Tag Archive | musicals

Disneyland’s Fantasy Faire

It’s a well known element of the restaurant industry: you never have or really want a weekend free. Weekends are prime time for the rest of the world eating out, so we humble waiters accept that we will be spending our Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays by our customers’ sides and at their service, rather than with our friends or family.

Sometimes, however, something glorious will happen and a server will get a “weekend” midweek. I was lucky to have Tuesday and Wednesday off this past week and it felt like a true weekend. Immediately I called up Mom and asked the most important question any person ever asks another…

“Do you want to go to Disneyland?”

Answer: Duh.

Disneyland recently removed the Carnation Plaza Gardens, an area…a restaurant…a garden…a stage for not Disney sponsored entertainment…you know what, I’m not really sure what CPG was to begin with, but I know what it is now. It has become a mecca of Disney Royalty, the Fantasy Faire.

The area is so well-decorated and quaint that not only does it blend in perfectly with the neighboring castle and Fantasyland, but it feels like you are straight out of Tangled or Beauty and the Beast. Which is fitting since the shows are based on those movies, but more on that in a minute.

The square is dominated by a twenty foot stone maypole carved into Rapunzel’s tower. It’s definitely a picture spot, probably the best outdoor spot for a photo, but other than architecture it doesn’t really serve a purpose, yet. I think they are planning on adding some type of maypole show eventually, but it isn’t on the Fantasy Faire schedule yet. Behind the pole and up against a stone wall is a little framed bench, another great photo opportunity for kids who want to feel like the characters and couples who want to look all cutesy. Next to the bench, though, is what I thought was the highlight of Fantasy Faire’s exterior look: Clopin’s Music Box.

Clopin is the gypsy from Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the favorite Disney character of Fantasy Faire creative director Michel Den Dulk (well, he is French). His music box has a wonderful hidden surprise beyond the crank and dancing Clopin and gargoyles. The background of the crowd is all Disney characters from other films! See if you can name them all becomes a cute little distracting game for us older children when there isn’t a line of kids behind you waiting for their turn to crank the box.

There is also the requisite princess dress gift shop and a snack cart called Maurice’s Treats, presumably Belle’s father selling French pastries that are really just chocolate, strawberry, or cheddar twists. And some slushy juicy thingy.

The Royal Hall is to the right of the entrance, basically a covered queue to meet three of the Disney princesses at a time. Apparently the princesses stand inside this ballroom and little girls get to meet them and take pictures. It’s a good idea, except I know that if I had been a little girl I would’ve been upset not seeing the princesses I wanted and the princesses can sometimes change during the 45 minute wait.

The highlight is really the shows. Based on Tangled and Beauty and the Beast, the shows feature two characters from the movies and Mr. Smythe and Mr. Jones narrating and playing the remaining supporting characters. There are actually a lot of funny “older” references that keep the adults laughing (more in the Tangled show which I felt was far better) and go straight over the kids’ heads. No worry. We all know they are just there to see Rapunzel, Flynn Rider, and Belle.

Mom and I went first thing to Fantasy Faire, and saw the first Tangled show, then walked around the Main Street shops and Downtown Disney before making it back for the Beauty and the Beast show. And then we left. We have passes after all and the whole point of going was to check out the new area. I may also have been more tired from my five straight days of waitressing than I had thought. At times it felt like I could barely move my feet!

Basically, you won’t spend a ton of time in Fantasy Faire unless you are waiting in line to see the princesses, but it is a must see destination on its quaint merits alone.

Viva Las Vegas!

What do you do when you finish a really long and busy term in college? Provided you are 21 of course…you go to Vegas! Yeah it’s a stereotypical young adult weekend, but without a ton of time to travel, a two day jaunt to the Strip is kind of one of your only options to blow off some steam. And continuing in the honesty thread, Vegas would be pretty boring alone, so I begged, pleaded, implored, and practically dragged Aisha along with me (yeah right, she totally came willingly and without hesitation!). Two girls (and Mom) off to Vegas the morning after final exams, definitely a recipe for awesomeness.

