A Romantic Atmosphere

Whenever the great 1960s musicals (a/k/a the last gasp of the “Golden Age of Broadway”) are written about, the list is invariably topped by such shows as the leading lady musicals (Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Funny Girl), the groundbreaking shows (Cabaret, Hair), the satiric and/or subversive shows (Bye, Bye Birdie, How to Succeed), the unlikely blockbuster (Fiddler on the Roof).

What’s often missing from these lists is one of my favorite shows that is too easily dismissed: the Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick/Joe Masteroff 1963 musical She Loves Me.

Based on the 1936 Hungarian play Parfumerie by Milklos Laszlo, you may know the source material better from its 3 film adaptations: Ernst Lublisch’s sublime 1940 film, The Shop Around the Corner, starring a perfectly cast James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, MGM’s musical remake for Judy Garland and Van Johnson, In the Good Old Summertime and, in 1998, Nora Ephron’s re-remake You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Shop Around Poster

Shop Around - Sullivan Stewart
Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart – note the body language

She Loves Me has had 2 major Broadway productions (the original and a revival in 1993), neither of which returned its original investment. Having said that, not every work of art can be judged a failure or success solely on the merits of its box office receipts. Had that been the case, Follies never would have been revived, even though no production (and there have been many of them) of that masterpiece has ever turned a profit.

She Loves Me - 1963 - Playbill
Playbill from the original 1963 production

She Loves Me - 1963 - Cook & Massey
Barbara Cook and Daniel Massey in a tense moment from the original production

She Loves Me - 1963 - Cassidy & Baxley
Jack Cassidy and Barbara Baxley in the original production

As I write this post, a new Broadway production of She Loves Me has just begun previews at Studio 54 and has set March 17th at its opening night. AAC CPA and I were there last week for the 1st preview and by the time you have finished reading this post, I hope you will have already ordered your tickets.

She Loves Me - 2016 - Playbill

CULTURE TIP: She Loves Me at Studio 54

So, what is it about this story that so captures our fancy and has certainly withstood the test of time, considering its many iterations over the past 80 years? And, in particular, what is it about She Loves Me that casts a spell over its audiences and completely captivates us to such an extent that it is difficult to remove the smile from your face well after you’ve left the theatre?

As with everything, let’s start with the story.

Here comes the BIG SPOILER ALERT, which is revealed within the first 30 minutes of the show: the leading man (Georg, originally played by Daniel Massey) and lady (Amalia, originally played by Barbara Cook) work in a “parfumerie” – a place which no longer exists – where perfume was sold and/or made. Being on the cusp of middle age and still single, they have each entered into a correspondence relationship with someone they believe to be their possible soulmates. Unbeknownst to each of them, they are writing to each other. And, oh yes, at work they cannot stand the sight of each other.

So maybe the plot might seem like boy and girl meet cute, complications ensue, but it all works out in the end – in other words, a formula story with a denouement we all saw coming as soon as were in on the gimmick.

But that’s not what’s going on here. In the finest of the Parfumerie adaptations – and I consider The Shop Around the Corner to be every bit as good as She Loves Me – the story becomes elevated by the material that was written by, respectively, Samuel Raphelson and Ben Hecht for the movie, and by Masteroff, Bock and Harnick for the musical. Put quite simply, the material for both the film and musical is just about perfect on all counts.

Joe Masteroff wrote the books for 2 musicals in the 1960s: She Loves Me and, three years later, Cabaret. Whereas the book for Cabaret is a hard-edged, cynical Brechtian orgy, She Loves Me is its complete opposite: witty, genuinely funny and completely romantic. More importantly, Masteroff has created an ensemble of 7 leading players, each of whom is completely human and completely recognizable to the audience. Simply put, we know these people.

Best of all, while the show is in no way sentimental, the show has great sentiment. By that, I mean that the story plays on to its inevitable conclusion but is in no way sappy or sugar-sweet. Whenever the situation threatens to crossover towards a false note of saccharine, our writers come to the rescue with a quip, a witty lyric or a surprise. In this way, it is almost anti-musical in its intentions and its presentation.

That is, except for its exceptional book and score.

It is at this point that we give a tip-of-the-hat to Mr. Bock and Mr. Harnick. They created, perhaps, their most harmonious, humorous and romantic score. There was so much of it, in fact, that the original cast album ran to 2 discs.

