Moving to self-hosted! Update your readers!

Hi all!

After about seven months on WordPress.com, I’m taking the plunge and moving to a self-hosted blog. There are still a few issues for me to work out– bear with me! — but you can now find this blog at www.seewrites.com/notednyc.

The rss feed is: http://www.seewrites.com/notednyc/feed/

For the moment it’s going to look a lot it has, just self-hosted, but I’m looking forward to changing things up in the future. If any of you who are already self-posted have suggestions, please send them my way! notednyc [at] gmail [dot] com.

Hope to see you all over oMoving to self-hosted! Update your readers!n the new site — I’m having wordpress transfer followers if possible, but definitely update manually if you’re reading from anywhere else!

Sarah

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“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and the luck I’ll never have again

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It’s official. I have the theater bug, and I’m not getting better anytime soon. The week I saw “Hamilton”, I saw FOUR SHOWS, three of them in four days. For a variety of reasons the tickets (besides “Hamilton”) were very reasonable, but still. Four shows.

I’ll get around to talking about all of them in due course, but first I have to tell you about a very special outing to see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. I’ve been hearing about “Hedwig” since it opened, and while it sounded interesting, it had never made it to the top of my list. But it’s a favorite of my “Cabaret”-loving friend, and when she suggested we try for the lottery together on a Saturday night, I was all in.

Our plan was to try for the lottery for the 7 p.m. show and then come back for the lottery for the 10 p.m. show if we didn’t win – and then, if that failed, we’d just buy discounted tickets for the 10 p.m. show. Secretly, because I am incapable of functioning past midnight, I was hoping we’d get tickets to the 7 p.m.

“Hedwig” marked only the second time I’d entered an in person lottery. (Last night marked the third, when my friend and I unsuccessfully tried to see “Hamilton” again – yes, we’re obsessed.) The first was for “Wicked” at the height of its popularity – no luck. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I showed up at 4:45 for a 5 p.m. drawing. My friend frantically texted me that she was stuck in traffic a little ways away, so I wrote my name down and crossed my fingers that she’d get there before the 5 p.m. cut off.

She made it. She ran up to the table at 4:59 and put her slip in, then came over to wait with me. The girl minding the lotto shook up the entries, put her hand in, and called the first name.

The second name she called was my friend’s.

The fourth name she called was mine.

I was SHOCKED. But I told them to throw mine back in, which got a little cheer from the crowd, and then waited till my friend collected our tickets. They were for the second row, just off from center, for $37 each. Yes, really.

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Photo credit @alixinchausti, awesome theater companion and “Cabaret”/”Hedwig” historian. 🙂

After a quick dinner at Olive Garden (I’m a sucker for those breadsticks), we went to the theater. Like our first trip to “Cabaret”, I’d decided not to look up too much about the show before I arrived. I knew it was about Hedwig, an aging German rocker who has had a botched sex change operation (the “angry inch”). My friend gave me a little more context – it’s played as if it’s a one night only, present day show, at the Belasco Theater where it plays, on the set of a musical that’s just closed. When you arrive, peek around the floor of the theater and look for a spoof playbill from the “musical” – I won’t spoil what it is for you, but it’s pretty great.

One of the best part about seeing “Hedwig” right now (and the reason you should try to see it before April 26) is that John Cameron Mitchell is currently playing the title role. Mitchell, who is 52, is the show’s writer (along with composer Stephen Trask) and was the original Hedwig in the off-Broadway production seventeen years ago, as well as in the film adaptation. It was so neat to see him in this role he created. After the show opened last year with Neil Patrick Harris (who won the Tony), Hedwig was played by Andrew Rannells and Michael C. Hall before Mitchell stepped in. Despite an injury (which Mitchell works into the show in wonderful ways), he is full of energy and is fascinating to watch. Darren Criss is up next in the role, and though I LOVE him in the “A Very Potter Musical” shows on Youtube, it will be a very different show.

The music is stunning, the story is fascinating, and I was privileged to see Tony Award-winner Lena Hall as Yitzhak, Hedwig’s husband, before she left the show, and watched with wonder how she made so much out of tiny reactions and facial expressions. And her songs! Wow. Her replacement, Rebecca Naomi Jones, starts on April 14.

As we sat in the front row and the floor vibrated under our feet, we laughed a lot and cried a little and danced in our seats, along with everyone else in the theater. With Hedwig breaking the fourth wall because under the show’s premise, there ISN’T fourth wall, it was a theater experience unlike any other I’ve had. Did I mention the music is amazing?

If you’re interested, check out the show’s website for more information – I wish you our luck with the lotto!

