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


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.


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.

The set for "Hamilton"

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.


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.

“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


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?

Warm up with the hot chocolate festival at City Bakery

First posted February 14, 2014.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. If you like hot chocolate, you should go to City Bakery this month. It’s located at 3 West 18th Street in Manhattan, and right now they’re in the midst of their annual hot chocolate festival. Each day in the month of February they offer a different flavor of hot chocolate, from banana peel hot chocolate to bourbon hot chocolate to something called Ode to the Polar Bear hot chocolate. It’s definitely a good Valentine’s-Day-month activity, if you’re looking for a date idea — or just a delicious outing to do with friends!

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a hot chocolate purist. And by purist, I mean reverse snob, because I often prefer cocoa mixed with water to fancier, thicker, hot chocolate. In Italy I had hot chocolate so dense it resembled warm brownie batter. Don’t get me wrong, I love brownie batter, but not when I want hot chocolate.

But City Bakery’s flavors are fun and adventurous, and in this cold, cold month, what could be better than a nice warm cup of cocoa? What’s the most interesting kind of cocoa you’ve ever sampled? And should I someday go to Serendipity 3 for frozen hot chocolate? Discuss!


NOT from City Bakery (from Max Brenner) but man, those marshmallows were delicious!

Popcorn and Friends

Winter has caught up with me. It’s not that I’m sitting at home doing nothing. Well, no, there are some days (Sunday comes to mind) where that’s exactly what I’m doing. But my outside of work activities have more or less narrowed down to three categories: hanging out with friends, choir rehearsals, and trips to the theater.

I don’t mind – these are all perfectly fun things to do – but it does limit what I have to write about on this blog. I’m not exactly going to give you a rundown of the dinners and brunches I’ve gone to over the last couple weeks (though, friends, if you’re reading this — and I know at least one of you is! — they’ve all been wonderful). But meals and the conversations had over them are much more interesting if you’re there, which is why I’ve been writing a lot about my trips to the theater. That’s not going to stop any time soon, and you’ll probably get a write up about the performance I saw of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” later this week.

But in the meantime, I spent Monday night watching episodes of “Friends” and eating what might be the most delicious snack in the world: stovetop popcorn.


All right, it might not top chocolate, but popcorn made on the stove is definitely better than any microwave popcorn, or even movie theater popcorn. It’s something I’ve known since college, when my roommate acquired a hot plate (don’t tell the fire marshals!) and we made popcorn more days than not. I’m pretty sure it’s what got me through my senior year! I don’t make it nearly as often now, but I keep a canister of kernels in my cupboard for days when popcorn is the only thing that fits the bill. I made it for my mom years ago and now she can’t eat microwave popcorn either!

What’s the trick? Pour some olive oil in the bottom of a covered pan, heat it up a little and add kernels. Keep covered on high heat until the kernels start popping. Shake pan lightly as kernels pop so the popcorn doesn’t burn. When the popping slows, turn off the heat and wait for the pops to stop. Pour into bowl, add salt to taste.  Should you add butter? Well, you can – but you don’t even need it.

Don’t believe me? Pick up some popcorn kernels, pick out a movie, and have a delicious night in. Another one of those and I might even be ready to venture out and do something new and exciting here in NYC… if the weather gets better, that is.

“Into the Woods” and out of the woods and home before dark

The blizzard-that-wasn’t messed up my week a little — but also gave me a work-from-home day, so I’m calling it even.  I was supposed to go to a concert on Monday night at Subculture, featuring Jason Robert Brown, Sierra Boggess, and (the real draw for my friend and me, since JRB is doing a whole series there and we can see him another time), the one and only Norbert Leo Butz. I saw him in “Big Fish” (he was great, the show wasn’t memorable), but otherwise haven’t seen him in anything – just fell in love with his voice as Fiyero in “Wicked” and Jamie in “The Last Five Years”. I’m bummed that it got canceled, especially since it’s unclear whether Norbert will be joining JRB in one of his other shows.

But I can’t really complain, because even without a Norbert sighting, this was a two show week for me. Wednesday night I went to see “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” (more on that soon, probably next week) and on Sunday, after that yummy brunch at Max Brenner, I went to see “Into the Woods”.*


I’ve talked about “Into the Woods” a little bit on this blog before, but not in any depth. It’s an interesting show. I’ve now seen four productions of it, meaning it’s tied with “Camelot” for the show I’ve seen the most times. I’m not sure that makes it my favorite show. In many ways, it should be. As I’ve said before on here, I love stories about story, and “Into the Woods” is certainly that. It’s also about fairy tales, which are some of my very favorite things. The music is sometimes catchy, sometimes beautiful. I haven’t listened to much else by Sondheim, so I can’t say how it compares, but the songs do run through my head after I’ve heard them. It has quirk and charm and hope, but no easy answers. All things I like. But it also has a ton of plotlines that can keep us from caring that much about any given character and a first act that can feel long while the second one can feel rushed. I like the show, but I have problems with it.

