Here are some treats from the annual Grove Street Halloween Fair in San Francisco’s NOPA (North of the Panhandle). I can’t resist dogs and babies!
A guest review from Scolytinae of Ramin Karimloo’s concert in Birmingham on Saturday, October 29, 2011.
What would it take to prise you away from your fireside on a damp and blustery October Saturday evening? For me, it was the prospect of spending “A Night with the Phantom” as the man himself, Ramin Karimloo, stepped out from behind the mask to perform as himself without the aid of character, makeup, costume, sets or an ensemble.
Birmingham’s Symphony Hall is an impressive venue, and its 4 levels were soon almost full. Even the balconies behind the stage were occupied, prompting Ramin to ask if the audience all the way up there could hear him okay.
The evening got off to a good start with the excellent Manchester Concert Orchestra treating us to the lovely overture from South Pacific. Then the star of the evening made his rapturously received entrance singing “Some Enchanted Evening.” From here, the concert spanned a wide variety of songs and, as is the very nature of a “songs from the shows” format, some I enjoyed, some were fabulous, and some not so good. A special mention must go to Capital Voices, whose 4 part harmony rendition of “Moon River” was truly lovely.
As the news that Ramin was going into Les Misérables in November had officially broken, there was a change to the published running order as “Stars” was abandoned in favour of “Bring Him Home.” We were hushed in anticipation as the song began; after all, this is the signature song from the show and the one that every Valjean is judged on. We have all heard Alfie Boe’s beautiful version, so the question was—how would Ramin do? The answer—very well indeed. He has just the right quality to his voice for this quiet, haunting ballad, and it was a lovely performance. The only criticism—that final note went a little astray, but given the proper context and rehearsal time, I feel sure he will be a good Valjean and bring his own intensity to the role. He admitted himself that he has a lot of work to do over the next 4 weeks to get ready, and we all wish him well.
The most popular part of the evening was, perhaps not surprisingly, the selection from The Phantom of the Opera. I felt that this was where guest star Celia Graham really came into her own. The fact that she had been Christine opposite Ramin in both Phantom and Love Never Dies gave the performances a polish and confidence that some of the other numbers lacked, and her beautiful, clear voice filled the auditorium at the end of “The Phantom of the Opera.”
As a shameless plug for his first solo CD, due out in January, a couple of songs were included to showcase the album and to show a completely different side to Ramin. These were enthusiastically received by the large audience.
Ramin closed the show with “’Til I Hear You Sing” from Love Never Dies, a beautiful ballad that he has most definitely made his own. A rapturous standing ovation brought him back on stage and, after checking with us that we were okay for time to get our trains and buses, he gave us an encore in the shape of the beautiful “Music of the Night.”
Overall it was a really enjoyable evening. Things moved along at a brisk pace with guests breaking up the time on stage nicely and Ramin occasionally sharing an anecdote or story with the audience and, while raising the microphone stand after their appearances, quipping “no-one’s THAT short!”
The orchestra was fantastic, if a little too loud on occasion, meaning we sometimes lost the voices underneath the soaring music. Apparently this wasn’t a problem for my husband who, as a late addition to the proceedings, was sitting out at the side of the auditorium and not with me. Obviously the amps must point straight out from the stage!
However, this certainly didn’t spoil the evening in any way—the man came out from behind the mask and did a great job.
Thank you, Scolytinae, for another great review! (She reviewed Les Mis last month.) We’re looking forward to your impressions of Ramin Karimloo in Les Misérables, when the time comes.
YouTube videos from the Birmingham concert:
I am very lucky to have friends who are willing to write reviews for me. Last month I published Scolytinae’s guest review of the London production of Les Misérables. Another friend saw the musical this week, and here are her impressions:
I first saw Les Mis on stage when I was 17 at a local theatre in Yorkshire and have loved it ever since, but it has taken me almost 15 years to see it again. Despite living in London for several years and seeing many plays and musicals during that time, for some unfathomable reason I never went to see Les Mis. Seeing the Matt Lucas “I Dreamed A Dream” documentary was the trigger that finally got me to go and see it in the West End.