Mom and I picked Aisha up mid morning for the 5 and a half hour drive into Vegas. The peak of the drive’s excitement was entering San Bernadino and Fransicquito Road. Of course, the only ones who were excited by that were Aisha and me, but that day was a truly a defining moment for us, so to relive it was a great kick off to the weekend. The rest of the drive was The Aisha and Jenna Sing Along Spectacular! courtesy of “Hairspray”, Dixie Chicks, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, and a smattering of Adele. Poor Mom. Aisha can sing, but I certainly can’t.

We made it in at around 3 pm, and our first stop was M&M World!

M&M World Wall of M&Ms

I was super excited to re-experience this place that was always a highlight of my childhood Vegas trips, and we only went there because of how much I remember loving it as a kid. But if it’s the same now as it was then, then I must have been an easily amused child.  All it was was 4 floors of every kind of M&M merchandise they could think of. I felt bad for taking Aisha there because it was so awfully lame and we were tired from the drive. M&Ms took away from valuable nap time.

We went to our hotel (The Mirage, my first time staying there) and barely walked in the door when a club promoter gave us coupons for discounted drinks. And remember Aisha was in her boot cast! One would think that two grimy girls, one only a few weeks out of surgery, would not be targets for club promoters, but one would apparently be wrong. After we checked in, we got ready for the evening and headed over to the Venetian to kill some time before seeing Phantom of the Opera.

Venetian

There really isn’t much else to do in Vegas apart from walk around the hotels if you aren’t gambling or clubbing, so that is exactly what we did. And we made a stop in the food court for a snack and leg ice-down (on Aisha’s part with that one).

No weird looks at all…

Phantom was great! Even though it was an abridged version, I think I actually liked it better than when I saw it on the West End.  Some of my favorite songs were cut short though which was unfortunate, but at least the Phantom didn’t crawl around the stage like Gollum. After the show, we went to dinner at the Italian place in the Venetian that my family always eats at. We had a blast “drunk people” watching which can be infinitely more entertaining than “sober people” watching. It makes me really never want to get drunk again though. Especially knowing that we were not the only table watching people, who wants to open themselves up to that? Though I guess Laura and I probably will be when we go to Vegas at the end of the month.

Palazzo

Then we walked over to the Volcano show outside the Mirage. It was cool because I’m a closet pyro, but the heat from the fire was nearly unbearable. On our way back into he hotel, two more promoters stopped us and gave us VIP passes for both of the Mirage’s club/bar lounges, so we figured what the hell, we are only in Vegas together once. We ended up at King Ink (the lounge). $10 cover and unlimited free drinks? Of course it was the cheap drinks like a vodka cranberry or a gin and soda, so not really worth it unless you are really taking advantage of the free alcohol which of course we weren’t. One vodka cranberry each and we were both back in bed, sleeping like babies.

We actually slept in until 9:30, something neither of us have done in I don’t know how long! By the time we finally made it through the madhouse line at Starbucks and over to the Paris Hotel, it was past 10:30. As I said, about one of the only things to do around Vegas is walk around the hotels and window shop. We went from Paris to the Bellagio and then through Caesar’s casino into the Forum Shops. In that casino, we ticked off one more thing in the “typical Vegas experience” checklist: gambling! We each played $5 in a slot machine, and I won $20! And then I immediately cashed out and we moved on to the Forum. We didn’t last long. A bit of walking around and then sushi was all we needed before we were totally ready to go lounge by the pool at the Mirage. We were in massive need of relaxation and sun! Not that getting sun in Vegas is a challenge, but tan lines get really uneven when you are just walking around and although neither of us are all that appearance oriented, anyone from Southern California understands how awful awkward tan lines are.