The amazing thing about this score is how, from the very opening number, it draws you in, not only to the story but, more importantly, to the inner lives of the characters. Masteroff’s book gives each character his or her special moment when they take center stage and shine. Because She Loves Me exists in musical comedy land, these moments are almost always musicalized. What’s most striking to me is the imagination inherent in the score: the moments that Bock and Harnick choose to musicalize are, in many cases, so surprising. Right at the top of the evening you have “Sounds While Selling” – a double trio of sorts in which customers are being waited upon by their salesmen in overlapping dialogue. Or our leading lady’s first number “No More Candy”, in which she “auditions” for a job at the parfumerie. Or Sipos’ “Perspective”, in which this nerdy clerk explains how not to lose your job and tells you exactly who this Sipos person is.

I thought you might enjoy Amalia’s “audition” scene in the movie and compare it to the musical moment in the play. In the first clip, Margaret Sullavan makes a sale and, in the second clip, Barbara Cook musicalizes the same scene.

The Shop Around the Corner

No More Candy, sung by Barbara Cook

The “second” couple – Ilona and Steven Kodaly (originally played by  Barbara Baxley and Jack Cassidy) get their due as well. In each act, they have back-to-back numbers that, in the first act, totally inform their characters and, in the second, resolve their stories. These numbers are comic but also real. And, in the current revival, one of these numbers – “Ilona” – has an interpolated dance break because Mr. Kodaly and his Ilona are played by the supremely talented Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski, both of whom know a little something about “la danse”.

Our leading couple has ample opportunity to show the various colors of their personalities. When – finally! – the pen pals agree to meet, but still don’t know their real identities, Georg’s “Tonight at Eight” displays the manic combination of fear and joy that an almost blind date inspires. Amalia’s “Will He Like Me?” takes a more touching and introspective look at a woman alone and contemplating what may be her last chance for happiness.

Later, in the second act, they have back-to-back numbers. The ice has now begun to thaw for our lovebirds (he’s figured “it” out, but she doesn’t yet know) and first she, in the showstopping “Ice Cream” and then he, in the show’s title song, invite the audience to share in their newfound joy and surprise. (Notice how, in each song, both Amalia and Georg sing “Will wonders never cease?”)

It’s heady stuff.

And, by the way, let me just mention that the leading lady for this revival of She Loves Me is none other than Laura Benanti. She is one of those performers who, in the old days, Cole, Irving, Alan and Fritz, and Oscar and Dick would be fighting over to cast in their next show. It is a real treat to see Ms. Benanti onstage in a role that fits her like a glove that she might have purchased down the street from that parfumerie.

She Loves Me - 2016 - Cast
Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Cavin Creel and Jane Krakowski, now onstage at Studio 54

But mostly, what’s so deeply moving and entertaining about this show is that, for the entire evening, you are confronted by real people going through their lives in full view of the audience. While She Loves Me might be considered light entertainment, the show is played not for laughs but for real (which, by the way, makes the show riotously funny).

I know that there are many more exciting shows on Broadway just now (Hamilton, anyone?).

But in the final analysis, She Loves Me is both a charmed show and a show with great charm. It’s the type of show that is no longer being written and, quite frankly, may never be written again.

She Loves Me is now playing at Studio 54; performances are currently scheduled through Sunday, June 12th.

Advertisements

TBT: Kyoto and the Hoshinoya

Greetings and salutations!

I know that lots of peeps celebrate TBT on Thursdays, but I say why not Throwback Tuesdays? That way, you get thrown back 2 days earlier. Win-win, right?

So today, ladies and germs, I want to share with you an amazing experience AAC CPA and I had in April 2014 when we were visiting Japan. We had flown to Tokyo so that we could have the great pleasure of sailing back to Los Angeles aboard the beautiful Crystal Symphony. (Sound familiar?)

Whilst making our travel plans, we were told by our fellow travelers – nay, commanded – that we could not visit Japan without seeing Kyoto, for almost 1,100 years (794 – 1868) the capital of Japan.

We heeded their advice and had a marvelous adventure. Being train aficionados, we elected to travel from Tokyo Station to Kyoto via the famous Shinkansen, a network of high-speed trains, aptly nicknamed the “Bullet Train” because, I surmise, it travels faster than a speeding bullet. The distance between the 2 cities is 319 miles, which we covered in 2 hours, 18 minutes, or at an average speed of about 138 mph.  