Have you seen “Hedwig”? What did you think?

“Hamilton” the Musical: “Hey, yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry”

Everyone is talking about “Hamilton”, the new musical at the Public Theater, and they should be. Okay, “everyone” might be 1. all my friends who love theater as much as I do and 2. all the people I follow on Twitter, but it really is getting a ton of buzz, and it deserves it. I saw it on Sunday March 22, with my best friend, who was visiting from California. We bought the tickets way back in December, before the show was extended, because we knew that was the weekend she could come out to visit and we both wanted to see it. She’d been excited about it for ages, as had one of my friends here in NYC, since they’re both huge fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and stars in “Hamilton” and is best known for “In the Heights”.

For the record, I’m officially a big fan of Lin-Manuel now too. It doesn’t hurt that I got to see “In the Heights” at the Harlem Repertory Theater the night before (a post about that soon!).

If you’re not quite as tuned into the theater world as we obsessed musical fans are, the brief summary of “Hamilton” is that it follows the short life of Alexander Hamilton, the “ten-dollar founding father without a father”. It’s based on a biography written by Ron Chernow, which my bff bought and started reading as soon as we got back from the show. There’s too much to unpack in “Hamilton” for me to do it justice… at least until I see it again at the end of August. Yes, I already have a ticket for when it transfers to Broadway, purchased before I had even seen it. But without giving too much away, here are some of the thoughts the show spurred in me, tied to some of the amazing lyrics.

 “Immigrants: we get the job done”

The U.S. is and was a nation of immigrants, Hamilton himself was an immigrant, and Miranda has crafted a show that reflects the diversity of the country. “Hamilton” brings together a variety of musical styles, with hip-hop as a huge influence, to tell Hamilton’s story with the music and language of today. Miranda has said that “Hamilton” is the “story of America then, told by America now. It looks like America now”. Almost all of the main players are non-white actors, including Miranda as Hamilton, Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton (u/s Alysha Deslorieux, who was amazing), Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler, Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, Christopher Jackson as George Washington, and Daveed Diggs as the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. King George III, the only major role played by a white actor, was originated by Brian d’Arcy James and is now played by Jonathan Groff.

“My name is Alexander Hamilton. There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait — just you wait…”

Alexander Hamilton is the heart of the show. He is constantly on edge, driven by everything he wants to do and hasn’t done yet. He’s constantly thinking about his legacy, and his family and friends ask him “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” over and over again throughout the show. He does write like something is riding him, like he knows his time is limited. I saw Lin-Manuel play the lead in “tick, tick….BOOM!” at Encores! at the New York City Center last summer, and this recurring line in “Hamilton” reminded me of Jonathan Larson’s show.

“tick, tick… BOOM!” is a three-person musical based on Larson’s autobiographical one man show and follows Jon, a composer who hears the ticking of the clock as he approaches his thirtieth birthday. Larson’s show is made more poignant by the fact that he died at age 35, just before his show, “RENT”, had its first preview off-Broadway. All of “Hamilton” is threaded through for the audience with the knowledge that Hamilton’s story, too, will be cut short by his duel with Aaron Burr. Hamilton has a million things to do, and he is running out of time, and somehow, in this production at least, he knows it.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

Hamilton’s story is told by Aaron Burr, the “damn fool who shot him”, in a fantastic performance by Leslie Odom Jr. Burr is narrator, antagonist, and foil, all in one, Hamilton’s opposite and his twin at the same time. Burr weaves a cohesive story out of all the disparate elements, and yet despite the through lines and themes of “Hamilton”, when the show end and Hamilton’s story has been told, it’s still a messy, outsized tale. History, even when it’s turned into a show like “Hamilton”, is not symmetrical the way fiction is. Miranda writes nuanced relationships, and Hamilton himself is full of contradictions; he and the other characters are not idealized here but are instead fully realized and fully human, with all their flaws on display.

The characters in “Hamilton” don’t really need to be told that “history has its eyes on” them, because they all know. They know their fates have a place in the history books and all they can do is try to make sure the story they want told is heard. Eliza Hamilton sings of being part of the narrative, and when she’s betrayed, she takes herself out of the narrative, because she decides she doesn’t owe history – posterity — the story of her pain. And yet here we are, watching an actor sing about it. With my love of stories about story, I am 100% the right audience for this show.

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The set for “Hamilton”, as viewed from our seats in the second row!

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal—and when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’ma compel him to include women in the sequel!”

