Saturday, May 2, 2009

Day 206/365 - Double Feature on 14th Street

Caught two musical revue shows by the In Series company at the Source Theatre on 14th Street today, one a matinee and the other an evening show. The first, "From U Street to the Cotton Club," was a Jazz Age revue recounting the life and career of a fictional songstress who started out in the clubs along U Street, the famous Black Broadway of Washington, DC, before moving on to the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom in New York. The revue featured two male and two female singers, a piano man, a drummer, a saxophonist, and an actress/dancer playing the parts of both the songstress, Sassy, and her granddaughter as she recited monologues and reminiscences from her grandmother's journal.

The revue incorporated 20 songs of the period, with DC native and jazz legend Duke Ellington getting the lion's share of the billing, along with a few Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, gospel, and blues tunes thrown in for good measure. The musicians were top notch. One of the female singers was excellent. The remainder were good in some songs, not as good in others. The actress/dancer was very good in both capacities and did an outstanding job in making the fictional Sassy seem a real, flesh and blood woman. The writing of the show was also very good, with some of the reminiscences and observations verging on the poetic. The staging was very minimal, but effective and the costumes were adequate.

The second show, "Berliner Kabarett," recreated the dissolute and jaded cabaret scene of Weimar Republic era Berlin during the period between the two world wars. Set in a seedy, rundown cabaret/bordello in the wee hours of the morning, the revue featured a pair of drunken soldiers, a hostess, and two waitresses/performers/prostitutes, all of whom sang during the show. They were accompanied by a pianist/accordionist as they performed 20 songs by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht.

Each of the singers was excellent, as was the musical accompanist. The set design and costuming were very good at recreating the "resigned to circumstances," "enjoy yourself now because things will only get worse," feel of that time and place. It was like being inside a Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich movie. While there was not much in the way of dialogue in this revue, there were recitations of bits of poetry and essays from the period that blended well with the music and broadened the sweep and scope of the show.

The In Series company appears to specialize in revues of this sort and given how much I enjoyed these two pieces, I'm now looking forward to catching their next show.

P.S. - the photo is of the sign on the side of the Ellington apartment building on U Street a few blocks from the theater. Given the first revue's emphasis on the Duke's repertoire, it seemed a good choice of subject.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Day 205/365 - Birthday Bowling Bash

In honor of Adriana's quarter century of life on this Earth, she, Desiree, MJ, Chris, and I journeyed to far Bethesda to celebrate with two games of bowling, two rounds of shots, two pitchers of beer, two rounds of appetizers, and entirely too much fun. From there, it was on to the Tastee Diner for some late night gnoshing and then a quick stop at the revolving Skydome bar in Crystal City for a good night view of the city.

Feliz cumpleanos, Adri!

(Taken with my Nikon D80)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Day 204/365 - Fogo de Chao(down)

These are the funky light fixtures from the place I ate lunch today. I missed my friend Chris' birthday camping trip at the beach last weekend because of my trip to NYC, so today I made it up to him by taking him for lunch at his favorite restaurant -- Fodo de Chao. Fogo is a Brazilian steakhouse that offers all the meat you can eat. Servers walk by with various cuts of meat on skewers and saw hunks off and drop them on your plate.

Chris and I were there for an hour and between the two of us I think we ate approximately half a cow. We both had a serious case of meat bloat/food coma afterward. I don't think I'll need to eat any more meat for a week. Right after we got back from Fogo, Chris had to go straight to a meeting with a couple of businessmen from India. Good thing he didn't tell them what he'd just done for lunch. That might not have gone over too well.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Day 203/365 - Post-It Note Impression No. 5

Time for another Post-It Note impression!

Quick, who am I this time?

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Day 202/365 - Ragtime

I headed over to the Kennedy Center tonight to see their revival of the musical "Ragtime." It was the first time I'd seen a show in the recently renovated Eisenhower Theater. The Eisenhower is the smallest of the Kennedy Center's three main theaters. It's roughly the size of a small Broadway theater. Before the renovation it was drab, dark, and rundown. The makeover is quite startling. It's now warm and bright and cozy, all gold and blue and blonde wood. Unfortunately the acoustics are still problematic. Before the renovation, it was very difficult to hear the actors lines from the upper balcony. I don't know if that is still the case, but I can report that the prime orchestra seating isn't so prime from a sound standpoint. Many of the song lyrics, especially in the group numbers, were impossible to distinguish. It was largely just a fuzzy, foggy, blur of sound. Hopefully that's something they can tweak going forward.

The play itself, despite the sound issues, is excellent. It's based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow and concerns three strata of American society at the beginning of the 20th century -- the privileged white upper class, the disenfranchised black middle class, and the struggling immigrant lower class. The story mixes fictional characters with an eclectic array of historical figures such as Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, and JP Morgan. With a large cast of characters and a lot of plot points to cover, the play proceeds at breakneck speed but still manages to avoid seeming rushed or hastily sketched. It's a great story and it inspired me to purchase a copy of the book from the Kennedy Center gift shop immediately upon exiting the theater.

The primary theme of the play is the individual search for identity as reflected by one member of each social strata -- the white homemaker, the black musician, and the immigrant artist. The three struggle to define themselves and discover who they will be in this new American age and their journeys toward self discovery are contrasted with the white husband's mania for exploring the world's boundaries while studiously ignoring his own personal frontiers.

The cast is strong and is composed of performers who are both good singers and good actors. In particular, each of the three leads does excellently in his or her part. The staging is stark but effective and the costumes are very good. The music is lively and well done, but the songs tend to sound largely the same. There are a few standout numbers, but for the most part it isn't the sort of score you'll go around humming the next day. The compelling story, rich characters, and skilled performances though are enough in themselves to make the show well worth seeing. But I'm still irked about the acoustics/sound design.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Day 201/365 - Istanbul Sounds Intriguing

This week's self-portrait is a shot of me sitting at an outdoor restaurant reading a magazine while I wait for the dinner I just ordered to come. I really need to get myself to the grocery and buy some grub fixin's so I don't have to keep going out to dinner every night. That can't be healthy for my body or my budget. I had an appeal response to file today and I had to work through lunch to get it done on time, so I was starving by the time I got home.

The article on Istanbul did make it sound like a great place to visit, btw. Wonder if I could combine a trip to Turkey with a trip to Jordan? Hmmm...

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Twice on Sunday Bonus Photo - Frozen Motion

For this week's added photo from my archives, we have this extended exposure shot I took of the crowd inside Grand Central Terminal in New York this weekend. I liked the way some of the people appear solidly rooted in place while others stream through like passing ghosts.

(Taken with my Nikon D80)

Day 200/365 - Give My Regards to Broadway

I took this shot this morning as I was walking toward Penn Station after checking out of my hotel. I could've taken the subway, but I decided I'd rather walk. I definitely fall into the "great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there" camp when it comes to New York. The museums and shows and eating places and other sights and attractions are nearly limitless, but so are the crowds, noise, grime, and stench. Like Vegas, it's a place I don't think I'd want to spend more than 2-3 days at a time. For those 2-3 days though, it's pretty damn awesome.

This weekend I saw the tableau of the city from the Top of the Rock, explored Grand Central Terminal, went to a ball game at Citi Field, toured the USS Intrepid, wandered around Central Park, soaked up the sights and sounds of Time Square, saw a Broadway show, and had breakfast at a diner, dinner at a little Italian restaurant, and cheesecake and a chocolate egg cream at Lindy's. I couldn't have done all of that in any other city on Earth.

Only in New York.

(Taken with my Nikon D80)