Now here is where the irony of all ironies came into the weekend. We were lounging, aka baking in the million degree heat, drinking our Pina Coladas and being rained on (just like in the song!) when I found out that I knew one of the cute British guys in the lounge chairs in front of us! He was a fresher at Teddy Hall this last year. He and his brother were traveling though North America with their family. Of all the people and all the places, the coincidence is just incredible. ANd completely awesome. We four hung out for a few hours before we had to get ready for O at the Bellagio (which was absolutely breathtaking and inspired Aisha’s newfound calling for a career once she is out of rehab). Once the show was over, Aisha and I ran or rather hobbled across the street from the Mirage to Harrah’s to buy Bailey’s and joined up with the guys for drinks and the Olympics in their room. We ended up talking and hanging out until 2 am when we left because I had another 5 and a half hour drive home to look forward to in the morning.

Bellagio

It was the perfect end to a wonderful weekend with my dear friend and mom 🙂 The only regret is that there was no tiger in our bathroom at the end of it.

The Big 100th Post

Isn’t it amazingly fitting (and completely coincidental) that my 100th post is my leaving Oxford to return home to the States? This was never my intention; I didn’t plan out all of my blog posts for my entire year to make sure that I ended on the 100th post. I can’t even really believe that I’ve had 100 posts!

In fact, this post is truly the last part of me in England at the moment. In case no one noticed, the time stamp on this one is 4:15 pm, GMT, which means that as this is being blasted into cyberspace, my plane towards Los Angeles has just taken off and I am now in the air, eleven and a half hours of a plane ride ahead of me. Let’s hope there are no screaming children!

So as this is my 100th milestone, in typical blogosphere fashion, I thought I would do a little fun listing, an almost sum-up of my incredible time abroad. Nothing is in any particular order. Enjoy!

25 Great/Funny Experiences

  1. Meeting my amazing dance partner, Dan, is probably the best thing that happened to me here!
  2. Being pelted with snowballs outside the Sheffield competition. First time in the snow!
  3. Disneyland Paris
  4. Harry Potter Studio Tours in Leavesden
  5. Seeing Les Mis on the West End…twice
  6. Dan running into a bollard at Blackpool. This was mostly funny because of the email his dad sent him afterwards, but it’s a favorite inside joke with the two of us now.
  7. Blackpool IVDA!
  8. Thinking that Iguanadons were the same thing as Iguanas (you’ll understand this one later)
  9. Baking parties in the Acland kitchen
  10. Dan’s birthday BBQ
  11. Days spent at the Missing Bean
  12. Keble Ball
  13. Meeting up with Dale in Paris
  14. The Port Meadow Photo Challenge
  15. My family visiting!
  16. Driving in Ireland
  17. Finding Charles Brandon’s grave in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
  18. Becoming friends with all the people on the dance team
  19. Dancing on a table in Wahoo with Ania 😉 and nearly getting kicked out
  20. Flying off to Zurich alone, completely random! Sidenote: Awesome zoo
  21. Seeing the town that  my family has lived in for hundreds of years (Harlech, Wales)
  22. Walking through horse pastures in the Cotswolds
  23. Varsity Match for OUDC
  24. Going to tutorials in a room that is older than any of the original 13 colonies
  25. Stonehenge in the pouring rain with my brother

25 Things I’ve Learned

  1. The Rose has the best cream tea in Oxford
  2. Custard, cream, and mayo might as well be their own food groups here
  3. Pants=underwear, not trousers
  4. Pimms is awesome. There is always an excuse to drink Pimms.
  5. The instant the sun comes out, expect the streets to get very, very crowded.
  6. Blackwells is the most deadly store in the world.
  7. Sometimes it is cheaper to take a train to a foreign country than to Cornwall.
  8. You can get to Brussels or Paris from Oxford faster than you can get from Oxford to Cambridge (they must have planned it like that!).
  9. Awesome words like keen, overkeen, and knackered should be incorporated into our everyday vocabulary.
  10. British people think that all Americans are gun-toting, obese rednecks.
  11. Cobblestones do not mix well with high heels.
  12. Punting is not just a type of kick in football.
  13. At a BBQ, Brits bring their own meat. Americans bring desserts and sides. Plan accordingly.
  14. Stand mixers are necessary to avoid baking catastrophes.
  15. 14lbs=1 stone. This is how they measure weight. But then they use kg? Wth?
  16. Fancy dress means costumes, not cocktail attire.
  17. Stealing ties and bow ties makes night clubs into a game.
  18. You never wait for a cross walk to cross the street.
  19. Buses will run you over and they get really close to the curbs.
  20. Salad means assorted vegetables that you can have put on your baguette at lunch or lettuce with delicious toppings. However, salads are rarely meals.
  21. You need a television license just to stream a show online.
  22. Everyone, and I mean everyone, watches and loves Downton Abbey.
  23. I know more British history than a lot of British people.
  24. Waffles are dessert, not breakfast. And for that matter, pancakes are basically crepes, not the fluffy goodness we get in the States.
  25. If you forget an umbrella, you’ve guaranteed that it will rain. If you brought an umbrella, it will still probably rain but at least you will be dry.

