Moments Over Money — Mamma Mia!

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I heard you look slimmer if you stand sidewise. But who cares! If you have a big smile, you’re attractive! Notice the poster! Big smile = fun!

My teenage girls loved Mamma Mia! They loved it more than the movie, which they also loved.They were climbing out of their seats and trying to squelch each other’s enthusiasm for the show at the Broadhurst Theatre. But they couldn’t. They were laughing, crying, dancing.

Mom: Why did you like it?

Cat: It was spectacular. A real feel-good show. We sang along. We had to fight the urge NOT to sing along. Then we gave in.

CoCo: It was really powerful. A tear-jerker.

Mom: What did you take away from seeing the musical?

Cat: A positive attitude.

CoCo: To live while you’re young.

Mom: What about older moms like me? What if you’re not young?

CoCo: Live as if you were young. The mom was so good. What was her name? Judy McLane. So good.

Mom: Any other advice?

CoCo: It’s more important to cherish what you have than stress about what you don’t have.

Mom: Thanks.

CoCo: And thanks for sharing your (Inglot) make up with me.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Serino Coyne and MAMMA MIA! Gimme! Gimme! Glitter collection at INGLOT Cosmetics for inviting us to the show. We did receive tickets and a little glittery eye shadow, but the girls’ opinions are their own. And they advise everyone to go see Mamma Mia!

Bridges of Madison County

While Hollywood continues to ignore women, Broadway continues to do an awesome job of letting women run the show. This is a delicious musical made from a bestselling book. I never read the book, because I thought, “Oh, that’s trashy reading, not for me. I’m so literary.”

But this show was for me. The musical explores stay-at-home mother Francesca’s complicated feelings when a handsome artist, a photographer from National Geographic, crosses her small town path, just for a few days.

I made the mistake of going to see this with one of teenagers. I should’ve seen it with a girlfriend. Because, yes, it’s a show about an extramarital love affair, but it’s also very much about best friends and women supporting each other. I need to debrief this show.

As her affair unfolds, I worried that our heroine, played by the brilliant Kelli O’Hara, was going to be busted by the gossipy neighbor Marge, played by the funny and charming Cass Morgan. But Marge never outs Francesca. She helps her. See, there’s marital loyalty, which is on the wane, and then there’s girlfriends’ loyalty, which never goes out of fashion.

I love the singing. And I love the set. The covered bridge is this simple, floating, bare-bones structure, not an oppressive, dark archway. Nice. I’d like to think that this ‘lightness of being’ can translate into our idea about marriage too. Marriage, a covered bridge, can be lighter and less oppressive than it looks.

Francesca’s heaviness of marital love is brightened by something — or someone — light. The two artists are drawn to each other, even in Iowa, even in the 1960s.

I love the way they talk about art and photography. I love the story.

Marriage is simpler and more complicated than it seems — less trashy novel, more sophisticated musical. And Francesca was loyal and unfaithful at the same time. Bridges of Madison County got me thinking about all that.

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(Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale, courtesy of Bridges)

Disclaimer: Thanks to Bridges of Madison County and the Serino/Coyne group for the tickets. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

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Becoming Dr. Ruth

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I want to be like Dr. Ruth — positive, energetic, honest.

Sometimes I worry about my kids — with a father with Parkinson’s Disease, maybe their lives are too hard. Maybe they miss out on too much.

But then I remember there are other great people who’ve managed to survive much worse childhoods and go on to help others and retain a positive attitude. One such American is Dr. Ruth who was born Karola “Ruth” Siegel in Germany, whom I learned a lot about and grew to love as her life story unfolded at Becoming Dr. Ruth, a new Off-Broadway show.

She was a holocaust orphan sent by kindertransport to basically indentured servitude in Switzerland at age 10. Her grandmother’s last words to little Karola — “Stay cheerful!”

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Mary Beth and Dr. Ruth

I listened to Dr. Ruth on the radio in the ’80s and occasionally caught her Lifetime TV show. She was a charismatic sex therapist. And looking back, I see how important — even life saving — her message of safe sex was. Especially at a time when people did not talk about sex.

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Fancy drinks at BEA, a new bar. Ask for Jason, a brilliant mixologist. So fun! delish.

When I met Dr. Ruth, I wanted to give her a hug — she seems like a hugger, but she said she has a bad shoulder so we just smiled at each other and chatted.

Before the show at this fantastic new bar, BEA, Dr. Ruth asked the dozen or so bloggers if we had any questions. One guy asked, “How do you have great sex even when you wear a condom?” She said, “First off, good for you, wearing a condom. Too many young people forget that we need to do this.” Go! Dr. Ruth, keep on reminding us about safe sex.

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Dr. Ruth, actor Debra Jo Rupp, playwright Mark St. Germain, and producer Michael Alden at the talk back for “Becoming Dr. Ruth”

At the talk back, Dr. Ruth was asked how she felt seeing herself on stage, she retorted, “Don’t analyze me!” (She apparently does not let her emotional guard down even though she is encouraging and comfortable when others talk freely of their feelings and sexuality. Ironic.)

