‘Big Fish’ on Broadway

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The marquee for Big Fish at the Neil Simon Theatre.

Yes, it’s been a while since my last post, but I came back just in time for a brand new splashy Broadway musical to make its debut. At long last Susan Stroman has made her return to Broadway, and she brought the award-winning talents of Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert along with her. Their vehicle for the fall season? “Big Fish”!

“Big Fish” is based on the 2003 movie of the same name. The fantasy film featured Albert Finney as Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman with a slew of tall tales at his disposal, but who is now nearing his last days; and Billy Crudup as his no-nonsense son Will who is trying to make sense of his rickety relationship with his father. Bloom regales his son with seemingly far-fetched yarns from his earlier, more youthful days. (Ewan McGregor plays the younger Edward Bloom. Jessica Lange stars as Sandra Bloom; Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi, Helena Bonham Carter and others round out the cast of characters from the elder Bloom’s colorful past.)

I’ve never seen the movie, but I’ve read about its more fantastical elements and was worried how the creative team might be able to translate it to the stage. I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the show. I had plans for a long-drawn out post, but why not just hit the major points?

1) The cast. I was quite frankly blown away by the level of talent on display here. I’ve never seen Kate Baldwin (Sandra Bloom) or Bobby Steggert (Will Bloom) live before, and left positively adoring both of these actors. Norbert Leo Butz (Edward Bloom) proves again that he can do no wrong. Norbert and Kate’s roles are especially challenging, as they have to shift seamlessly from past and present, old and young. (In the film, there were different actors playing the younger and older versions of Edward and Sandra.)

The supporting cast deserves equal recognition here, with Brad Oscar showing off some comedic chops as Amos Calloway, Ciara Renee providing some astonishing vocals as the Witch, and Ryan Andes who commands the stage as the affable giant, Karl.

2) The set and projections. The show relies heavily on projections. I will admit that it was a distraction in some cases, but in others the effect was absolutely stunning — especially in the number “I Know What You Want,” in which the Witch foreshadows Edward’s future. At one point in the second act, ensemble member Bryn Dowling quickly transforms from a patriotic chorine into a crackling campfire with the help of the projections and her flowing dress. Incredibly inventive and the audience thought so too.

3) Choreography. The second act opener, “Red, White and True,” was quintessential Susan Stroman, and by that I mean a line full of leggy, tap-dancing chorus girls in red, white, and blue outfits parading down a staircase. The orchestra, which is onstage, is also revealed in this number to enthusiastic response.

4) The story. The production isn’t perfect, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that you could hear sobs from a good portion of the audience during the final scenes of the show — it’s that touching of a story. I can totally see this being a production that men would enjoy without having to be dragged in by their wives. My relationship with my father isn’t problematic at all, but I could still see shades of my childhood and my interactions with him throughout the show. I think others will feel the same way.

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Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert at a post-show Q&A session.

I had the opportunity to participate in a post-show Q&A session with Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert. It was great to hear about their journey with the show, how things changed since out-of-town performances, and the little anecdotes about their personal experiences growing up and how they relate to the show on that level.

I really want to see the show again. I saw it so far into previews that I don’t think anything major changed, but I still want to see it again. If you enjoy an insanely talented ensemble cast, gorgeous sets, and a touching story that will likely leave you a little moist around the eyes, I’d recommend that you see it too!

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Pounding the Pavement

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The people and places of New York City never fail to surprise and inspire me. I was digging through some of my old photos from my writing and reporting days and came across some interesting shots that I wanted to share. All of the pictures below were taken during my first semester of graduate school. The expectation at the time was that the photography and the articles I wrote surrounding the events I documented were to be featured on the award-winning website Pavement Pieces. Some of the stories were never published, some were — but these images are all so very telling in their own different ways.