I’ve loved the musical “1776” since high school, so there’s a precedent for me being a fan of shows about the American Revolution. But “1776” is a show about a bunch of white men and two women whose only songs, while lovely, are mostly about their husbands. “Hamilton” has a trio of sisters and two of them play pivotal roles in Hamilton’s life. While I would’ve loved to learn more about each of them, both Eliza Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler are strong, fascinating women and the actors who play them have been given some great material to work with.

 “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now”

The Schuyler sisters sing of being lucky to be alive in a time of change, amidst the powder keg of the early days of the revolution. After the war, being lucky to be alive takes on a new meaning when so many have died. There are layers and layers to the show, and if it’s a little long – the editor in me thought the first act could’ve ended closer to the end of the revolution, when Hamilton notes that he still has so much work to do – it’s hard to say what could be cut. While watching everything felt vital to creating the characters and telling the story and making us understand how one person had such an impact on this country in such a short time.

There’s more to say – the set and costumes work well, the choreography is great, the performances are all wonderful – but this is probably too long as it is. Maybe when I go again in August (by which time the cast album should be out!), I can touch on a few more elements. But to wrap things up, let me say this is a show that made me laugh and cry and laugh and cry some more. “Hamilton” has made these people, this period, real for the space of a few hours, and I was totally engrossed. If you get a chance to go, I know you will be too.

The run at the Public is sold out, but a number of tickets are set aside for a virtual lottery through TodayTix and an in-person lottery. I may try to go again, and if you can get in, you should go, for the chance to see it in the intimate Public space. But if you can’t, tickets for the Broadway run are on sale and previews start in July. While you’re waiting, follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter to get your “Hamilton” fix, or watch this interview, or read this fabulous profile.

Do you want to see “Hamilton”? If you’ve seen it already, what did you think?

P.S. My favorite parts (SPOILERS AHEAD): Angelica’s song, “Satisfied”, with its amazing rewind of events; every time King George III was onstage, Burr’s “The Room Where it Happened”, any time Hamilton argued with someone (so, the whole show), and all the sad songs, because that’s apparently who I am. Also, Thomas Jefferson.

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After the show, we stuck around to meet some of the cast. We were a little starstruck meeting Lin-Manuel Miranda (and I’m going to say that’s why I look weird in the photos of us with him, which I am not sharing) but kept it together a bit better here with Leslie Odom Jr. —– at least until he asked us if we’d been sitting in the front, and we had. Apparently he’d noticed us from the stage. This definitely didn’t have anything to do with all the laughing and crying we were doing.

Photo credits to @ppyajunebug and the nice women who took photos of us with the actors.

Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria

I have emerged from my freelance cocoon! And despite the snowflakes I saw this morning, I think spring is about to land in New York City. I’m not making any promises but I’m optimistic – it’s supposed to be sixty degrees on Friday.

I took a long weekend last week because my best friend came to visit for four days. She lives out in San Diego and was gratifyingly charmed to arrive early Saturday morning to Christmas-like snow. It melted quickly, and while it wasn’t exactly warm while she was here, it was pleasant enough that we managed to run around the city without worrying too much about the temperature.

So what did we do? Well, considering we’ve spent much of our friendship geeking out over musical theater together, we went to see three different musicals. I plan to tell you all about them in good time, because all three were great and worth seeing, but that’s for later.

For now, let me tell you about our outing to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. I’d been to the museum once before, with my family, when a video game exhibition was on view, but I don’t get to Queens often so I hadn’t been back. We decided to head over around lunchtime on Saturday, and after a lunch at the nearby Arepas Café, we got in line for the museum.

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Note to self: Saturday is a busy day at the Museum of the Moving Image! We arrived around 2 and it took maybe fifteen minutes for us to get inside. Once inside, we headed straight for the Mad Men exhibit, which had just opened. It, too, had a line, but once we were inside we got a look at papers outlining the planning process for the show, going back years to when it was just an idea Matthew Weiner had. We saw a re-creation of the writers’ room, character sketches, and finally a number of costumes and props from the show, including even a few sets. I’ve only seen an episode or two of the show, but my friend is a fan, and I’m always fascinated by the creative process and the formation of stories, so I liked it a lot too. The exhibit runs through June 14, 2015.

We explored the rest of the museum – it’s small enough that you can see everything in a few hours. Some highlights: a wall of portraits of celebrities, memorabilia from TV shows and films, special props, even a small movie theater.

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There’s a whole section devoted to the history of animation, and you can make these neat stop motion animations. My animation skills are… amateur, but still fun.

I loved seeing my childhood favorites, Charlie Horse, LAMB CHOP, and Hush Puppy!

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The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday and stays open till 8 p.m. on Fridays. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for students and seniors, and $6 for kids 3 to 12. I’ve yet to see a movie there, but it’s worth checking out what’s playing!