When asked her motivation for doing the play, Dr. Ruth said she wanted to do this show to let people know, “How important is the early socialization of the child. How important is the love I had for my first 10 years,” from parents and grandmother whom she never saw again. The play chronicles her childhood to her possible move out of a Washington Heights apartment in 1997, a few months after her husband Freddy’s death. In the talk back, Dr. Ruth said that she wanted to create this show as a tribute to her (third) husband Freddy Westheimer.

Dr. Ruth said she was, “happy to participate with non-Jews. To be a witness to — that it (the Holocaust) did happen.” The writer (and apparently, a non-Jew) Mark St. Germain also wrote the charming play, Camping with Henry and Tom. There are heavy and surprising moments in the play but the character of Dr. Ruth is so disarming and funny, the show never sinks you. Rather, it uplifts you.

It’s a one-woman show. The actor, Debra Jo Rupp, the mother from ‘That ’70s show, really carries it — she’s efficient, decisive, loving, and smart.

When pictures of her grandchildren are shown in the play, Dr. Ruth says, “Hitler lost and I won.” And implicit is the message, never forget.

I loved this play and highly recommend it.

I walked out of the theater, inspired to be more cheerful and compassionate. The play also reminded me that, even as we age — Ruth’s 85! — we still have so much to give and we must continue to make the world a more loving place.
 

Disclaimer: Thanks to Becoming Dr. Ruth and Serino/Coyne for the tickets to the Westside Theatre and the mixology at BEA. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

A Night With Janis

I don’t really remember Janis Joplin. She was a little before my time.

I was more of a Carly Simon girl. But I love girl rock – like Pink, Joan Jett, Adele. Janis was the first, a trail-blazer, a Texan, a woman who told it like it was.

I felt like I made a friend at the Lyceum Theatre the other night.

Mary Bridget Davies played Janis with an uncanny likeness. She has an extraordinary voice. I did worry about her. How can she do that gravely rocker girl scream and not lose her voice?

As a performer, Davies held nothing back. She gave it all. And this is the beauty of Janis, I learned. She had an unbridled passion.

Almost every other number featured one of the amazing performers who were also the back up singers — Taprena Michelle Augustine, De’Adre Aziza, Allison Blackwell and Nikki Kimbrough. They were divas in their own rights. In that order, they played Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Etta James.

This is the second musical I’ve seen in a few months that has featured Nina Simone as a kind of guardian angel character. I’m getting to think she deserves her own musical. The other musical with Simone was Soul Doctor, the story of Rebbe Schlomo Carlebach, a Jewish recording artist, from the 1960s, who professed and lived a life devoted to love and God. That musical, like this one, was about a ’60s cult figure. But that musical had a narrative arc; this musical was a straight up rock concert.

And like a concert, the audience was key. The artists totally communicated.

So many songs brought the crowd to their feet. My favorite was Piece of My Heart. God, that song is brutal. Janis truly seemed to give a piece of herself. You do wonder if that is healthy, especially given the rocker’s early death. Such a loss. Because I bet Janis would’ve loved to see the evolution of girl rock into woman rock.

And selfishly, I wish Janis Joplin didn’t die, because I made a friend that night, and I’d like to see her again sometime.

Disclaimer: Thanks to A Night With Janis and Serino/Coyne for the tickets. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

Thanks to Joan Marcus for the pics of the performance. That picture of the curtain? Yup, that first one is mine!

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Biking Adventure

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my view while teaching. And the shadow of my students
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This is an awesome place to explore.
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Along the West Side bikeway
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Around the uptown Fairway
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The George Washington Bridge and the little red lighthouse creep up on you

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The detour under the highway

Yesterday I took a long bike ride, from where I was teaching — around Central Park and 77th to 180th and Broadway for my girlfriends’ craft club.

I took the bikeway. Around the uptown Fairway, I had to detour under the West Side Highway.

Like when I run, when I ride, I am not fast. That gives me time to talk to myself. And time to think. Too often, I scold myself. So last night, I was trying just to be. Just to notice.

Notice the generosity of the Hudson River. Notice the crazy summer flowers that refuse to believe summer is almost over.

Coming back home, in the complete dark, I did not have so much fun. Many places along the path are pitch black and I don’t have a light. I need more light.

Soul Doctor

soul doctorI love religion, hippies, and men who cry easily. So how can I not recommend this new musical Soul Doctor?

This musical has many themes – it’s a coming-of-age parable and an unlikely friendship between Nina Simone and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The Rabbi became a blockbuster recording artist in the 1960s. Incidentally, a synagogue named for him is in my Upper West Side neighborhood.

The show leaves you on such a great high. I felt we, the audience and actors, should end the evening with a group hug. Or together, we could all sing Hava Nagila or Shalom, My Friend — the only Hebrew songs I know.

I am not Jewish but I still enjoyed the spirit of unconditional love in this show.

But I have a few thoughts of how I might tweak this show before it comes to Broadway. Oh, wait! It’s on Broadway. Here are my thoughts any way.