25 Things I’ll Miss

  1. Nightly tea parties with my dance partner
  2. My friends on the dance team
  3. Olives (the sandwich shop not the food item)
  4. Cream teas
  5. Being able to walk everywhere
  6. Saying Cheers instead of Thanks
  7. Spur of the moment day trips into London
  8. West End shows for cheap!
  9. Being surrounded by history everywhere I go
  10. My bay window
  11. How happy everyone is when its sunny
  12. Oxfordshire Public Library
  13. Free entry to museums and galleries
  14. Everyone in the Keble MCR/Acland
  15. The collective understanding when someone mentions Jamals or Park End
  16. My scouts (aka the women who clean my room every week and empty my bins. They were the nicest people!)
  17. The accents
  18. Ease of travel, unless you want to go horizontally across the country. Good luck with that.
  19. Baking for Dan’s friends and Keble events. Love easy taste testers
  20. Laughing as Dan and I attempt to Quickstep/Waltz/Jive/Cha/Foxtrot/Viennese Waltz
  21. Hearing everyone’s opinions on LA
  22. Dirty Chais
  23. All the literature and film links in the city
  24. Feeling like I’m constantly at Hogwarts
  25. My coworkers

25 Places that I Didn’t Get a Chance to Visit, But That I Definitely Will Someday

  1. York
  2. Cornwall
  3. Dover
  4. Calais
  5. Norfolk
  6. Budapest
  7. Prague
  8. Vienna
  9. Pompeii/Rome/Venice/Naples/Italy
  10. Warsaw/Other Places in Poland
  11. Berlin/all over Germany
  12. Geneva
  13. Istanbul
  14. Marrakech
  15. North Carolina
  16. Athens, basically all of Greece
  17. Slovenia
  18. The Netherlands
  19. Northern Ireland
  20. Brighton
  21. Denmark
  22. Russia
  23. Bruges/Antwerp
  24. The Caribbean
  25. Portugal

Yeah, it’s a long list, but hopefully I’ll have a long life in which to fulfill it, with wonderful friends and family by my side. Now don’t think that because I’m back in the US that this blog is ending. I’m still going to be traveling and I’m working on finding my way back to England for a bit longer of a term. So stay tuned!

And thank you to everyone and everything in England that made this the most amazing year of my life.

42nd Street

I am definitely on a musical kick at the moment. How can I not be, with random breaks of free time, tip money in my pocket, and the West End a mere 90 minute bus ride away? So far, this term alone, I’ve seen Les Mis twice, Billy Elliot, Chicago, Guys & Dolls, and last night I saw 42nd Street at the New Theatre in Oxford. Hopefully I can get myself to be productive enough over this Partnerless weekend to afford a last trip to Leicester Square (if so, I’m thinking Sweeney Todd).

My blog earlier today, in my opinion, didn’t really do Phantom of the Opera justice; chalk that up to a deadly combination of tiredness and low blood sugar and please accept my apologies. Having written a 2000 word essay yesterday, I’m a little burnt out today and writing my blog seemed more like a chore than anything else. But I promise to do as much justice to 42nd Street as I can!

