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9.20.10 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW

Before I do anything on this fine day, I must give a shout out to my amazing grandmother who turns 90 years old today! Without her, this column wouldn’t exist. Since my day one she has embraced and shared with me her passion for all things cultural. More than anything, she taught me to love NYC. For my birthday three years in a row (13 through 15) she took me to NYC for a weekend of theater, eating and museum visits. I will never forget that first bite of pecorino filled tortellini soup at the original MoMA, eating high above the sculpture garden and thinking I want every day of my life to taste this good and be this exciting. And three short years later from that last trip, I made that dream a reality. The only part missing is that she doesn’t live here, but that hasn’t stopped her influence. At least once every month I receive a phone call from my grandma asking what cultural event do I want to see that I’m resisting… and moments later there’s a ticket in my hand.

So thank you grandma, on this very big day in your life, for making me stop and appreciate every day in mine…

On the importance of re-casting…

Recasting a Broadway show is a delicate balance that these days seem trumped by stunt or event casting. Chicago is the best example with the revolving door of celebrities taking over the leads month after month (it’s gone from almost A-list to distinct D-list these days). One of my absolute favorite replacements just from sheer oddity was Toni Braxton in Aida, who stepped into the way too huge shoes of Heather Hedley (yes, there was a Destiny’s Child in between, but who cares). The score had to be lowered to fit her vocal range and the attitude she brought to the role was very, umm, modern. It made no sense, but something about it actually worked and did bring a last breath of life into a fleeting, if wonderful, show.

I recently had the distinct displeasure of watching Bernadette Peters take over the role of Desiree Armfeldt from the surprisingly luminous Catherine Zeta Jones in A Little Night Music. What was once a delicate show of subtle beauty became an odd farce with Bernadette attempting to match the zany youth of the actual youthful Anne. It was, to be blunt, peculiar. And then there was Elaine Stritch replacing Angela Lansbury, an excellent idea that left me confused, or rather Stritch confused as she couldn’t remember a good portion of her lines or song.

So it was with mixed emotions that I took my seat at Next to Normal, a show I’ve enjoyed twice previously with the stellar original cast led by the incomparable Alice Ripley who tore through her role with the excitement that live theater is meant to contain. But I had hopes, as the producers avoided stunt casting in favor of Broadway gravitas by placing Marin Mazzie in the lead. Her interpretation was much more arch than Ripley, finding moments of humor and levity that I hadn’t been aware of before. Vocally I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. Mazzie has a unique power that floats from a strong chest voice to a growl to an oddly light falsetto, the combination of which has proved fantastic in other roles. But I couldn’t shake Ripley’s more forceful attack on the role that sent shivers down my spine. Maybe it’s unfair to Mazzie, who is not receiving the same excellent support from the other players. Her husband, both on and off stage, brings nothing to the role of Dan. The replacement daughter has the exact same voice as the original… when she hits the right notes, that is. And then there’s the easy on the eyes Kyle Dean Massey who has a distinctly beautiful voice that unfortunately is overwhelmed by the orchestrations. All in all, the show is amazing in any iteration, so I say cast whoever you want, I’ll clearly still show.

On a completely different topic, the pre-theater dinner at Aureole was divine. The meal kicked off with a micro lamb carpaccio, compliments of the chef, that was one bite of heaven. Then it was on to the tuna tartar, whimsically prepared on a flat platter, tuna on one side topped by a “yolk” of dressing, flanked by a series of flavor boosting items that you mix yourself on the platter to create a delectable appetizer. While Angelo on the series finale of Top Chef: DC was reprimanded for having a dish that required too many instructions to eat, I have to say there’s nothing I like better than engaging my food exactly as the chef intended it to be eaten. It makes dining fun. For my main course, I dove into a succulent cut of beef tenderloin that nearly melted in my mouth, topped with a fantastic bacon infused sauce. This was accompanied by rich goat cheese whipped potatoes and salty sea greens. The whole meal was capped off with a palette cleansing iced mango cup, a perfectly balanced watermelon soup with blueberries and candied olives (a fascinating blend of salt and sweet) and truffle service. A nice shout out to Jim for pairing the whole meal with an excellent and well matched pinot noir.

FOOD Izakaya Ten – A fascinatingly tasty Japanese tapas restaurant. It’s the perfect post-theater eatery, to give you just enough yummy food to go to bed without feeling the usual pangs of hunger that come an hour after a Japanese meal – A-

ALBUM Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More – after recommending one of their tracks used in the Lone Star pilot, I downloaded the whole album and am completely enthralled by the harmonies of Fleet Foxes, the melody making of Delta Spirit, the orchestrations of Sufjan Stevens, all combined into sonic delight – A+

TV Tosh.O – I didn’t think I would ever really enjoy a show that basically is a compendium of every “humorous” email you are mass forwarded with inane videos attached, but thanks to Daniel Tosh’s bright humor, this thing actually makes me laugh – B+

MOVIE Pageant – it’s not a pretty documentary, but there’s something touching in following four contestants on their dream of capturing the crown of Miss Gay America. It’s the stories that keep you invested: the 26-year-old whose Catholic Italian family is actually proud of him, the awkward Disney employee whose dance partner and main support is straight – B

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