Schlomo, at the end, comes to value his father’s gentle leadership, but what about his mother? Surely, she must’ve been more than a stereotypical small-minded immigrant to have instilled in Shlomo such a deep commitment to love and kindness and warmth for his fellow human beings.

Another thing — when Schlomo and Nina meet, they compare the sufferings of their tribes. This is never a good conversation. Hello! I’m Irish. I don’t think it’s ever productive to brag about or base our identities on our collective victimhood. Instead, let’s talk about the resilience and the perseverance of our peoples. Let’s sing, dance, write poetry (and blogs) and rise above the inevitable suffering with a daily dose of joy — which, mostly this musical does.

After the show, my husband and I met the talented Amber Iman. She played Shlomo’s bestie Nina Simone. She disarmed us with her wisdom and love!

The singing and acting was lovely. I loved Eric Anderson as Shlomo (and yes, wanted to hug him!). He was like the original Hugging Saint Amma. I am a huge fan of hugging. My husband fell in love with Amber Iman (and probably wanted to hug her). She played Nina Simone, like Shlomo, a person of great talent and great warmth for her fellow human beings.

Their relationship was interesting — it transcended a Hollywood narrative. It is charming and disarming when a man and a woman are great friends and artistic supporters of one another without being romantic partners. Artists, like singers and writers, require a lot of encouraging friends. (Thus, my Life Rule #1 Pile on the People.)

I was inspire20130816-122217.jpgd by Shlomo’s deep commitment to young people and social justice.

The musical is at Circle in the Square Theatre, 1633 Broadway (on 50th St. between Broadway and 8th). The last show in that theater was Godspell which my kids loved. Same story, different religion. Give love. Give yourself to others unconditionally.

For more info, check out www.SoulDoctorBroadway.com

Thanks, Culture Mom Media for the tickets to Soul Doctor. All thoughts are my own.

Peter and the Starcatcher

When our daughters were little, they always wanted to hear a bedNIGHT story. Of course, they meant a bedTIME story but I dared not correct them. It was one of their charming childhood malapropisms. Chris and I would tell them stories until they entered the magic of their dreams.

(courtesy of Peter and the Starcatcher)
(courtesy of Peter and the Starcatcher)

And if you are like them — and like me and Chris — sometimes still, you want and need a good new bednight story, and so I suggest, little one, that you take yourself to see Peter and the Starcatcher. (Though for some reason I keep calling it Peter and the Dreamcatcher! A penchant for malapropisms may be genetic!)

Whatever you call it — Oh. So. Good.

I was bummed when it closed on Broadway. More than a few of my friends told me that I’d like it. But it’s not always easy for me to get to see everything I want in New York City. Though God knows, I try.

Once in a while, I get a reprieve. While it closed on Broadway in January, it reopened a few blocks away in at New World Stages with much of the same cast and in the same amazing production.

Score.

I don’t know how to summarize the show’s many themes — It is about how to grow up; how children are wiser than adults; how believing in one another is never wrong; how music and comedy make magic; how letting go is part of what you do when you love.

Children can fly (one of my darlings at the swimming hole in the Adirondacks).
Children can fly (one of my darlings at the swimming hole in the Adirondacks).

My favorite recurring theme was taught by the girl Molly. Here is her secret to good leadership: a leader looks out for her tribe. Molly taught this to the boy who became Peter. Molly, played by Nicole Lowrance, is the only girl in the show. She’s so good.

Molly has to be sister, friend, love interest, and, of course, mother to the orphan boys.

But she is not the kind of mother or leader who scolds needlessly, (although she does scold).

She is the kind of mother who finds magic in stories. She’s the kind of mother who soothes scared nerves by suggesting a running race. Molly’s a playful leader.

She knows that to save the day, a leader must:

  • be creative
  • be open-minded
  • be brave
  • be empathetic
  • be funny.

I found a new heroine and her name is Molly! Molly is the starcatcher.

The musical shows how theater is a collaborative art. And there are many times when the antics reminded me of the joy of improv comedy, but the show only looks seat-of-the-pants hilarious. The action is all orchestrated. (Brilliant brilliant directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers! And my old chum Wayne Barker — brilliant, brilliant — did the music! Funny. Funny!)

It’s a physical show where the leads play doors and walls and mermen.

The words are witty and the physical shenanigans are hilarious. At one point I was laughing so hard I was crying. And then at another point, I noticed that Chris was weeping.

I think his tears came from the place of nostalgia for we miss the nights when our darlings were still little enough to climb on our laps and beg for one more bednight story.

Ah well. We can always take them to see this show. And even if you’re not in NYC, you can see it too, as it’s touring this year, starting in August 2013.

The show is at New World Stages, 340 West 50th.

Order tickets at: PeterandtheStarcatcher.com

Related Stories

Girls can be pirates too. Empowering girls.

Sandy’s post about taking her 7-year old son to Peter and the Starcatcher

Diane’s post and a backstage tour!

Thanks to CultureMomMedia.com for the tickets. All thoughts (and memories of bednight stories) are my own.