Which is to say, not much? But I’ll get to that. Let’s first step back into Phantom so I can spill a few little, astonishing, tidbits.

Dan bought the program and while he had stepped out for a minute, I read the history of the show. I was floored to see that it was intended to be produced in the style of The Rocky Horror Picture Show! I’ve never seen it, but I have watched the Glee episode and am very familiar with the song “Time Warp” and the Los Angeles traditions of what you do at a screening. I’m sorry, but that just wouldn’t have done the original novel justice! (Yes, Phantom is based on a French novel, and yes I’ve read it and recommend it.) Though after learning that, I could actually hear some of the Rocky Horror influences in the music. So disappointing.

Okay so that was just one tidbit, but it felt like an important one.

As for 42nd Street it was produced for the first time in the 1980s, and it really felt like it. I am pretty sure I’ve done a dance to one of the songs (“Lullaby of Broadway” maybe?) so I kind of new the style of music. But I find it a little saddening when my favorite part about a production is the chorus. There was nothing special about the main characters, no gripping storyline to pull you in, no powerhouse that kept you on the edge of your seat. Maybe I’m a little spoiled from Les Mis and Wicked. But I think the problems with the production stem from its original script and book. It just doesn’t lend itself well to the 2010s’ culture. It was dated. Costumes were dated. Actors were dated. Audience was definitely dated.

Yet the chorus girls were great. I didn’t know that all the dancing in it was going to be tap (though it does explain my memories of that dance’s costume and yes it was a tap number), and it was good tap. So often you get a line of tappers and it just sounds like a terrible cacophony. Which may be why it has always been my least favorite style of dance. But here, everyone was really talented. Their sounds were crystal clear and on time! And there were easily 30 tappers all dancing at one time. I really wish my mom had been there with me, she would have loved the dancing. As it was, definitely my favorite part of the entire show. I found myself groaning whenever there was acting or singing, wishing I could go back to writing my paper, until the chorus came on and I paid rapt attention.

The other funny thing about the show was its storyline. It definitely was not an accurate portrayal of how people act in the entertainment industry. An entire chorus would not be clamoring for a brand new chorus girl to take over the lead role of a high profile Broadway play just so they could perform themselves! In truth, everyone would be cutthroat and after the lead role themselves. But I guess that makes for entertaining television right now in Smash but not appropriate for 1980s Broadway.

Oh and I find the storyline of the older, crotchety director in love with the clueless chorine ingenue kind of gross.

Random interesting factoid: Catherine Zeta-Jones got her start in musical theatre in the chorus of 42nd Street when she had to fill in the role of Peggy Sawyer after both the lead and the understudy became ill. Lucky her!

Spontaneous London Reviews from A Day Trip

I couldn’t stomach the thought of sitting around Oxford doing nothing but wait for an email that I no longer think is going to come for the third day in a row, so I decided to leave. Originally I was hoping to go to Lanhydrock in Cornwall despite the 4 hour train rides it would have taken to get there, but the price was a bit, shall we say, prohibitive? In fact it seemed like every place I thought I might travel to was crazy expensive. Now I am definitely not one to scrimp on travel expenses (remember me traipsing off to Zurich with no warning?) but if I’m going to spend the money to go to Cornwall or York, I should probably do it as a weekend trip and make it really worth my while. Which is how, at 2 am, I came to the decision to go into London for the day.

Yet it would not just be any old day in London, not one spent wandering the streets and museum aisles with headphones from either my iPad or an audio guide. No if I was going to do London alone, I was going to boldly go where this Jenna has gone before: to the theatre!!!