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Have you been to the Museum of the Moving Image? What was your favorite part?

Reading about New York

First posted March 19, 2014.

Most of the nonfiction I read falls into the memoir category, with an emphasis on travel. But one of my favorites is Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, a book for book lovers. If you haven’t read it, buy it now. It’s short and you’ll read it so quickly you’ll wish it were longer. I’ve read it a couple times and love all of the essays, but one of my favorites is called “My Odd Shelf”.

It’s about Fadiman’s obsession with polar exploration and the collection of books she has built centering on it. You can read a little of it in this review, but the concept is a simple one: many of us voracious readers have a niche topic which fascinates us, one that the general population wouldn’t understand. I have a few of them – favorite authors that I’ve read almost everything by, girls’ mysteries stories with a focus on Nancy Drew and books about Nancy Drew, and fairy tales. But I’m starting to build a small collection which could be called “Books about NYC that I haven’t finished reading yet.” Not quite like Fadiman’s collection. Oh well.

The only book in this collection that I did finish is called My First New York: Early Adventures in the Big City, and I gave it away. It’s a collection of essays from New York Magazine by notables from all fields about what New York was like when they first arrived, whenever it was. I saw it on the ubiquitous New York tables at bookstores and museums and finally gave in and bought it. It was, like Ex Libris, a quick read, but a good one.

Another “saw it everywhere” purchase was New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009, edited by Teresa Carpenter, which offers snapshots of the history of this city in diary entries from New York residents throughout the city’s existence. I’ve dipped into it, but have yet to read more than 40 or so pages. What I’ve read, though, was fascinating!
When I graduated college I was given The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn as a gift. It traces the history of each section of the borough I’ve lived in since moving to New York, and while I’ve read up on some of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in, I have yet to read all of it.

Not strictly about New York, but my friend gave me a copy of To Marry an English Lord, the book that inspired “Downton Abbey”, and while I’ve only read about three-quarters of it, I was struck by how many of the American heiresses in it were from New York society, and by the portrait of that society it painted.

A book that is useful for this blog: the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: New York City 2014, given to me by the fabulous Allie Singer. Once the weather’s a little nicer I’m going to use it to plan adventures in parts of the city I haven’t had the chance to explore yet.

On my to-be-purchased list: Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve seen it in the Met bookstore (where else) and my fascination with museums means I will eventually get around to buying it.

What’s on your odd shelf? What books do you buy faster than you can read them? And what books about New York should I add to my read-eventually pile?

Thinking warm thoughts of Florence

It’s still a little cold here in NYC — we’re no longer shivering in the twenties, and we’ve even made it up to fifty degrees, but thirties and low forties are still on the table for us. It means that if you don’t check the weather before you leave, stepping outside can turn into an unexpected adventure. I’m still congratulating myself on going back for my umbrella on Tuesday morning, because it was pouring on the way home that night.

But spring is on the way! At least that’s what we’re hearing. And so in honor of the warm weather we might see soon, I figured it was time to flash back once more to the last time I spent time outside without a jacket on: my trip to Italy back in October. It feels like a dream because I got back right about five months ago.

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Florence was both a really lovely part of the trip and a not so lovely part. The not so lovely happened at the beginning, when my mom lost her camera. It put a bit of a pall over our arrival in Florence, and then I managed to turn my ankle on our way to the Uffizi. Let’s just say we were both very glad to get back to our hotel that night and relax. Also we maybe didn’t appreciate the art as much as we could have.

But we had a lovely time the next day. We went to the Accademia bright and early to see the David. Our hotel that first night was just blocks away from the museum, and our early ticket time meant the crowds weren’t that bad. We got a great view of the David before too many other tourists arrived.

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From there we saw the window at the Museo degli Innocenti, which for hundreds of years was an orphanage. Newborn babies used to be passed through the window’s grill to be taken care of at the orphanage. It was both really sad to see, and also very hopeful to think of babies being given a chance at life.

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We had to see the Duomo, of course, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. I didn’t make my mom climb to the top, like I did on choir tour in college, but we did stop at a kiosk and pay a few euros to listen to some bits of history. It’s such a beautiful church, and so unique.

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One of my favorite parts of the Duomo is the gorgeous 16th century fresco that covers the inside of dome. It depicts the Last Judgement, but it’s so bright and beautiful, it’s easy to forget it depicts such a solemn topic. My camera couldn’t quite do it justice, but I tried!

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We wandered for a bit after the Duomo, and of course stopped for lunch. We also went in another church, Santa Maria Novella, which for me was interesting because it houses Masaccio’s painting of the Holy Trinity, which I remembered from my college art history class as being an important work because its three dimensional qualities. My photo isn’t great, but it was neat to see it in person.