The Roundabout production is a unique one, put on by a company called Fiasco Theater. The show consists of a group of ten actors playing all the parts. There’s always doubling in “Into the Woods” – the narrator is sometimes played by the Mysterious Man, the Wolf is usually portrayed by one of the princes, and so forth. But with only ten actors, this production had to get creative. The princes, for instance, also were Cinderella’s stepsisters, and one of them played the Wolf while the other doubled as Milky White, the cow. The costumes were minimal, usually just a base with different props  or items of clothing added or subtracted to indicate character. Jack donned a coat to play the Steward, and the prince, when playing the Wolf, picked up a – well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.


Those surprises were a huge part of the humor of the first act. At the talkback my friend and I attended after the show, one of the actors described a good set as being like a great playground, with lots of great toys. As the show progressed, we never knew exactly what an actor might pick up to convey a certain character or to represent an object or setting. The set is centered on the piano, which is present throughout the show and which is exploded out to become the set itself. Piano harps lined the wings of the stage where curtains usually hang; metal keys formed the proscenium framing the stage; and ropes representing piano strings crisscrossed the back of the stage. From the ceiling of the stage and extending out into the house hung a ton of chandeliers. My friend mentioned that she’d read a review that said the set looked like it had been ordered off Etsy – I’d amend that to say it came from Anthropologie, and I was fine with that!

The actors had great rapport, not surprising considering a core group of them make up the Fiasco Theater company. Most of them did their MFAs together at Brown and they’ve done a number of shows together. They weren’t a diverse bunch, and I’ve heard more polished singing before, but their acting was great and overall the music was as lovely as ever. They left out a few things, including the Midnight bits where fairy tale advice is offered, but the show was left more intact than it was in the recent movie.

For me the most interesting part of this version was the turn from first act to second. It’s always a shift, but in the first act the gimmick of the minimalist casting and staging was always at the center of the joke. In the second half, the doubling loosened a little (partly because several characters die!) but the gimmick was still there – it just didn’t matter as much. Maybe it’s because the second half is so serious compared to the first, but I felt myself get caught up in the story in the second half in a way that I didn’t in the first. Some of that is the story itself – the fairy tales are shallower as they wend their way toward the happily ever afters. But some of it was done through choices by the directors, choices that kept the focus on the action.

If you have an opportunity to see this production, either here before it closes on April 12 or elsewhere if it continues to travel, I recommend it. It has all that I already love about this show, and it’s put on by a creative and talented group of people. I’m interested to see what Fiasco Theater does next!

Have you seen this production, or another one? What do you think about “Into the Woods”?

*I know I’ve probably said it twelve times on this blog by now (and more in person – sorry, friends), but if you live in NYC and you’re under 35 (or have friends who are under 35, which, you all do) and you’re not taking advantage of HIPTIX and HIPTIX Gold already, you are missing out. To recap, HIPTIX is free, signing up to it gets you two $25 balcony tickets to each show put on by Roundabout Theatre Company. HIPTIX Gold involves a $75 that gets you access for a year to two $25 tickets per show – but this time on the floor. I’ve seen five different Roundabout shows since then (and I’ve seen “Cabaret” multiple times, because it stretched across two seasons), and all of them have been really well done.


Brunch at Max Brenner

It’s a snowy day here in NYC — not as snowy as we’d expected, but snowy enough, and because mass transit was shut down last night and is only slowly getting back to normal, it’s a work at home day for most of us. So while we’re all hopefully cozy, let me share an experience I had this weekend that will make you hope you have hot cocoa in your cupboard.

It was Sunday morning and my friend and I were meeting in Union Square. We were headed to a matinee performance of “Into the Woods”, but first we needed brunch. We didn’t have a set place to meet, so when I texted her that I had just gotten off the subway, she texted back to say she was walking up from the Strand, and did I have any interest in brunch at Max Brenner, since it was right near Union Square.


I’d never eaten at Max Brenner, but I’ve walked past it dozens of times over my years in NYC. And I knew one thing about it: It’s all about chocolate. My answer, of course, was yes.


We settled in at our table and took a glance at the decadent menu. There were breakfast items like waffles and pancakes that sounded intense, and I opted to keep things simple: mac n’ cheese, and a hot chocolate with marshmallows.


My friend got hot cocoa too, and they came in these funny little handle-less mugs. I loved the plates they were sitting on, too!


By the time our lunches came I was too hungry to remember to take pictures of it, but my mac n’ cheese was delicious. Not my favorite — that still, weirdly enough, belongs to Panera — but still pretty good.

As we wound down after eating and chatted, I kept snapping photos of the decor. There were stacks of giant chocolate bars sitting along the backs of the booths.


And on the walls you might spot inspirational chocolate messages, like this one.


The hot chocolate machine behind the bar looked amazing — I want one for my apartment!


When our bill came, it was in this awesome tin.


And when it was time to leave, we took a detour to check out the chocolate shop.


We managed to leave without buying anything… this time. The meal was pricey, even for NYC brunch, but it was a fun experience and I’d go back again — maybe just for dessert. Bet they have a wonderful chocolate cake on that menu…


Murder mystery marathon

I have a problem.