Apparently I picked the perfect day as well. It was indeed the third day in a row of gorgeous sun (could I perhaps get some color to my skin?!) and, since it was a Wednesday, many of the popular shows were doing their matinees, meaning that I could see not one but TWO productions all in the same day! Talk about indulging my theatre junkie 😉 As soon as I hopped off the X90 bus I headed over to a tkts booth in the theatre district of Leicester Square, crossing my fingers that I could score a seat to both of my planned shows. I know that all the guidebooks and Dan tell you to go to the “only official discount theatre ticket” place in the middle of the square, but the line was really long and after my experience of missing out on War Horse tickets by literally three minutes, I wasn’t really in the mood to take any chances, so I went to one of the imitation discount booths down a side street. Official or not, I did score some amazing seats for what I consider cheap for the theatre. Next time maybe I’ll get into London a bit earlier and use the official one to compare deals, but I wasn’t going to compromise on this sunshine day that had the makings of being one to remember.

Sunshine!

And which shows did I score those coveted tickets to, you ask? None other than Les Miserables and Chicago! Success!

Yes, I’ve seen Les Mis before, but I’m also the girl who saw Wicked six times and Billy Elliot twice, not to mention the number of times I saw each Harry Potter movie in cinemas, so obviously I don’t care about repeating. In fact Les Mis was even more incredible the second time, but I’ll get to that later.

The matinee doors weren’t even going to open until 2 pm, and it was only 10:30, so I decided to wander the surrounding neighborhoods of London, taking advantage of the weather while it lasts (it’s already cloudy outside as I’m writing this, though that could just be the morning haze). I found myself first in Chinatown and then in SoHo, without nearly getting hit by a car once, so I guess everyone else decided that walking and fresh air was the better option than sitting in a potentially stifling cab. At least Londoners appreciate the sun when they get it! Back home we almost get sick of the heat, granted ours is about fifty degrees hotter than yesterday, and eventually start seeking cover in shopping malls and restaurants. But once again I digress into talking about the weather, an apparently way too easy of a distracting topic. So I’ll move onto cupcakes.

No, I’m serious. Among the stores I came across on my traversing the sidewalks of SoHo was the London version of LA’s Sprinkles or Manhattan’s Magnolia Bakery: Hummingbird Bakery. Surprisingly they don’t make hummingbird flavor cupcakes, but I guess that is more of a Southern American thing. I’ve heard of Hummingbird mostly through that addicting website known as FoodGawker, and since I obviously make a lot of cupcakes myself, I decided to go ahead and try one of theirs. I was hoping that they would sell their cupcake mini’s in store like my favorite New York cupcakery Baked by Melissa (you have to go if you are in New York!), the perfect way to try multiple flavors and give a truly accurate review, but alas those are apparently only available online and I was forced to get a full sized in one flavor. Of course I had to go for red velvet, that ultimate benchmark for the quality of a bakery!

Mmmmmmm…red velvet

I’m no where near creative enough to write cupcake reviews like Dan (see comments section of this post for the latest one), but I can give you my highly detailed notes on the cupcake experience in case anyone makes their way to Hummingbird Bakery anytime soon. The first thing I noticed about the cupcake was that it was well proportioned, a frosting to cake ratio of 1:2, and a wonderfully moderate size, not the super-sized monstrosities guaranteed to give you diabetes in one bite that so often come out of US bakeries. The cake itself was a rich, red color with a pleasant medium chocolate flavor that complemented the frosting without either overpowering the other. A little too dense in my opinion–I prefer a fluffier cupcake, because all things are better when they are fluffy–yet still moist. I wonder how it would be later in the day once it is no longer as freshly baked as this one seemed to be. Now the true mark of proper red velvet cake in any form is the frosting. Hummingbird Bakery went the correct route with a cream cheese frosting and not that buttercream disgustingness that people use instead (it’s not red velvet without cream cheese frosting people!) and it was a good, fluffy (told you) frosting, though with too much icing sugar added in for my taste as I’m not a fan of overly sweet frostings. Overall: a solid effort that I would definitely try again if I ever find myself in SoHo with a cupcake craving, but the dense cupcake and slightly too sugary and subsequently grainy frosting led me to toss the last third of the cake part into the bin and head for a corner cafe to down a bitter coffee.