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One of the highlights of Florence was having dinner with two of my best friends from college, who are both in graduate school in Italy. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant in Otranto, a neighborhood south of the Arno River, called Il Guscio. It was delicious. Another of my best friends from college was in Italy this week and was not only going to see both of those friends, but also was going to get to eat at Il Guscio. (This post is maybe possibly inspired by jealousy after following her photos on Facebook all week. :))

My mom and I took a quick trip OUT of Florence the next day, to see the walled city of Lucca. We didn’t spend a ton of time there, but it was nice to be in a town, instead of a city, since so much of our trip (with the exception of our lovely overnight in Assisi) was spent in cities. We got to see a bit more of the Tuscan countryside from the train, and we spent a few hours walking in the sunshine.

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Back in Florence, I spent the next morning with one of my friends. We met outside the Pitti Palace and went directly into the gardens to get a view of Florence from above. It was a gorgeous place — quiet, with fewer tourists. The perfect place to have a real catch up conversations, since this visit was the first time we’d seen each other in over four years.

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We had pizza in a square and got some gelato to eat before I went back to meet my mom at the hotel. We had a train to catch to Venice. After a rough start to our Florence leg of the trip, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when it was time to leave. I had loved Florence on my first visit in college, and at first it didn’t quite live up to my memory of it. It’s easy to walk around the main tourist sites in the city, but it meant the city felt like one big attraction to me on our first day or so there. But with our dinner in Otranto, and with our second hotel (the first one was more expensive and only available the one night), which was a little farther from the center of things, and right by the river, I started to feel like there was more to Florence than we’d been seeing.

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I could’ve stood by the river in the sunshine all day long — but I had places to go.

I can’t wait to go back someday soon and look for all the bits of the city I missed — I know there’s more to see. In the meantime, this New York winter HAS to be on its way out, and once it is, I’ll be more than ready to spend time enjoying the sunshine and beauty in my own city. Where are you taking a mental vacation right now, and what can’t you wait to do once it’s spring?

Out of the city and away to Charleston

First posted March 28, 2014.

Note: This is a re-post from last March. I figured that even if I haven’t actually made a break for it and gotten out of the nasty NYC weather, I can at least bask in sunny memories — and share them with you! It’s especially appropriate because my trip to Charleston for a friend’s wedding was like a mini college reunion, and yesterday we got the schedule for our actual college reunion!

This past weekend I escaped the cold and headed to Charleston, South Carolina. Sure, there were highs of 50 here in NYC (ed. Dear God, I hope we have highs of 50 this month!), but in Charleston the temperature never dipped below 50, and most of the weekend it was in the 60s and even low 70s, so Charleston wins.

A house on King Street
I was there for the wedding of a lovely college friend, and I’d been looking forward to this weekend ever since she sent the save the date email last spring. She’d invited a number of college buddies so the weekend was basically a mini reunion, and I loved every minute, especially all the ones where we were able to spend time with the bride. It was a beautiful set of wedding events and a perfect vacation weekend.
On Friday afternoon I wandered the historic district and saw some of the gorgeous houses on King Street on my way down toward the Battery, where I stared out at

the water and wished there were benches to sit on. On my walk, I bought a chocolate truffle at a shop near the market, visited the Gibbs Museum of Art, said hello to a woman gardening along the beautiful and eerie Charleston Gateway Walk, and picked up a pair of flip flops on my way back up King Street, when my feet finally started to hurt.

 

Churchyard, part of the Gateway walk
The view from the Battery

I had dinner with friends at Two Boroughs Larder before we met up with the bridal party at Stars Rooftop Bar. It was a little chilly, but heat lamps helped! Saturday was packed with wonderful wedding festivities, ending with an after-party at Mynt (I was too tired to stay long!). Sunday wrapped up our time with the bride and groom with a brunch at Fuel, a gas station-turned-restaurant where waffles gave us delicious flashbacks to brunches in college.

Sunday continued with a visit to Cypress Gardens, a swamp garden where I wandered the paths with a few friends before checking out their birds, butterflies, and the animals in their “swamparium” or swamp aquarium.

Favorite moment: seeing the alligators in the pen near the swamparium stay as still as statues, except some eye movement, for several minutes and then slowly start to move their feet. Beautiful and terrifically creepy, all at once.

And then it was time for the short flight back to NYC and the long over-priced taxi ride that got me home just at the moment Once Upon a Time began. I fell asleep thirty minutes after it ended and went to bed similarly early the following night.