Okay, it is not necessarily a real problem. And it’s one I’ve dealt with before. But it’s still a problem. And that problem is, I’m obsessed with a TV show.

I was coming back from a friend’s house right before sitting down to write this and as I walked up the stairs I thought, “I can squeeze one more episode in before bed.” But then I remembered that I was already a day off schedule with blogging this week, and I told myself I needed to write something tonight since I didn’t get anything written over the long weekend.

Why not, you ask? I’d like to say it was the movie night with friends or the long brunch yesterday, and yes, those definitely contributed. But the real reason is, I can’t stop watching “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.” And the actual problem is, I only have a few episodes left.

I’ve never been good at rationing TV shows when they’re available to binge, and I do have an addictive personality when it comes to narrative. I mean, I recently watched ten seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy”, getting far past the seasons where things actually made sense, because I just needed to know what happened to all those characters. Watching “Grey’s” didn’t stimulate me, though, in the way that marathoning “The West Wing” did a couple years ago, and it certainly didn’t make me laugh the way “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” does.Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries - woman in a bob haircut with bangs and a crystal headpiece and a gold gun

You might think that a show about murder wouldn’t have me laughing and smiling throughout, but Miss Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective (it’s 1920s Australia, and she’s kind of a flapper, so deal with it) is just so freaking awesome, I can’t help it. Her confidence, her intelligence, her bad-ass nature, and her ability to always have a great time, even — no, especially — when chasing criminals around Melbourne in spectacular clothing makes every episode a pleasure to watch.

Her sidekicks are also a lot of fun, as is her crime-solving partner, Inspector Detective Jack Robinson. Phryne and Jack have some delicious chemistry, but she’s also having a fabulous time sleeping with attractive men who she meets along the way. She has a rich, fulfilling life, and it’s so much fun to watch.

I first heard about the show on the awesome romance novel site, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and I knew it was something I’d enjoy. In some ways it reminds me of the other murder mystery show I follow, “Castle” — it’s about a somewhat by-the-book police detective and an over-the-top civilian solving cases together, with wonderful chemistry. Only the gender roles are swapped and Phryne is way more capable than Castle is. My favorite thing about it? Phryne and Jack are such equal partners, they almost always run into danger together. He knows better than to try to protect her or make her stay back, because she can handle anything that comes her way!

It’s winter, and it’s cold here in NYC, so if you’re looking for something to curl up and watch with some tea or cocoa in hand, check out “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”. There are two seasons on Netflix, and a third in production.

Now I’m off, because I really have to start this episode before it gets too late!

P.S. The series is based on a book series, so I might check that out, too!

P.P.S. Came back after watching the episode to add this:

Hey Ladies at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

I’ve talked about Housing Works’s bookstore café on this blog before. It’s a bookshop in SoHo where all of the merchandise has been donated, most of the staff is made up of volunteers, and all of their profits go to support the good work done by Housing Works, an organization dedicated to helping people with AIDS and HIV. I love any and all bookstores, especially used ones, but Housing Works is special because of its mission, its beautiful space, and the awesome events that are held there.

I went to one on Thursday night. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (or talk to me in person!) you might know that I love the site The Toast and even had a couple pieces published by them last spring. The Toast does a lot of things really well, and one of those things is humor. Many of the humor posts are by one of the Toast’s founders, Mallory Ortberg, but I would have to say most people’s not-Mallory favorite humor on the site is the Hey Ladies series. You can read them here — make sure to start with the oldest one and work your way forward. I’d say go and do it now, but you might never come back from that rabbit hole.

Back in the fall the two writers responsible for Hey Ladies, Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss, held a Hey Ladies: Live! event at Housing Works. I went with a friend and was treated to an hour of live readings of the emails of a group of fictional women living in or near NYC whose unhealthy group dynamic is so terrible and yet so compelling. The thing is, reading this series, you’re laughing at and horrified by these women, but you also come to realize that you’ve been on email chains that, if just a little more over the top, might have been just like these ones.

And I know I’ve started emails with “Hi ladies!” before. I know, I’m ashamed.

Thursday night was Part 2 of Hey Ladies: Live! at Housing Works. The theme was Home for the Holidays and the women read several holiday-related email chains, from St. Patrick’s Day (in Hoboken…) to the merits of seeing a high school ex on Thanksgiving Eve — and a premiere of a new piece, the characters’ letters to Santa.

Here’s the thing: Except for the Santa one, I had already read all of these pieces. But it didn’t matter — the delivery of the readers had me laughing the whole time. The “real” hey ladies emails that they read between pieces, submitted by the audience, were also a blast. I just hope no one recognized themselves!

My friends and I really enjoyed ourselves, as I’ve had at every event I’ve been to at Housing Works. If you’ve never been, pop in to browse the next time you’re in SoHo, or check out one of their events. You won’t be disappointed!

And seriously go check out the Hey Ladies series over at The Toast. I promise you’ll laugh!