While enjoying that blissfully bitter cup of caffeine, I whipped out my sketchbook and just started drawing. I just recently started to get into drawing, encouraged heartily by my mom, and I knew that by nature of being alone in London I would have tons of free time, so I somehow managed to pack my sketching pencils and book into my already so full that half the time it wouldn’t close purse. I felt so artsy at first, sitting in the middle of Leicester Square, drinking barely sweetened coffee, waiting for a West End production, sketching the cafe patio across the way, until I became so absorbed in the drawing that I lost all that pretension and forgot everything except which direction a line had to go so that I could achieve the right depth of field. I ended up taking up that corner table for over an hour while I finished my sketch, so I left a more generous tip than one cup of coffee called for to compensate. Thanks random cafe for the extremely pleasant diversion 🙂

Leicester Square decking out for the Jubilee

With still more than an hour to kill before doors to Les Mis opened, I took to the streets of Piccadilly and Regents Street, leisurely strolling past the storefronts and stopping into a Boots to buy a pack of tissues (not going to make that mistake again!). Londoners really came out in droves at lunchtime, so it was fortunate for me that I had enough time to spare so that I didn’t have to rush through a crowd; I just let the swarms slip by me and took side streets whenever I could. After a giddy find of a brand new Whole Foods (they have my peanut butter but not Luna bars, almost success?) more crowded than the streets outside and a quick spot of lunch, I headed into the Queens Theatre and back in time to the French underworld of the 1800s.

Whole Foods! Feels like a slice of home

I don’t think I need to gush on and on about how incredible Les Mis was, though it completely would deserve another helping of exuberant adjectives. I was surprised that for a matinee it was basically the same cast as the evening show I saw back in March with my mom, with the exception of a different Cosette and Marius (funnily enough, the Marius I saw last time was in the chorus this time looking exceedingly bored). I’ve always associated matinees with the understudies or second string of performers, but I guess the West End is fortunately different. And I don’t know if it is the music or the beautiful singing or just the emotions of the story, but I seemed to tear up for almost the entire performance regardless of what was going on at the time. Has that ever happened to you? When you just become so overwhelmed by the beauty of something that you feel unworthy to experience it and just start crying? No? Okay so maybe I’m the odd girl out, but it is definitely how I felt for the majority of Les Mis. Thank goodness for foresight in buying tissues and not wearing mascara (oh no! Did I just admit to that?).

All too soon the final curtain fell, eliciting the fastest and most exuberant standing ovation I have ever seen from a London audience. The cast even came out for an additional bow because the audience wouldn’t stop clapping, myself included. But all great things come to an end, and I was shuffled out of the theatre against my will. I would have stayed and foregone Chicago for the evening performance of Les Mis, but I thought I would be making a better use of my time to see a new production as well. But Les Mis, I’ll be back!

I found myself once again on the streets of Piccadilly with two and a half hours to spare before curtain up at a theatre four blocks away. The great thing about May in England is that the sun doesn’t set until 9 pm-ish, affording me ample daylight to retake up my wanderings armed with a book of London architecture. I find architecture really interesting, probably because of its very close links with history, but I know very little about it and have picked up a few books with the intention of learning more. That is how my London architecture book ended up squeezed into my too small purse alongside my sketchbook. The poor purse’s zipper. London really is a highly navigable city by even just walking, provided you have a decent map, which I did, and therefore walking from Piccadilly Circus down to Westminster Abbey and back up through Trafalgar’s Square via Whitehall to Leicester Square is an entirely feasible plan of action. And a great, educational way to pass 90 minutes in the fresh air. Only made sense to do so, taking my time to read about every building I could find, discovering the Scotland Yard building for my brother, and really looking at the buildings to understand the elements that the book discussed. Random things like the way Portcullis House was designed in 2001 to evoke a symmetry with the Scotland Yard building despite one being made of brick and stone and the other glass and steel. I never would have even thought of something like that, though once it was pointed out to me I can completely appreciate the architect’s intent.

Scotland Yard

Portcullis House evoking Scotland Yard, can you see it?