Anti-War Demonstration

This was taken in fall 2010 at a protest near Battery Park in New York. This protester was a member of a group called the “The Raging Grannies.” She was very spirited and I loved her buttons! (Photo credit: Ryan Chavis)

Haiti Protest

Phenia Michel, who was born in Haiti, was protesting about the absence of aid for the Haitian people. Hundreds gathered at the Haitian Consulate at 271 Madison Ave. on Sept. 25, 2010 to call attention to the millions of Haitians still suffering in the wake of January’s devastating earthquake. (Photo credit: Ryan Chavis). This story was published; you can read more about Phenia and the protest here: http://bit.ly/MaCcEA

NYC Marathon

Nathan Thompson of Alexandria, Va. cheers on participants of the ING New York City Marathon on November 7, 2010. Thompson, along with colleague Danielle Cook, were among the hundreds of spectators who snaked down the Fifth Avenue “Museum Mile” section of the marathon route. (Photo credit: Ryan Chavis/Pavement Pieces)

Maggie Anderson (2)

This is not technically in New York, but this woman is so fabulous I wanted to feature her anyway. Actress Maggie Anderson poses in the lobby of the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. In addition to being featured in the ensemble of the venue’s current show “White Christmas”, she also teaches at Temple University (Photo by Ryan Chavis).

"Jews Against Islamophobia" Protest

Protestors from Jews Against Islamophobia, gathered in front of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in October 2010 to demand an end to the intolerance against muslims that they said was coming from museum leaders.

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Images from “Nemo”

Central Park on Saturday, February 9, 2013.

Central Park on Saturday, February 9, 2013.

New York City got a special winter weather makeover on Friday night and early Saturday morning courtesy of winter storm “Nemo.” My roommate and I ventured out to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Central Park in Manhattan to document the picturesque aftermath. Here are a few of my shots:

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Pugs and Snapbacks

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Washington Square Park, January 2011. (Photo credit: Ryan Chavis).

My name is Ryan. Sometimes James (which I really don’t care for), but mostly just Ryan.

I used to take great comfort in a pair of grey Chuck Taylors. Now it’s wingtips. David and Amy Sedaris — in all their unbalanced glory — inspired me as a teenager. Tie bars and cardigans give me some sort of twisted self-confidence and I’m not sure how I feel about that at the moment. 

Sister Jude’s New England accent on American Horror Story: Asylum gives me life. I knew by third grade that Christine Baranski was a goddess and should be treated as such. I will also gladly bow down to Parker Posey. And Hillary Clinton. 

I wish severe indigestion and diarrhea on anyone in an “old boy’s club.” I think diversity is amazing and much needed. I like lavender, mint, and robin’s egg blue and other colors that “men aren’t supposed to know the names of, or like.” (Screw you.)

My aunt Maxine’s vivid tales of a 1980’s New York infested with crackheads and prostitution among the garish neons of a seedy Times Square made me fall in love with this city. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Big Apple since I moved here in 2010, but mostly it’s love. Tough love. And even though she’s fictional, I resent Carrie Bradshaw for a lot of things. 

I nearly suffocate under the pressure of my own ambition at least five times a month. My mind races constantly: cats, snapbacks, my spearmint-colored bow tie, pictures of pugs in funny hats. One day I will be truly-honest-to-God-I’ve accomplished-everything-I’ve-wanted-to-in-life happy. Now is not that time, but I’m sort of ok with that, I think.

(My mini stream of consciousness was inspired by John’s post on Tumblr.)

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Momma’s Talkin’ Loud, Momma’s Doing Fine!

“Patti LuPone: A Memoir” (Photo Credit: http://www.pattilupone.net)

Wow…sorry for the absence. New York is a helluva town.

Now, for those of you who know me personally or have read some of the things I post and report about: I’m a huge musical theatre fan. So, when I passed by Patti LuPone’s radiant face beckoning me on the third floor of Barnes and Noble I had no choice but to buy her memoir, which is aptly titled “Patti LuPone: A Memoir.”

I’ve seen footage of LuPone’s interviews and she certainly doesn’t hold back on camera, and the same can be said of her writing here. I discovered lots of interesting tidbits that I never knew before. She speaks at great length about “Evita” chorus member David Vosburgh who helped LuPone develop a vocal technique so that she could comfortably sing the incredibly complex notes she had to hit each night without shredding her vocal cords.

The anecdotes she shares present, at times, a tumultuous backstage life. Of her experiences in “Evita,” she writes:

But I did, unfortunately have to deal with the alternate Eva, who played the Wednesday and Saturday matinees. She was nipping at my heels, praying for me to fail or fall so she could have my part. It was a real-life All About Eva.

I was very surprised to learn that LuPone was nearly fired from “Evita” at one point but was ultimately spared (obviously).  From “Evita” we move on to her numerous other appearances on stage and screen, with passages that are filled with triumph, the joy of family, and the heartbreak of show business.

Speaking of heartbreaking, she doesn’t hold back in describing her headache of an experience with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” — so much frustration that radiates from the pages when she writes of her experiences with the show.