Bullet Train - Mt. Fuji

Before arriving in Tokyo, we’d contacted our hotel’s concierge to arrange for round-trip tickets on the Bullet Train, so everything had been reserved for us in advance.

On the morning of our departure for Kyoto, we walked the short distance from our hotel into Tokyo Station and to the departure track for our train. We arrived with a comfortable 15 minutes to spare. As we were waiting, we noticed a brigade of young women impeccably dressed in what appeared to be Jackie Kennedy pink suits. (Does my memory betray me, or do I also recall matching pillbox hats as well?) In any event, we wondered who they were and what they were doing there. The answer wasn’t long in coming.

Bullet Train - 02
AAC CPA gets ready to board Nozomi 21 bound for Kyoto

As our train pulled into the station and the arriving passengers departed, these ladies rushed on to “refresh” each car of the train, making sure that each interior was perfectly tidy and clean. When we entered the train a few minutes to find our reserved seats, the car was indeed neat and spotless. We later learned that, should a seat cushion be stained, it would be immediately replaced. 

Amtrak: Please take note!

Need I mention that the train departed absolutely to the minute on time? Once we cleared central Tokyo, the train started to pick up speed, which you could totally feel, but not in an unpleasant way. With the majestic Mt. Fuji in the distance, we enjoyed the quick journey to Kyoto. Snacks and beverage service were available, if desired.

Bullet Train - 03
AAC CPA settled in and ready to go

All-in-all, a very pleasant trip.

Upon our arrival in Kyoto, we were met by a private guide and driver we had engaged to show us the sights, and suffice it to say that we saw some amazing things.

But what I really want to share with you is our experience staying at our ryokan (or traditional Japanese inn). Thanks to the oft-mentioned and fabulous Veronica at AmEx Platinum, she arranged for us to stay at the amazing Hoshinoya.

Hoshinoya - 01
The Hoshinoya at night

When, by mid-afternoon, our sightseeing was over for the day, our guide dropped us off at what looked like a small enclosure adjacent to a tranquil river. As it was raining and a bit cool, we were immediately offered hot tea and a Japanese cookie. Within a few minutes, we were escorted from our waiting area to a small river boat. From there, it was a 15-minute ride down river to the Hoshinoya.

Hoshinoya Boat - 01
Our boat driver taking us down river to the Hoshinoya

Hoshinoya - Arrival
Being greeted on our arrival

We were met at the dock and escorted to the check-in area and then to our lovely rooms, which consisted of a living room overlooking the river and separated by shoji screens from the double-futon bedroom. Adjacent was a lovely bathroom with a birchwood soaking tub. Next to the tub: a bottle of Saki. It was explained to us that, while it was certainly OK to drink the Saki, it’s real purpose was for soaking in the tub. Let me tell you: it was a fair exchange – after a long day of travel and sightseeing, it was delicious to soak in that Saki-filled tub.

Hoshinoya - 03
Our living room with river view

Hoshinoya - 04
Double futons in the sleeping area

Hoshinoya - AAC Bath
AAC CPA in the Saki-filled birchwood tub

Hoshinoya has a very well-regarded restaurant and chef (Ichiro Kubota) and we elected to have dinner there. When we were shown to our rooms, our host showed us two sets of pajamas: one for sleeping and another fancier set to wear around the premises. Also included were Japanese sandals and a slicker. We were encouraged, if we so desired, to wear our “going out” pajamas to dinner and we thought that was a great idea, especially as we were traveling light and it was still raining.

So we got ourselves all done up in our fancy  pajamas, sandals and slickers, and made our way to the restaurant, assuming that – because it was a Monday evening – the restaurant would be quiet and we’d have an intimate dinner. 

Well, we were half-right.

As we entered the restaurant, we could hear a somewhat boisterous group singing a Japanese version of “Happy Birthday”. And guess what? Everyone there was fully dressed: jackets and ties for the men, fancy dresses for the ladies, and AAC CPA and I schlumphing around in our pajamas!

However, we were taken away from the other diners and shown into our own private glass-enclosed dining room, which was surrounded by a beautiful garden in full bloom. It was magical and like being in our own private world.