On my walk, standing outside the Admiralty Building reading about the architect’s decision to forego the use of columns unlike his contemporaries, a random Londoner stopped by me and commented on how I picked the best possible day to be a tourist in London. I thought that it was a random statement, until I soon found out that such a conversation was really just his opening line to ask me for a shandy. With no idea what a shandy was, but knowing that in any situation going somewhere with a stranger is not the smartest decision, I politely declined with a “no, thank you”. Normally that would be the end of the conversation, but this businessman then proceeded to engage me in a cultural comparison of the polite way to refuse an invitation. He commented that it must be an American custom to simple say “No” to such a question while a Brit would say “Sorry”. I replied that in fact I was being very polite by saying “No, thank you” rather than just a flat out refusal. I then thanked him for the compliment of his attention and turned back to my book. And apparently a shandy is a very delicious drink of a blend of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. Sorry, but that doesn’t change my mind. And there was his sorry, just for him! Weird interaction.

I promise you that you are reaching the end of my saga; only three more things to go: a city, a surprise, and a fox.

I love the movie of Chicago, even if I’m not the biggest fan of Renee Zellweger, so I made the mistake of going into the stage show with high hopes of a similar sultry and well choreographed package. Lesson shatteringly relearned: No expectations are good expectations. I truly almost walked out and asked for a refund, before realizing that the theatre wouldn’t give me one since I hadn’t bought my tickets directly from them. First problem, the accents. Now I know that a Chicago accent is difficult for an American, much less a British actor, but if you aren’t going to do a proper Chicago accent at least do a Standard American English one, not a Southern accent and not a valley girl. And make it consistent, none of this switching in and out of poorly performed dialects. Second problem, the choreography and stage design. Apart from the utterly boring minimalist stage that could be the way the musical was originally intended, Chicago is based on the Vaudeville and Cabaret movements, so yes the movement should be subtle and sexy, but you can still be subtle and sexy and actually move across a stage at all much less without prancing. For example, remember Queen Latifa in “When You’re Good to Mama”? Yeah, copy her, walk around, actually swing your curves a little, don’t just stand there and occasionally raise your hand to shoulder level. And Velma Kelly? You are not a giraffe though you may be taller and skinnier than one, so don’t dance like it. Third problem, Roxie Hart. The best way I can describe her was a cross between Kristen Chenoweth in Wicked and Yzma, the villianess from the Disney pic The Emperor’s New Groove. I think that gives the most accurate depiction. Fourth and in my opinion biggest problem, where was all that jazz? Where was the sensuality and the ooze? Yes I said ooze not booze, if you are a dancer you’ll understand what I mean. It felt so little kiddish and perky. The story is about murder, manipulation, and illicit activities, not PopRocks and cartoons. To sum it all up in a quote from Derek Wills from SMASH! “Where’s the sex?!”

Which leads me to the one redeeming quality of the night, the surprise…

I had no idea who was playing any of the roles and was running a bit behind when I was approaching the theatre so I completely ignored the posters of the actors, or else I would have been more keen to sit through the show, based on who was playing Billy Flynn. But I didn’t have any prior knowledge and London theaters don’t hand out playbills so as I sat through the overly rushed performance refusing to clap at the end of any number, I had no idea what was in store for “All I Care About Is Love.” And by what I mean whom and by whom I mean RAZA JAFFERY!!!!!

Raza Jaffery and me 🙂

Yes, Dev from SMASH! was playing Billy Flynn!!!!!!!!!!!! He was by far the best (and most attractive, wink wink) actor in the show and made me believe that he has been underused in SMASH since he can actually sing and dance really well. He also kept up his accent through the entire musical thank goodness His being there was the only reason that I am glad I picked this show, and the picture with him afterwards by the stage door was definitely worth it.

And that brings me to the end of my spontaneous day in London, and to the fox. As I walked towards Victoria Coach Station desperately trying to hail a taxi, a fox ran in front of me on the Pall Mall. Like an actual fox. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real fox before, and I certainly haven’t seen any wildlife besides those blasted pigeons in London. But there it was…a small fox. Random much? 🙂