Due to a mix up in booking the tickets, I first saw the show in August with Jonathan Williams as Jean Valjean and then again in September with Alfie Boe in the lead role. Since then, I have become slightly addicted to the Les Mis booking website and can now look forward to a further two visits this year alone. I’m hoping for some kind of loyalty discount from Cameron Mackintosh, especially as Ramin Karimloo is joining the cast to take over from Alfie Boe in November.
Thursday night was my third visit. Previously, I had seats in the dress circle and at the back of the stalls, but this time we had front row seats in the stalls at the right hand side. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but we certainly were close to the stage and to the orchestra—perhaps too close to the orchestra, as we could hear the brass section chatting at times. On the plus side, my eye did keep being drawn to the conductor and it was fascinating to see him directing the cast as well as the orchestra—I got a real insight into how much work must go into getting the timing right.
Being so close to the stage meant we could see every facial expression of the cast and that did really add an extra element, particularly in all the Valjean/Javert double handers. However, on the down side, it did mean the cast could make eye contact with us, which was slightly disconcerting. I didn’t quite know where to look when three of the factory workers sang “At the End of the Day” while staring directly into my eyes. Goodness knows what I would have done if Alfie or Hadley had made eye contact……
The heart of the show is undoubtedly Alfie Boe’s Jean Valjean playing against Hadley Fraser’s feral Javert, but this visit I appreciated what an ensemble piece it is, with Eponine, Javert, Marius and Fantine having strong songs of their own. This company is very talented, and I warmed to Caroline Sheen’s Fantine and Lisa-Anne Wood’s portrayal of Cosette much more than previously. Due to the wonders of twitter, I could pick out members of the ensemble, and particular praise should go to Fra Fee and James Charlton—both have amazing voices.
Alfie Boe is sublime as Valjean, but his performance did seem the same as the first time I saw him. There’s nothing I can put my finger on; it may just be that in contrast to all the other major characters, he has not developed the role any further, and there’s certainly no need. Perhaps I’m getting too used to hearing his voice and don’t appreciate him fully. My friend was certainly blown away by the power and control of his singing.
Scott Garnham and Adam Linstead deserve special mention. Scott played Enjolras, as Liam Tamne was away. Leaving aside the fact that the hair & make-up team managed to make a good-looking man unattractive, there was little to fault in his portrayal of Enjolras, and he was more believable in the role than Liam. I would love to see what he would do with the role on a more permanent basis. Adam Linstead’s Grantaire wins the “most improved” award. He has really grown into this role and added a lot to it since I saw him last. He starts as a laid-back bon viveur with the complexities of the character coming out in the emotional barricade scenes.
I was intrigued to see how Cameron Blakely would take on Thénardier—no mean feat to step into Matt Lucas’ shoes. He has kept the role pretty similar and in the first half was easily a match to Matt—his “Master of The House” was superb. However, he didn’t have the necessary menace in the sewer scenes, and the comedy was lacking a bit in the wedding scene. It is early days though, so I will be interested to see how he develops the role.
I have tried to be as objective as I can, but in my eyes, Hadley Fraser can do no wrong. I’ve yet to see anything less than stunning performances in all the YouTube clips, and I was also lucky enough to be at the Phantom 25th Anniversary concert a few weeks ago. I read a recent interview with Hadley where he said he was trying to bring out the animalistic side of Javert. I have to say, he has really developed this side of the character since my last visit. There were times where he really seemed only half-human and more like a feral dog, albeit one with a lot of pent-up anger and confusion. He was quite terrifying to watch from the front row, and I was glad he had a firm grasp of the truncheon, as I would not have wanted that flung across my face.
All in all, it was a fantastic evening. If you like Les Mis or musical theatre in general, this cast is an absolute must-see. I am excited about the prospect of Ramin Karimloo joining. I can’t imagine him as Jean Valjean, but for me that only adds to the anticipation.
I’m not really a fan of hanging around the stage door, but I still managed to act like a crazy fan girl. While waiting for a taxi on the street afterwards, I spotted Hadley walking past us, and I squealed “Oh, there’s Hadley!” to my friend. He looked at me a bit oddly, so I think he heard—oh, the embarrassment…. But then he sloped off into the night, looking very slight and laid-back—quite a difference to the Javert who had been towering over us so menacingly half an hour before.
Thank you, helsbrownie! You’re a star for taking the time to write this for us.