But it was all worth it to see my dear friend get married, to catch up with people I haven’t really seen since college, and to explore Charleston while soaking up some beautiful weather. You can pack a lot into a three day trip, and I hope to plan more short-but-sweet adventures soon!

Thinking back on this mini trip, I realized that there were four key factors that it made it feel like a real vacation.

  1. Tourist time.I took Friday off from work and got an 8 a.m. flight. This meant I arrived in Charleston around 10:30 a.m. and had several hours to myself, since the first official wedding-related event I was attending wasn’t until after dinner.
  1. Semi-swanky accommodations. I booked a room at the Cannonboro Inn. Many of my friends stayed at the Not So Hostel, which was a perfectly fine choice, but I realized I’d sleep better, not to mention feel less stressed about getting ready for the wedding, at a B&B. And while I didn’t get to take much advantage of their breakfast or their wine and tea at 4 p.m. (too busy!), I did have a delicious parfait before rushing out to brunch one morning.
  1. Easy airport transportation. I splurged and took a car service to JFK and a taxi home. Next time I’ll take a car service each way – the cab fare was atrocious – but it was important to me not to have to stress about getting to the airport early in the morning on the subway, or about getting home on Sunday evening. I also bummed a LOT of car rides from friends all weekend. Thanks, guys – you are seriously the best!
  1. Sleep. I slept as much as I could, given how busy the weekend was. I knew if I wanted to enjoy myself each day – not to mention function at work on Monday! – I needed to be well-rested.

It would have been easy to keep this trip to a lower budget – subway travel, only staying one night, a room at the hostel, etc. etc. But I think vacations are important, and while I’m all for saving money where you can, travel is one of the few things I’m willing to spend a little extra on. I’m tired after this trip, but I spent the weekend feeling relaxed and comfortable. While most of the credit is due to the fabulous celebrations I was invited to attend, allowing myself time and space to really enjoy them also helped.

Where have you gone on your own weekend vacations, and what did you love most about being away?

Excuses, excuses

I’ve been MIA the last week or two, mostly with good reasons. One weekend was my birthday and I spent it with my family, who drove down to see me. We had a lovely time seeing family friends in Connecticut and eating waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many sweets. Most of my spare time this weekend went to a freelance project that I’m having a lot of fun with, and it’s going to be consume a lot of time over the next few weeks, so I apologize in advance if my posts are a little sporadic!

I had one other good reason for not posting last week: for four days, my apartment had no internet connection. I made an appointment with Time Warner, but until he showed up on Friday afternoon, my apartment was an internet-free zone. No email, no Netflix, no Facebook. I’m so used to using Spotify I had to remind myself to open iTunes and put on some music I own. At which point I realized that even though my iTunes is out of date and Apple keeps reminding me to update it, it had been so long since I used iTunes for more than a few minutes to listen to one particular song or album, I didn’t know how to navigate it very well.

I put on an old, old favorite album – so old that I don’t think it’s on my iPod, which I’ve had for well over four years, so old that I remember slipping the red CD into my silver Walkman and groaning when the display flashed “Lo” because it needed new batteries. I’ve always been a repeat listener. If it’s good the first time, it will surely be good the second, seventh, fifteenth, fiftieth. ITunes thinks most of my top played are Taylor Swift songs, and they aren’t wrong, these days. But surely over my childhood I listened to this “Hit Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber” more times, or I wouldn’t still remember most of the words to “Tell Me on a Sunday” and “Any Dream Will Do”.

I wrote those two paragraphs last week when I didn’t have internet and then kept writing, and it turned into a first draft of a longer piece about my relationship with music that I’ve been thinking of writing for months. It’s rough – very rough – but there are 2242 words in a document that weren’t there before tonight, words that had been swirling in the back of my mind. I know I wouldn’t have written them that night if my internet had been working – I’d have done some writing for that freelance project I’m working on, but I also would’ve watched some episodes of “Friends” and messed around on Facebook and listened to the same station on Spotify I’ve had on the last few weeks instead of revisiting Andrew Lloyd Webber and then Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

I love the internet – it teaches me things and entertains me and keeps me in close contact with my friends who are scattered around the country and even the world. But I think the enforced hiatus I had last week was a good thing for me. I was able to focus enough to write over 2000 words in one sitting because I couldn’t stop and check email.

Maybe if Time Warner sends me another feedback survey, I should suggest they create a plan where you choose one day a week to be internet-free, enforced by them. Think of how much we’d all get done!

Well, maybe.