Overall, I found it a very honest and straightforward. For the theatre and performing arts devotee, it won’t disappoint.

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The Value in Taking A Journey


I’ve had the pleasure over the past few weeks to read Essays of E.B. White, a collection of essays from the famed author of classics like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. A great deal of writers and journalists may also recognize him as a co-author of The Elements of Style. Today —  June 11, 2012 – is the author’s birthday. Although he passed in the mid-1980’s, his remarkable writing still captivates me.

I’ve found White’s essays to be really eloquent and alluring. He has the ability to write about some of the most seemingly unimportant, flat subjects and inject them with verve and unwavering charisma. I’m nearly done with this book of essays and have picked out some of my favorite parts that really intrigued me. I hope that you, whoever your are and wherever you may be, can take something away from these selections as well.

“On a Florida Key”

“In the kitchen cabinet is a bag of oranges for morning juice. Each orange is stamped ‘Color Added.’” The dyeing of an orange, to make it orange, is man’s most impudent gesture to date.  It is really an appalling piece of effrontery, carrying the clear implication that Nature doesn’t know what she is up to. I think an orange, dyed orange, is as repulsive as a pine cone painted green.”

“Goodbye to Forty-eighth Street”

“In New York, a citizen is likely to keep on the move, shopping for the perfect arrangement of rooms and vistas, changing his habitation according to fortune, whim, and need.  And in every place he abandons, he leaves something vital, it seems to me, and starts his life somewhat less encrusted, like a lobster that has shed its skin and is for a time soft and vulnerable.”

“Here is New York” is probably my favorite essay from the book so far.

“Here is New York”

“On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill them, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”

***

“It is a miracle that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible.”
***

“So complete is each neighborhood, and so strong the sense of neighborhood, that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village. Let him walk two blocks from his corner and he is in a strange land and will feel uneasy till he gets back.”

“What Do Our Hearts Treasure?”

“They were spruce! They were birch! They were fir! Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!”

“The Railroad”

“I believe journeys have value in themselves, and are not just a device for saving time—which never gets saved in the end anyway.”

“A Report in January”

 “I felt a kinship with Miss Mitchell and comforted myself with the pleasing thought that just to live in New England in winter is a full-time job; you don’t have to “do” anything. The idle pursuit of making-a-living is pushed to one side, where it belongs, in favor of living itself, a task of such immediacy, variety, beauty, and excitement that one is powerless to resist its wild embrace.”

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Bouquets of newly sharpened pencils

New York lost a bit of its sublime charm when Nora Ephron passed away. Nora Ephron’s writing and her work moved me; she embodied New York City. It was Ephron’s film “You’ve Got Mail” that inspired me in a small but significant way to become a New Yorker. I longed for Kathleen Kelly’s apartment filled with piles of books, linens, and daisies – the friendliest flower!  I wanted to find my own Shop Around the Corner and spend my days there just reading. And I needed twinkle lights, I must not forget the twinkle lights!

Before making my own journey from North Carolina I began researching Ephron’s arc in becoming a New Yorker. In My First New York: Early Adventures in the Big City, Ephron revealed her own early fascination with the Big Apple:

I’d known since I was five, when my parents forced me to move to California, that I was going to live in New York eventually, and that everything in between was just a horrible intermission. I’d spent those sixteen years imagining what New York was going to be like. I thought it was going to be the most exciting, magical, fraught-with-possibility place that you could ever live in; a place where if you really wanted something you might be able to get it; a place where I’d be surrounded by people I was dying to be with. And I turned out to be right.

It’s worth noting that Nora Ephron moved to the city in 1962, and that so much has changed between then and when I made my own pilgrimage in 2010. (She wrote that apartments were “cheap and available” — I wish this was still the case.) Regardless, I still hold her words close to my heart. I live with the idea that New York City is still a magical and exciting place despite skyrocketing rents and blistering heat in the summer. I remain steadfastly devoted to those mornings in the fall where you’ve noticed it’s cold enough to wrap a scarf around your neck. I’m still confident in my coffee-cart order of two creams, one sugar; sometimes I also get one of those bow tie donuts. I’m apt to flash a brief smile when I pass through Times Square at night, with its multitude of lights flashing and the collective pointing of cameras from passersby at the sheer extravagance of it all.

I owe Nora Ephron so much.

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