Yes, Ramin Karimloo will be replacing Alfie Boe as Valjean at the end of November, performing six times a week from November 29, 2011, through March 3, 2012. Karimloo and Fraser, together again!
Today is my birthday. It’s been my tradition to post old photos for family birthdays. Here’s my first, where I’m looking as excited as I feel now about getting older:
This was the only thing I was going to post, but my wonderful friend (and guest blogger) Katydid sent me a special “handmade” card. She knows me far too well! I had to share:
Oh, no! Not ANOTHER silly Les Mis screencap!
Sorry, folks, but the delightful Jeff Nicholson (who played the creepy foreman in the Les Mis O2 concert) is a proud new father. Here’s something to amuse him, and hopefully Lea Salonga will also find it funny.
[For my American readers, a CV is the same thing as a résumé.]
I met Yigit Pura back in June when I was volunteering at the San Francisco GLAAD Media Awards. He’s the pastry chef who won the first season of Top Chef: Just Desserts on Bravo, and he’s going to open a dessert place in Union Square called Tout Sweet. I’ve been following him on facebook and twitter because he’s just so damn charming. Last night, I went down to Macy’s for a Meals on Wheels Chefs of the Bay Area Calendar Kick-Off Party, to get a calendar signed by seven of the chefs who participated. Yigit Pura’s photo is on the front cover, and he’s Chef December. It’s a great shot, because he’s shirtless and covered in rainbow sprinkles.
I almost didn’t make it to the party. Here’s the twitter version:
How cool is that?
It was a really nice event. One small area of The Cellar was roped off for the party. That’s the basement level with all the kitchen ware. It was a fairly small gathering, maybe forty people, so we all had a chance to mingle a bit with the chefs before they started signing calendars. I’m not a foodie, so I wasn’t familiar with the other chefs, but everyone was really warm and friendly. The executive director of Meals on Wheels SF, Ashley McCumber, gave a speech and introduced everyone there who participated in the calendar project, including the photographer and the graphic designer. We were offered wine, mini-cupcakes, little meringue cookies, and cups of salted caramel ice cream.
The chefs who were there signing: Kara Lind, David Bazirgan, Jen Biesty, Mark Dommen, Pam Mazzola, Kory Stewart, and Yigit Pura. The calendar is gorgeous, and 100% of the proceeds go directly to MOWSF. My friend got me the calendar for a birthday present, and I encourage everybody to get their own. They can be ordered online from mowsf.org.
I was taking lots of photos trying to get some good ones for the blog. Being a devoted blogger can also make you an annoying party guest! I almost got defeated by the tight space and the department store lighting. Anyway, the photos aren’t the greatest, but at least they give a sense of the event. (Clicking on them takes you to larger versions.)
Thank you, Mr Pura! (Sorry there were no cookies in the bag.)
I adored James Herriot’s books as a kid. My love for animals, especially dogs, has only grown as I’ve gotten older. I’ve always enjoyed a good story, and Herriot made me laugh, cry, and wonder what it’s like to have your arm up a cow. I wrote James Herriot a fan letter, and I got back a form letter from his secretary. Inside the letter was a small slip of paper with Herriot’s autograph. It is one of my treasures.
Fifteen years later, I visited the Yorkshire Dales for the first time. My memories of the books had faded, but something mysterious happened when we drove into Swaledale. It’s difficult to describe the feeling I experienced, and I know I run the risk of sounding like a New Age type. I’m hardly that! I felt like crying, full of the combination of joy and grief you feel when returning home after too long away. It’s a feeling that hits me every time I go back to the Dales or even see those green fields and stone walls on film. If past lives are real, I must have had one in North Yorkshire. Even my favorite cheese is from the Dales, and I’ve never been able to find it in San Francisco. Wensleydale is my Holy Grail of cheeses!
Here are some of my favorite images of Swaledale.
