

Nobody. Nobody has more fun than us.

Well, perhaps other bestest best friends do. Isn’t that what bestest best friends are for? They make us laugh with one glance or one word. They know all of our vulnerabilities and faults, and yet they love us anyway. They cry with us at musicals, laugh with us when street performers make us part of the act, and cry with us again when we can’t stop laughing at our silliness.

At least, that’s what my bestest best friend does. Both Stephanie and I have said we feel sorry for those who don’t have a “Denise” or a “Stephie” in their lives. Everyone deserves such a blessing.

Thank you Stephanie for another amazing adventure. I am already looking forward to SADWIN ’16. Next time, you get to pick the show!

 

If You Need a Reason to Sing

A few months ago, a friend shared a story on Facebook about a study which found singing show tunes helped improve mental performance in people with dementia. I was thrilled by this news because I regularly sing songs from Broadway shows. I sing them when I’m driving, when I’m at home, when I’m sitting at my desk in my office – you get the point.

There are times my favorite songs to sing are what I call the ‘watch me – you won’t stop me’ numbers – like “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” from South Pacific or “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” from Annie Get Your Gun. Sometimes I need something less upbeat. Thank goodness for songs like “Somewhere” from West Side Story, or “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Miserables.

But most of the time when I sing show tunes, I like to sing what I call the ‘I want it and I can do it’ numbers. Although these songs can happen at any point in a musical, these are often the third or forth song in the show – like “I Want to be a Producer” from The Producers, “The Wizard and I” from Wicked, or “I Can Do That” from A Chorus Line.

Since singing show tunes is helpful to your cognitive status (hey – there is research to back me up on this!) and since the Tony Award nominations were announced this past week, I am happy to do my little bit of public service and provide you with one of my favorites should you be searching for a melody to improve your memory. I chose this song from my “Broadway” playlist on my iPod then searched for a video to share. It’s difficult to find videos that were not recorded surreptitiously on shaky cell phones in a dark theater or recordings of a television performance. You can easily find alternate videos and clips for the song by doing a quick online search. If you do look for yourself, I hope you will sing along with a smile. It’s good for you.

“Astonishing” from Little Women (Music by Jason Howland, Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein)

I have always loved this story and I have felt a deep connection to Jo March since I first read the book in fourth grade. Maybe it is because she has several sisters. Maybe it is because she is a writer and doesn’t see herself getting married to the boy next door.

I have never seen the musical, but I do love this song which Jo sings immediately after she refuses Laurie’s marriage proposal. Sutton Foster, who played Jo in the original Broadway cast and who sings this recording, is amazing. When I need a boost, this song does it. Try it for yourself. It’s good for you.

Gratitude Lists

This morning I read a post by Kim on SpiralSpun about simple things which brought happiness into her life. She was using a gratitude list to find reasons to be cheerful. I am a fan of gratitude lists because they help us focus on the good things in life.

It is easy to get sucked up in the negative. The news bombards us with terrible stories of war and disasters. This week my Facebook feed has had stories and photos from friends experiencing cyclones, hospitalizations, crime and death. I have a vacancy in my Personal Assistant staff, which is causing me to alter my routine and scramble to find coverage. When my basic needs are up in the air, my ability to stay in the moment is tested.

Gratitude lists cause us to change our attention. They force us to find positive. And when we shift from negative to positive, we become more aware of how much we have to appreciate. I find it is easier to be generous and charitable towards others when I review my gratitude lists. I need all the help I can get with being charitable these days!

Composing a gratitude list, even if it is only a mental list and not one written on paper, makes me less bitter. My lists keep me in the present, and help prevent anxiety over potential future problems. Last week when I realized I was wasting hours trying to solve my wheelchair charger dilemma, a gratitude list helped bring me back from the edge of yet another meltdown.

Gratitude lists don’t have to be grandiose. Although Kim’s list contained ten items, sometimes just one reminder is all it takes to snap me out of negativity. If I were to create a list today, it would include the following things for which I am grateful:

  1. The space heater under my desk which helps keep my feet warm in the winter.
  2. Cuddle-duds. Required attire for this chick in a chair from November – April. Thin enough to provide extra warmth without adding bulk or weight which would restrict my limited movement.
  3. Fifteen days until departure for Australia.
  4. The Broadway channel on the internet radio station I’m listening to. Now playing: “Electricity” from Billy Elliott. This leads me to….
  5. Memories of fun times with my best friend Stephanie. Thinking of her always makes me smile.
  6. Cadbury chocolate. Not the cheap kind made in the USA, but real Cadbury like the bar in my desk brought to me by a friend who recently traveled overseas. I will be returning the favor next month when I return from Australia.

Sure – this is a short list and there are more things for which I am grateful. But taking time to notice the small things, as Kim suggested in her post, means I am less likely to take the larger things (like my job, my car, my accessible apartment) for granted.

Give it a try. What is on your gratitude list today? Share it with the rest of us in the comments!