The weather here in NYC has been pretty terrible – either desperately cold or snowy or, now, terribly slushy. It makes going out a chore and if you’re me, it makes not going to the gym sound like the right thing to do. I can’t wait till being outside is a wonderful thing again. When it is, I’ll start doing more here in the city than commute back and forth to work. I got a fancy new camera that I need to learn how to use – once I do, expect even more pretty pictures.

In the meantime, here’s to productive weeks and better weather soon! I know there’s that whole in like a lion, out like lamb thing for March, but no one said the lion part had to last very long, right?

“The Last Five Years”, the movie

The Last Five Years

I think I’ve more than established my love of musical theater on this blog by now, so it will surprise no one when I say that I watched the new “The Last Five Years” movie, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, on its opening night last Friday. My friend and I did not go to see it in the theater as planned (Village East Cinema is the only place in NYC showing it this week) because the showing we wanted to see sold out before I managed to buy a ticket. It was a bummer as Jason Robert Brown, the composer, was doing a Q&A, but it may have worked out for the best that we ended it up buying it on iTunes and watching it at my friend’s apartment.

Why? Because it meant that when we got to one of the few line changes in the musical and it turned out to be the kind of moment where we both started laughing and couldn’t stop, we were able to pause until we could breathe, and then we rewound and watched that bit again. (For fans, I’ll say it was the change to the line “These are the people who cast Linda Blair in a musical” that cracked us up – you’ll know why when you hear it.)

If you haven’t heard of this movie, let me try to sell it to you. First of all, it’s the new Anna Kendrick movie! Didn’t you love her in “Pitch Perfect”? My mom tells me “Up in the Air” was phenomenal, too, and she got an Oscar nom for that one! She’s a great actress and singer and she really gives a wonderful performance here, so if you’re a fan of hers, it’s worth a look.

Anna Kendrick as Cathy

And since this IS a blog about life in NYC, I can’t neglect to mention that the movie is set (and filmed!) in NYC. Cathy (Anna Kendrick) lives originally in an apartment in Red Hook; we see Jamie (Jeremy Jordan, from the musical “Newsies” and the TV show “SMASH”) hanging out near the water on a boardwalk and it quickly becomes clear he’s right near the Fairway supermarket in Red Hook. The couple end up sharing an apartment (unrealistically, in my opinion!) on 73rd street in Manhattan, and they get engaged and married in Central Park. Jamie even hangs out in Madison Square Park before visiting his publisher, Random House, which is implied to be in the Flatiron Building, where Macmillan actually is. There are other moments that show snippets of NYC, and together they really ground the story here in the city, in a way that the stage show, which usually has a pretty simple set, doesn’t.

Jeremy Jordan as Jamie

Jeremy Jordan as Jamie

So for the uninitiated, what is this even about? “The Last Five Years” is the story of a five year relationship between two twenty-somethings, Jamie and Cathy. Jamie is an aspiring novelist who finds enormous success very quickly, while Cathy is a struggling actress whose career never quite takes off. It’s told through alternating songs between the two characters. Cathy’s first song opens the movie, showing the end of their relationship after Jamie has left her, and her numbers work their way back to the beginning of their time together. Jamie’s first song tells of the start of their relationship and continues on until he leaves her. In both the show and the movie, their voices only come together in song twice: once, in the middle, when their timelines meet and they get engaged and married, and again at the end as Cathy sings about saying goodbye until the next time they meet and Jamie sings about saying goodbye forever as he leaves her.

It’s a bit of a complicated conceit, but it works. In the stage show, the actors only connect with each other during the proposal/wedding song, but in the movie the two are in almost every scene together, reacting to the other person’s words and speaking occasional dialogue. It adds a depth to each character that I found fascinating, and my friend and I made new connections between lyrics and events that we hadn’t before, despite the fact that we’ve both been obsessed with this show for about a decade. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the cast recording with Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott, and I was thrilled to see a production when I was in college and another one here in NYC two years ago at Second Stage, directed by the composer.

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I’ve been reading reviews in an effort to understand what non-fans might think about this movie, and they’re mixed. If you’re not a musical fan at all, you probably won’t like it, since it’s basically sung through. If you like your narratives to have a traditional narrative structure, you might not like it, since Cathy’s story is told backwards. And if somewhat selfish characters turn you off, as many reviewers seem to have been turned off, you may not like it.

But here’s the thing. It’s a movie about two people in their twenties striving for something they love and falling in and out of love. Yes, they’re selfish, and yes, you come to understand very clearly that these two were not meant for each other. It’s about ambition and jealousy and misunderstanding and being young and moving too quickly. Jamie and Cathy can both be pretty terrible to each other, but their pain is real, and the show paints a picture of why each acts the way they do. Different viewers will come away thinking one or the other is to blame for their relationship falling apart, and that’s okay. I think my opinion changes each time I listen or watch, and that’s what makes it such a great show.