Next Tuesday, October 18th [Update: now moved to November 21st], an indie film called Convincing Clooney will be released on DVD in the US. This is exciting news for Hadley Fraser fans, and one of the rare times we get to see Mr Fraser before the Brits. The trailer is on YouTube, and Fraser looks like he’s having fun. Here are some images:
A second YouTube trailer
Official facebook page, with some behind-the-scenes photos
A couple more images:
A good friend told me that she envied people with fun summer stories. Just to make her feel better, I got out some old photos of the nightmare YMCA camping trip I took when I was thirteen. With the photos, I discovered a series of postcards I’d written to my family from the road. I had begged my parents to go on the most expensive Y trip offered that summer. Granted, $115 today seems like a bargain, especially if sending your kid away for thirteen days keeps her from sitting in the movie theatre watching Star Wars every afternoon. The trip turned out to be torturous. I was a terrible hiker, and I lacked many basic social skills. The other kids came to loathe me as much as I loathed them. The leaders? Well, they were paid to be nice to me. I didn’t dare tell my parents how miserable I was, so my postcards are desperate to put a positive spin on things. I was as bad at writing cheerful, interesting postcards as I was at hiking. I decided to publish them as written. All the spelling and grammatical mistakes have been left in for authenticity and added humor.
7/6/77 Zion National Park, Utah
Hi Mom & Family!
I’m doing fine. On the way here (Zion) we nearly roasted. We stopped in Las Vegas and had lunch, then we went to 7-11. Naturally I had a BIG slurrpee. You know that boy, the one with the hat and very tall? He is deaf. He can sort of read lips, but we mostly write and signal. Gary & Marcia are neat, too. I’ll continue this on the next postcard. Bye!
7/6/77 Zion National Park, Utah
Hi Again! (read other card first)
That card was yesterday. Today we hiked up the narrows, in the water. My poor shoes! Then we hiked to Angel’s Landing. I had to stop near the top. It was a straight up hike. Right now everyone else (except Gary & I) are at Emerald Pools. I couldn’t make it. My feet are killing me. Tonight I get to make dinner! Happy Birthday Pop! Bye, until next.
7/7/77 On the road from Zion to Grand Teton
Happy Birthday again, Pop! I cooked dinner like I said last. It was spaggetti, rolls, salad, and pudding. I though the spaggetti was gross. Gary wouldn’t let me stir it enough so it was pastey. Right now we’re headed for Utah Lake. We took down our tent and junk this morning. All us girls washed our hair. Boy did it feel good. Ann found a cockroach in the tent, and I saw a huge one on the trail. But I’m o.k. I touched a few frogs, saw lots of lizards, and one snake. Boy, it’s hot. Wow, the stars are great here. So many! Guess what? We might go to Provo instead of Utah Lakes and stay at Sundance Ranch. Robert Redford lives there! A Sacramento Y did it once. I’ll tell you if we do. I got a whole bunch of Space Dust, that candy that fizzles and pops in your mouth. They don’t sell it in California. I’ll write again. Bye now! (your kid)
7/9/77 Grand Teton National Park, Utah
This trip was worth all the money. Speaking of money (hee hee) I don’t think I’ll be able to get you much of anything. The money goes fast on film and snacks when driving. It hasn’t been as cold as I thought except for the morning. Hope everything is fine there. Bye Now!
7/9/77 Grand Teton National Park, Utah
I am having a great time. Gary, the one on this trip, is going on all the trips and he says you don’t have to cut your hair for Mammoth, but I think you should. It is such a bother, besides, it’s hot. We haven’t seen any bears yet, but I did get six pictures of a moose in a stream. Your jacket I used this morning. It was great. See, it sorta rained. But we all slept in the tent so it was o.k. Read the rest of the family’s for more. Bye.
7/9/77 Grand Teton National Park, Utah
As you can probably guess, we didn’t stay with Robert Redford. But we may pass it on the way home. We stayed at Utah Lakes. It was beautiful. I showered and swam. Right now we are in front of the gift shop in the Grand Tetons. It’s pretty here. There is a big hassle right now over fishing licenses. Read the rest of the family’s for more. Bye.
7/11/77 Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Everything is fine. We arrived in Yellowstone today. It is great. Right now our clothes are in the dryer. I just took a shower, my second, so I won’t really come home your dirty kid. We found a beautiful camp ground and set up both tents. Tonite I am sleeping on the van! We switch off in fours. Grand Tetons was really nice. We saw a total of 8 moose. So far we haven’t seen anything today. I have a huge bump from a bite on the back of my thigh that’s killing me. Did I tell you? On the first day driving (Tuesday) my blue foam thing melted to the floor, so now there is a long hole in it. Boy it’s been getting cold. Bye.