The Hoshinoya offers a multi-course dinner, which one of us was excited to sample. Someone else begrudgingly agreed to go along with it (no names, please). There were just a couple of hiccups along the way, for instance: when the uncooked octopus leg made an appearance at the table and somebody shrieked in response. But, mostly, we had a wonderful dinner with wine and saki pairings and the most discreet and attentive service imaginable.

Upon returning to our rooms, which had been turned down for the night, we immediately fell into bed (that is, we fell into futon) and had a lovely night’s sleep – it was so quiet, except for the sound of a light rainfall, that you couldn’t help but be lulled to sleep.

Hoshinoya View
Foggy and mysterious early morning river view

The next morning, we had the option of ordering breakfast in the room (at an additional charge), and we totally took advantage of it. A discreet knock at the door at the appointed time, and we were greeted by 2 smiling faces. They came in, reconfigured the furniture for dining, and prepared our breakfast for us. We were totally charmed by the service and the food was delicious.

Hoshinoya Breakfast - 01
Our breakfast is prepared for us en suite

Hoshinoya Breakfast - 02
And a lovely breakfast spread

After breakfast, we made preparations to depart, as we had another half day of sightseeing before boarding our Bullet Train for the return trip to Tokyo.

Hoshinoya - AAC
AAC CPA on his way back to our river boat to reenter the real world

A stay at the Hoshinoya is not inexpensive – it should rightly be considered a “splurge” – but it is also a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

So it turns out that we were given great advice, which I now pass on to you – our brief visit to Kyoto and the Hoshinoya was an enchanting experience and not to be missed.

TRAVEL TIP: Hoshinoya – Kyoto

P.S. Crystal Symphony Gala Buffet

For those of you who are not intrepid sailors, you may have gotten the idea that cruising around the world by ship is a never-ending feast where the food never stops. When we took our first cruise – when I was about 14 years old – passengers would stay up late so as to take advantage of the midnight buffet, which would start about 3 hours after you got up from the dinner table.

Too much? Ya think?!!?

On Crystal Cruises, there is no midnight buffet, although you may see waiters roving the common areas with trays of small snacks: pizza, mini-sandwiches, fruit skewers, whatever happens to be passed around that evening. It’s nice and all that, but most passengers have had enough by that time and prefer to concentrate on – if anything – their nightcaps.

No judgments, please!!

However, Crystal is also famed for its Gala Buffets, which are presented on just about every voyage. These are lunchtime events and are set up in the Crystal Cove on Deck 5. If you care about such things, there’s a photo call for passengers who may want to Instagram the glories of the buffet. It’s a bit of a big deal, you see.

So, as a postscript to our recent Crystal Symphony cruise to Antarctica, I thought you might enjoy seeing some my photos taken at the buffet. If you catch some of the food still wrapped in Saran, then you know I was there for the passenger photo op before the masses arrived.

Grand_Gala_Buffet_05

Salads Asparagus

Smoked Salmon

Eggs

Penguin Eggs

Sushi Station

Big Lobster

Chicken Carved

Salmon Wellington

Fruits SmoothiesPasta Station

Dessert - 01

Dessert - 02

Gala Buffet - People
The buffet in full swing

Grand_Gala_Buffet_Chefs
The chefs take a well-deserved bow

Waiter Lineup
When you’ve filled your plate, waiters are lined up outside the Crystal Dining Room waiting to carry it (and you) to your table.

There you have it – the Gala Buffet. I do believe that I’ve gained about 5 pounds by posting this blog entry.

Enjoy!

Recap: Antarctica and South America

I hope you didn’t think that I’d forgotten about you – after all, it’s been almost 2 weeks since my last blog entry. The truth is: after being away for 3 weeks, it took me awhile to return to normal (whatever that is) life.

So I hope you didn’t miss me too much (actually, I hope you missed me and my posts a lot), but now it’s time for TheCulturedTraveler to get off his – ahem – backside and get to work.

Therefore, I thought that today’s post should be a “highlights” replay. After all, I’d have to say that we had an amazing time on this latest adventure. If you were following me throughout Buenos Aires and aboard Crystal Symphony, you’ll most likely be familiar with what you’re about to see. But what the heck, right? 

Enjoy!!

Luggage for 3 Weeks
It took this much baggage to get us from “here” to “there”.