As a teenager I listened to it, loving the hyperbolic outsized emotions of the long songs and dreaming a bit about falling in love. As a twenty-something I see myself and my friends in it as we struggle with careers and love lives and how to fit ourselves into them, or fit them into us. I bet my perspective will change when I’m in my thirties, and I know I’ll be revisiting the movie for years to come. I already half watched, half listened to it again the other night.

The change from stage to movie is a difficult one, as “Into the Woods” made clear. My friends and I have talked recently about how moving to film should add something to the show, something which can’t be achieved in the theater. As good as “Into the Woods” was, nothing exciting was added in translation. But with “The Last Five Years”, the vibrancy of the NYC backdrop made a huge difference, and seeing the characters react to each other made the fact that they weren’t really listening to each other even clearer. My friend pointed out how little true eye contact the two make, despite being together throughout the film, and how much emphasis is placed on the physical aspect of their relationship – there’s just as much lust as love to these two, and that’s something that isn’t clear in the stage show.

There are in jokes for fans, like the fact that the two women who played Cathy Off-Broadway, Sherie Rene Scott and Betsy Wolfe, both make cameo appearances, and that the composer, Jason Robert Brown, has a cameo as the audition pianist who “hates” Cathy and screws up her accompaniment. These are grace notes for obsessed people like me and my friend, but the quality of the music, the acting, and the cinematography stands for itself. The story may be a bit confusing for new audiences, but it’s the kind of complex that is ultimately rewarding.

If “The Last Five Years” isn’t playing at a theater near you, you can find on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, or other places on demand. Watch the trailer here.

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Going to Target in NYC

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I remember the first time I ever went to Target.

No, that’s a lie. I have vague memories of possibly visiting a Target while on a trip Minnesota, before it was a fixture in every major suburb I’ve ever spent time in, and I know there was a time before the Target in my hometown sprung up about a twenty minute walk from our house. But I don’t really remember the Time Before Target, so I don’t remember my first time in a store.

But I do remember the first time I ever set foot in the Target at Atlantic Terminal Mall.

It was late August, and I was moving to Brooklyn. My parents still had a minivan and had driven me here with it packed full of all the things I couldn’t do without. We’d carried them up the stairs to my first (terrible) apartment, and now we were in Target to pick up the other things I needed. I’m sure food, and paper towels, and other cleaning supplies were all on the list, but mainly I remember buying my table, which is now my kitchen table, and a folding chair, which I left at an old apartment two years ago. I love that table, even though it’s now a little worse for wear, because it’s a lovely dark brown wood square table that you would never suspect is a folding table. I’ve mainly only folded it for moves, but I love that I could store it under my bed if I ever wanted to!

That Target trip had a bad ending when, after lugging the table and the other items around the corner to where we’d parked the car (Target’s carts are magnetized so you can’t take them outside the store), we found out we’d been away just a little too long. Brooklyn welcomed us with a parking ticket.

I’ve been back to that Target a fair number of times in my years in New York, and its strangeness never totally goes away. Like many retail spaces in NYC (but unlike most suburban Targets), Brooklyn’s Target is built up. Our Target in my childhood neighborhood sprawls – if you’re separated from the person you’re with, you could walk the large rectangle of the store and miss them completely if you didn’t look carefully enough. That’s probably true in the Brooklyn Target, too, only with the aided obstacle that the store is two floors. An escalator takes you (and your cart on its own moving walkway) from one to the other.

It’s easy to get lost in this Target – for a while I’d forget, from one visit to the next, where exactly certain sections were. I’ve gotten them nailed down on my mental map, now, more or less. It’s a busy store, not surprising as it sits on top of the hub that is Atlantic-Barclays. I try not to go too often, both because it’s overwhelming and because when I do I tend to remember my suburban roots and buy more than I need, and certainly more than I can comfortably carry on the subway. Luckily, there’s an (overpriced) car service line right outside the store. If you’re nice to the guy minding the door that leads outside from the elevator, he’ll even unlock your cart long enough to lead you out to the cars. It’s how I traveled when I spent way too much money one day last fall because I had a gift card.

If you have time to spend, and money to burn, and lots of things on your list, a trip to the Brooklyn Target can be rewarding, as my apartment stands to show. And when you go to check out? Walk further in to the checkout area – the lines get a lot shorter if you do! But if you’re tired, and broke, skip it – otherwise you’ll end up spending more than you need to.

Have you spent time in a NYC Target? How does it stack up to your suburban visits? Or do you avoid Target altogether?