Falling Off The Wagon

If you are a regular reader, you know I have been writing at least 500 words each day since September 7, 2014. I have made time to write, no matter what is happening in my world. I wrote the first 275 of 500 words on Thursday morning while waiting for my x-ray results in a local Emergency Room. I completed my words at home later while my personal assistant filled my prescription. I’ve been dedicated to writing, until yesterday when I only managed 68 words.

A sprained knee, bruised and swollen toes, and a malfunctioning wheelchair can interfere with life. I mean – who has time for an injury when adventures are planned?

Three weeks ago my good friend Tara surprised me with tickets to see the musical The Last Ship in New York City. So there I sat on Thursday – ice bags on my knee and foot, pills in hand, a forecast predicting 4-6 inches of snow in the city on Saturday and Tara tentatively asking if I wanted to go ahead with the trip. The tickets were purchased, train reservations made. If I couldn’t make the trip, I owed it to Tara to be honest so she could find someone to take my place.

But, these weren’t just tickets to a show – this was our chance to go see Sting, on Broadway, in a show he wrote! Tara and I love Sting. We’ve both seen him in concert many times – three of those together, and once together when he toured with the Police. As soon as we heard he was writing a musical, we said we MUST go see it. As it often does, life happened. I got invited to Australia and stopped spending money on anything but necessities. Tara had a car crash and unexpectedly needed to purchase a new car. We said we would wait until I returned from my trip.

Then three weeks ago the show’s producers announced it would close on January 24. Our window for stalking seeing the show narrowed, and Tara decided we had to act now. I took care of logistics, snagging us tickets to the penultimate performance and booking the train down the Hudson River. We made plans to meet my friend David for brunch before the show and I began to prepare for how I might stay warm while spending a winter day wandering the streets of New York.

Now it was Thursday, and I had an injury which was threatening to disrupt my adventure plans. I have a difficult time accepting disability and injury. This may sound strange, as I live with impairments daily. But I know my body, and though I have limitations, I am pretty adept at adjusting to my “normal.” When accidents and set-backs happen, I become as frustrated as anyone else. I have a life! I need to be active! I don’t want to sit home and make allowances for the fact I am just human! I was NOT going to miss this opportunity. Tara was willing, and I was certain I could manage. It’s not like I was going to be physically walking on the injury. I do have this nifty wheeled chariot for mobility after all. And this would be Tara’s very first show in New York City. No, staying home was not an option.

I was a “good patient” and spent Friday elevating my injured leg, icing the knee, taking the medications. I watched the changing weather forecast, adjusting my Saturday outfit to accommodate my swollen foot and my need for warmth. It doesn’t take me long to start to shiver and I knew we would be “walking” at least fifty blocks in the predicted storm if the weather made getting a taxi cumbersome. Tara agreed to drive my van to and from the train station. I reassured my sisters I was really not out of my head (they ALL called to check!) and packed a bag with a crochet project for the train.

The weather cooperated. Although it was a snowy trip down the Hudson River, Manhattan was not covered in snow.

The Hudson River, viewed from the train, was blanketed by snow and mist.
The Hudson River, viewed from the train, was blanketed by snow and mist.

We met my friend David in Penn Station and quickly walked uptown through a light rain for brunch. Most curb cuts were clear of snow and slush, although I shudder to think what may have been in the puddles I splashed through.

Tara and I bid farewell to David after our wonderful meal and headed up to the Neil Simon Theater. Like most Broadway theaters, the wheelchair seats were in the rear. But I was on the aisle and had an unobstructed view of the stage twenty rows away. Five minutes after taking our seats, the lights went down and we were transported to an English shipyard.

The actors were great (even if I didn’t feel all the characters were as developed as they might have been), the singing was beautiful, the metallic set, particularly the last scene as the ship set sail, was dark and matched the score. And we were the closest we’re ever going to get to Sting. Sting is not an actor, and thankfully his role was not distracting from the main characters. It was wonderful to see Aaron Lazar again, after seeing him a few years ago in A Little Night Music. I hope to see Collin Kelly-Sordelet, who played Young Gideon/Tom, in the future. Even more amazing, not one single cell phone distraction was heard!

When I take the train to New York City, one of my favorite moments is coming up out of Penn Station, and turning to find the Empire State Building looming over me down West 33rd Street. I smell the unique odor that “is” New York (garbage, roasted nuts, urine, food carts, cigarettes and exhaust) and I think, “I’ve arrived.” Yesterday the top of the Empire State Building was shrouded in fog and rain when I looked up. However, the skies had cleared by the time we returned to Penn Station for the trip home. My feet had somehow remained warm all day thanks to socks, leg warmers, furry slippers and a fleece blanket. I couldn’t move my arms in my heavy jacket, but I managed to stay mostly dry thanks to my big umbrella.

We settled on the train and I thought about writing on the way home. Instead, I shared this fuzzy cell phone photo with my friends at My 500 Words along with the 68 words I mentioned earlier.

Still warm after walking (rolling?) twenty blocks.
Still warm after walking (rolling?) twenty blocks.

I didn’t make the mark yesterday, but falling off the wagon has never been so much fun.