7/11/77 Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Mom: we came in the south gate but I didn’t know what to look for. Brov: from all the references being made here about Mammoth, it sounds hard. Good luck. Pop: there is nothing really to write to you. Oh, by the way, I have been thinking about getting a rabbit, thanks to Watership Down. Be prepared. Bye.
7/14/77 Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
I’ve got some bad news. See this bear? [on postcard] You won’t see many of them around. A few years ago they moved all the bears into the back country, and the ones that kept coming back, they shipped to zoos or worse, destroyed them. Isn’t that awful? We haven’t seen one. The fishing has gone to pot, too. Every fish you catch over 13 inches goes back in the water. See there somehow got to be a new kind of fish in the rivers, the long-nosed sucker, that eats the trout eggs, so they need all the help they can get to protect the eggs. The gysers are nice though. Bye for now.
9/26/77 San Diego, California—Letter from group leader Gary
Hope your doin well. Stop by & say hi some time. Please make your check ($4.40) to me. Thanks.
12/1/77 Aspen,Colorado—Postcard from group leader Marcia
Sorry I’ve been so long in writing but I’ve been real busy getting established here. I live in a house with a huge fireplace about 10’ from the Roaring Fork River and have gotten a job at the local mental health clinic. I really love it here. Write when you get the chance. My thoughts & love.
[After our trip, poor Marcia must have found working at a mental health clinic a real vacation!]
Today, the musical Les Misérables turns 26. Here’s a toast from Grantaire (Hadley Fraser) at the O2 concert last October.
(Will I ever get tired of posting Les Mis screencaps? I doubt it!)
Note: I just looked through my old diaries to see exactly when I saw the original Les Misérables in London. Turns out it was October 2, 1986. I guess that means I was celebrating two 25th anniversaries last Sunday!
Related post: My Les Mis
In 1985, I was studying technical theatre at San Diego State. A friend passed along a tip that transformed my summer. La Jolla Playhouse needed students to crew their summer productions. Young and clueless, I had no idea of La Jolla Playhouse’s history, and I didn’t know who would be involved with their current season. It turned out to be an amazing experience.
I wish I could boast that my wonderful credentials got me the job, but I have to be honest. Just the willingness to work long hours for almost no money got me in, since they were short on hands and short on time. The locals who worked the crew were from colleges nearby, and most of us were studying acting or technical theatre. I developed a crush on one of the student actors, a big flirt with a conveniently absent girlfriend. Nothing happened between us, but it did earn me a crew nickname. He was Landshark, and I was Sharkette.
Once I arrived backstage for my first tech rehearsal, it became apparent that I was surrounded by some of Broadway’s best people. The show was the musical Merrily We Roll Along by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth. It wasn’t just that we were doing their show. They were there in person, doing daily re-writes and revisions. I peeked out at Stephen Sondheim from behind the curtain in awe, which is where I remained for the rest of the month. I never once had the courage to speak to him, but I watched him whenever I could. When the rehearsal began, I recognized the actor playing Franklin Shepard, one of the lead roles. It was John Rubinstein. I turned to my fellow crew members and said breathlessly, “It’s Pippin! That’s Pippin!” They answered, “Who?” I dug out my tape of the Pippin cast recording and played it on my drive to the theatre all summer. The rest of the cast had intimidating Broadway credits as well. At least with them I wasn’t as awestruck. It helped that I didn’t get to read a program until much later.
Merrily We Roll Along opened on Broadway in 1981 and closed after only 16 performances. The music was praised but the book had problems. It’s the story of three friends and the disintegration of their friendship, told in reverse chronological order. When the musical starts, the characters are angry, bitter, and compromised. At the end, they are young, optimistic and idealistic. One of the big problems was how to end at the beginning and still have it be interesting for an audience who knew the beginning at the end. La Jolla Playhouse’s production was the first of several attempts to rework the musical. It was a fascinating process to observe, and changes continued throughout the 24 performances. The local crew’s favorite regular re-write was seeing which gadget would get invented by one of the characters in the second act. Some nights it was the answering machine, but each night it was likely to be something else, and we never knew what until the scene came up.