"I don't sing because I'm happy; I'm happy because I sing"

As previously blogged, this past week has been a piling on of culture, food and family.  Here I continue the adventures of Week 1!!!

  1. Brunch at the Waldorf-Astoria, and I sit with Cole Porter
  2. The Salon and BMI
  3. Norma’s, Sardi’s and Anything Goes
  4. Bistecca Fiorentina and The Book of Mormon

Sunday the 10th, after teaching drama in the morning, I brought my empty stomach to meet up with Bill & Janet & Pete – along with friends Bud and Judy – at the Waldorf-Astoria, a famous hotel with an equally infamous Sunday brunch.  We ate in the Peacock room, drank mimosas, ate caviar, lobster, salmon lox (in three different flavors), oysters, bacon, deviled eggs, gold-leaf-covered chocolate cake, chocolate fondue fruit, and nips and tastes from other’s plates.  It was decadent, and we were so full by the end.

My honey, Pete & his plate. Nummy to both!
Beautiful clock sitting in the middle of the brunch service area.
Fondue & desserts to die for.

We took a moment to take some pictures in front of the famous wall paintings that give the Peacock room it’s name, then walked out in to the lobby, which features a 2nd tier area where people enjoyed sitting and waiting.  I noticed a beautiful piano on this tier area, and excused myself to go investigate – in famous hotels, it’s likely the pianos and other musical instruments on display have a history or at least a famous story attached to them.  Boy, was I RIGHT in this case – this piano turns out to have been owned by Cole Porter himself, and many gorgeous melodies and songs were composed on this very piano.  I got a picture of myself sitting there…it was such a beautiful find!

Me, Pete, Bill & Janet in the Peacock Room.
Sitting where Cole Porter would have.
The piano, on the 2nd tier above the lobby entrance.
Plaque – Cole Porter lived at the Waldorf Towers for years!
We crashed for an hour at Bill & Janet’s hotel, then I had to leave to meet up with Mary Liz McNamara, a composer who was presenting a song the next day at BMI.  We rehearsed her song (written for her show The Good Girl), then I dashed uptown yet again to go to The Salon, my regular Sunday night open mic event, for which I blog.  Bill, Janet and Pete were in attendance, and I sang with Brian Allan Hobbs on one of his original compositions (with lyrics by Colin Ebeling and Kristin Hanggi) entitled “Gimme A Loser.” I also later sang Huey Lewis & The News’ “The Power of Love.”  You can read about the rest of the singers and the co-host Roger Mapes in this blog entry.
The next day was pretty uneventful, EXCEPT for singing at BMI Musical Theater Workshop, located right in 7 World Trade Center, on behalf of Mary Liz McNamara.  It is such a thrill to sing at BMI, since the master class is made up of some of the best up and coming (and indeed, current) composers and lyricists in musical theater.  Some were writing for stage, others were writing for musical theater web series, and this afternoon it was run by Grey Gardens lyricist Michael Korie – it was great to meet him.  The class adds praise and constructive criticism to each presented song – these crafters of song are able to critique clearly, succinctly, without overt emotion or judgment, and it was so neat to see the writers take notes and criticism from their peers professionally and with a good sense of logic and self.  As a singer who often performs original works, it was also a lesson in analyzing new songs and supporting the songwriter with solutions to the structural, thematic, or character issues within a song.  My mind is always blown at the sheer number of choices a writer has to make, and on Monday I was taught so many concepts just by sitting and listening.

On Tuesday, the food attack resumed.  We met Bill, Janet, Bud & Judy at Norma’s, which is one of their favorite breakfast spots.  Pete had an amazing chocolate/peanut butter waffle, and I enjoyed eggs benedict a la artichoke. 
Norma’s artichock’d eggs benedict.
Decadence incarnate, or inwafflenate!!!

We split for the day, taking our computers to a Starbucks to hang out for a while and work, then we met up at Theater favorite Sardi’s.  I had some crab cakes, nummy!  Then we went across Broadway to see the revival of Anything Goes, starring Sutton Foster and Joel Gray.  Oh man, this show didn’t disappoint: although the script is still a bit dated, the cast kept the show lively and Cole Porter’s music is still snappy, romantic, and brilliant.  Sutton Foster proved to me why her career is strong and vibrant: she sang, sashayed, tapped, kicked, belted, and sassed her way through the role of Reno brilliantly.  Joel Gray proved to me why he is still a King of Broadway character actors – his sweetly devilish Moon was funny and crafted extremely well.  The overall cast was great, and although I felt like the romance between the male and female romantic leads was a bit cookie cutter, I was rooting for everyone to get to a happy ending. 

Closing number, Anything Goes
Front curtain of Anything Goes

The next day was an odd creative whiplash – dinner at Bistecca Fiorentina on 46th street (Pete & I shared the seafood dinner for two…it was two-tiered), then we went to the antithesis of Anything GoesTHE BOOK OF MORMON!!! Oh man, talk about “good writers too who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose…Anything Goes.”  I bet Cole Porter himself would laugh his ass off at this Trey Parker/Matt Stone/Robert Lopez show, which is full of religious criticism, joy, sass, enthusiasm, waaaaaay gay tap dancing, parodies of musical theater, commentary on third-world poverty and AIDS issues, and yet had a sweet message of the power of faith to help a society gain power and strength.  If you’ve seen South Park or Team America, you’ll have a sense of the political humor and commentary that Parker & Stone always mix in, and Lopez’s music and harmonies are fun, rockin’ and sendoffs of classic musical theater. It’s as far away from Anything Goes, but it still stands up to the American musical theater tradition!  The cast is great (a great mix of clean-cut white males and an African-American male/female ensemble…not a role in it for me!) and I recognized Josh Gad from his stints on The Daily Show as a “correspondent.” Plus, it has so many science fiction and fantasy references, the scifi geek in my was tickled pink. It’s not the perfect musical, but we had a blast. We were also excited to sit one row behind Garry Marshall and one row in front of Rosie O’Donnell (and we saw Kate Winslet outside the box office on her cell phone).  Apparently, Norman Lear, Vanessa Williams and Joanne Woodward were also in attendance last night.  Talk about celebrity sightings!

And by the way, I need a t-shirt that plainly says “HASA DIGA EEBOWAI.”

Our seafood extravaganza!
The BOM marquee.

After The Book of Mormon, we went out for cheesecake at Junior’s, and let me tell you – get the chocolate mousse cheesecake like Pete did (amazing!), but the sugar free cheesecake that I ordered is nothing to sneeze at too. And now I’m caught up one week later – tonight we have another dinner and another show, which I will blog about (in addition to the rest of the week) as soon as the week is done being experienced!

Sierra Rein
“I don’t sing because I’m happy, I’m happy because I sing” – William James

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 alone…in 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 – www.j.thepete.com, 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