Thursday, April 14, 2011

First week of Food, Music and Fun...Part 1!!!

Each year, my In-Laws (Pete's father and stepmother, Janet) come to visit New York to take my husband and I on a whirlwind series of amazing meals and Broadway shows.  You see, my Father In-Law, Bill, is a huge lover of Theater and Musical Theater (he has more CD scores and playbills than I!), and always loves taking us out to shows.  This, in addition to events and cabaret shows and Salon and other things I have going on, makes this time of year full of music and theater and some fat/sugar overloads.  This entry will describe what I've been up to in the last week two Parts...this is Part 1.
  1. Kathleen France in "Vacation"
  2. "Company" at the NY Philharmonic
  3. Japan Society's "Concert for Japan" Part 1
  4. Julie Reyburn in "Summer Nights"
  5. Japan Society's "Concert for Japan" Part 2
Last Thursday, April 7th, I won a ticket to see the wonderful Kathleen France sing her travel show "Vacation" at Don't Tell Mama.  Kathleen is a woman with vocals similar to mine: she can do the high soprano stuff, but her vocal range goes into the low, bluesy rock areas as well, plus she can sing rock gospel with grit and passion.  She focused most of her songs in the alto range, going from funny vacation-salsa songs to bluesy folk "on the road" pieces inspired by her own performance tour experiences.  It was a neat, eclectic mix of some well-known tunes ("Leavin' on a Jet Plane," "I've Been Everywhere") to lesser known gems.  She had a great three-piece band (percussion, upright bass & piano) and Barry Levitt did a great job reinterpreting the songs as music director.

Friday the eighth was the first evening out with Bill and Janet, and we had a huge treat - sushi near the Lincoln Center, then Sondheim's "Company" with the NY Philharmonic.  I had suggested this as a family outing as soon as I heard that Patti LuPone, Stephen Colbert, and Neil Patrick Harris were in the cast - I love Colbert from watching his TV show each night, I thought NPH as Bobby was simply perfect casting, and I had never seen The LuPone live before (despite my modeling my casting on the lady for years).  It was a wonderful production - I really enjoyed the use of the loveseats to craft the space, adored Harris and Colbert and LuPone in their roles, thought April was joyously played by Christina Hendricks, and still couldn't hold back the tears when "Being Alive" closed the show.  I had some issue with "You Could Drive a Person Crazy," though...the vocals were really light, and it seemed the frenetic choreography was hiding the lack of vocal prowess.  I also thought Anika Noni Rose was great as Marte during the scenework, but "Another Hundred People" didn't have the life and energy she brought to the character during the spoken words.

The Stage at the NY Phil
Outside the Lincoln Center
The next day, Saturday the 9th, was a FULL day.  Pete & I are enamored with Japan - the food, the language, the music, the anime, the movies, the clothing...we're Nipponphiles for sure.  Pete has been to the New York Japan Society recently to take one of their Japanese language intensive classes, and is planning on moving there to become immersed in Japan's culture.  He has a section of his website -, there are more pictures to be found there - fully dedicated to all things Japan and has started his own podcast with our friend Jeff-san in Japan entitled "Ni Baka Gaikokujin (2 Idiot Foreigners)." On Saturday, the Japan Society took a previously booked "J-Pop" all-day event and reconstructed it to become a benefit to help those suffering from the Japanese tsunami and earthquakes.  For $5 each, Pete & I were able to spend the entire day there, taking classes, viewing art (they opened up the "Bye Bye Kitty" gallery to us), and eventually sit down for a concert of Japanese bands.

We started out with Calligraphy Class, a half hour of attempting to get the basics of an art form which has been practiced by learned calligraphy masters for thousands of years.  I chose to use the stencil method; putting a thin sheet of paper on top of a photocopied image.  We got to take home all of our attempts, at least!

Sensei teaches us proper form...
...which I'm not sure if I mastered, but it was fun!
 Then, we sat in another classroom and were taught a basic Japanese language lesson, this time learning how to express our hopes and positive thoughts to people in Japan suffering from the earthquake/tsunami.  On hand to teach the class was Pete's actual teacher, Akai-sensai, who taught his intermediate intensive class a few weeks ago, so it was cool to finally meet her!  We learned how to say "my name is _____", "do your best", "I'm praying for you" and "I love Japan!" and eventually wrote out a personalized message in Japanese (in both romaji and kana) on slips of paper, which were collected by Akai-sensai and will be mailed to people in Japan to give them moral support.
Pete and Akai-Sensai!
Pete's is on the left (he knows how to write in Japanese kana), while mine is on the right.
Next, we turned the corner to learn some basic Origami skills. I remember doing Origami in 4th grade (we actually spent the entire year learning about Japanese culture and I remember helping the class fold 1,000 paper cranes and sending them to Japan in a cultural gesture of good will). I attempted to fold a crane again, but completely forgot an important step and had to be reminded by the Origami Sensai how to do it. Pete folded his very first crane excellently!
Pete learns how to fold his first crane.
Some expertly crafted origami was on display.
By this time, it was early afternoon, and I got my hand stamped and left for The Laurie Beechman Theater to see my good friend and fellow Marquee Five member Julie Reyburn sing her "Summer Night" show - she is nominated for a MAC Award in the Major Artist category!!!  I love watching Julie sing - her voice is trumpet-like, expressive, able to blast and become a muted sigh if she so desires.  She connects with her lyrics beautifully, and makes each song a monologue (even if it's a silly song like "Abadaba Honeymoon").  Mark Janas was at the piano, Ritt Henn was on upright bass, and Walter Usiatynski was on drums.  As a special guest, Miles Phillips took the stage to duet with Julie on "You Must Meet My Wife" from A Little Night Music.  The entire show was artfully crafted by Director Lennie Watts.  Julie is thrilled to be in the Major Artist category for the first time, but seeing her again on Saturday reminded me that she deserves to be in such high company.

Whew! Julie's show ended around 5:30, but did I go home? NOPE! I returned to the Japan Society to meet up with Pete, eat some dumplings, go to see the "Bye Bye Kitty" gallery (which has some breathtakingly dark and funny work by modern Japanese artists), try out the Society's high-tech Japanese toilet (built in bidet and everything!), and then sit in line to see a full evening's line-up of visiting Japanese bands.
Controls for the Japanese bathroom toilet - at least they're in English!
A morbid pile of office workers and office supplies -
with some humor thrown in (there's a Disney's Wall-E mixed in there too!)
The bands were awesome - an eclectic mix of traditional, emo and modern j-pop.  I can't go into all of them in detail, but I loved the taiko drums, the girl bands, and the use of a French Horn in one band.  I'm just going to list them here, and you can see more pictures of the bands at Pete's site:
  • Taikoza (taiko, shakuhachi, fue) - traditional Taiko drummers, they rocked!!
  • Salme - a professional song and dance troupe in the style of traditional Geisha mixed with modern, urban Tokyo sensibilities.
  • Echostream - emo band sort of like Evanescence, great use of French horn & instrumentation
  • Me & Mars - drums, guitars, lead vocals & a keyboard with a psychadelic groove.
  • The Suzan - awesome all-girl group with fun, pop music and uplifting lyrics.
  • Hard Nips - like an all-female Sex Pistols in bright pink spandex!
The Suzan was a favorite of ours - they knew how to play & have fun onstage!
I continue our antics of the week in blog entry Part 2 of Week 1 of Food, Music and Fun! Read all about it there!

Sierra Rein
"I don't sing because I'm happy, I'm happy because I sing" - William James

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