2016-01-08 14.53.37
The fabulous Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Hotel

2016-01-08 15.18.16
2nd favorite meal in Buenos Aires, and a 5-minute walk from the hotel

2016-01-09 15.29.22
Quiz: What song did Evita sing from this balcony?

2016-01-09 20.25.51
Favorite and most elegant meal in Buenos Aires

2016-01-10 11.00.11
Seeing Buenos Aires with Pedro, one of the best tour guides ever

2016-01-10 15.25.24
Visiting La Boca (in the rain)

2016-01-11 13.28.31
Teatro Colon: one of the world’s most beautiful opera houses

2016-01-12 09.02.02
Crystal Symphony in port as seen from the Park Hyatt Hotel 

2016-01-13 10.28.39
Repacked and ready to embark Symphony

2016-01-13 20.17.58
AAC CPA on deck for the 1st sunset

2016-01-13 20.19.36
Gorgeous sky 1st evening at sea

2016-01-14 09.26.50
Breakfast al fresco 1st full day at sea

2016-01-14 20.06.50
Family Negronis on the 1st formal night

2016-01-14 22.34.03
Formal Shoes

2016-01-15 20.18.05
The Virginia Gentlemen – Bar none, best entertainment on the voyage

2016-01-16 07.59.56
Invited to have a cocktail with the Captain in his quarters

2016-01-17 09.51.52
The beauty of Tierra del Fuego National Park

2016-01-17 11.57.12
AAC CPA at the end of Route 3 – 11,090 miles from Canada – the lowest piece of land in the world

2016-01-17 21.16.48
More yummy food on Crystal Symphony

2016-01-19 06.42.33
First look at Antarctica from our balcony

2016-01-19 06.55.26
AAC CPA appreciates the view

Antarctica - Penguins & Seals
Penguins and sea lions (photo courtesy of Nancy Shafran)

2016-01-19 13.48.18
A delegation from Palmer Station arrives for a visit

2016-01-19 16.31.07
More sea lions just hanging around

2016-01-19 19.44.21
Cruising around Antarctica at about 8:30 PM

2016-01-19 23.27.27
And about 3 hours later! It’s still light out!!

2016-01-22 08.45.46
AAC CPA welcomes you to the Falkland Islands (and its lovely weather)

2016-01-22 20.24.29
But we enjoyed another amazing sunset at sea

2016-01-22 22.37.30
And AAC CPA conjured up a full moon for your viewing pleasure

2016-01-23 20.04.48
Back by popular demand: The Virginia Gentlemen entertain in the Crystal Cove

2016-01-24 08.54.02
Welcome to Puerto Madryn

2016-01-24 11.29.27
This product is sold in the local market

2016-01-24 23.10.32
Late night at sea: full moon on a deserted Promenade Deck

2016-01-25 15.56.04
And another gorgeous day at sea as seen from our balcony

2016-01-26 08.04.36
Approaching Montevideo, Uruguay

Juanico Building - 01
A private field trip to Juanicó

Touring the Grounds - 01

Lunch Table
Enjoying a private lunch at the vineyard

Wine Tasting
The wines we tasted at lunch

2016-01-27 09.31.17
Disembarking Symphony for the last time (those smiles are FAKE)

2016-01-27 12.07.05
AAC CPA back at the Park Hyatt for 9 hours before the flight home

2016-01-27 23.17.53
AAC CPA hunkers down for the 10+ hour flight home

Postlude:

All-in-all, we had a fabulous trip. Visiting Buenos Aires for the first time was a total delight. As a dear friend of ours’ puts it: “BA is beautiful – a bit shabby but, like some aging countess, still elegant”. So true. We learned that Argentina is a country that, in all things, is in a perpetual pendulum swing. We had the benefit of an outstanding tour guide, enjoyed several memorable meals, accompanied by some amazing Argentine wines (let’s hear it for the Malbec!), and just marveled as we walked through the city.

Then we had the great pleasure of returning to Crystal Symphony for 2 weeks. Having sailed on Crystal many times, it’s like returning home. The Crystal fleet is elegant, beautiful and has a crew that has but one goal in mind: to insure that you have the best time imaginable. 

The days we spent in Antarctica were so memorable for the things we saw and which are hard to capture on camera. You’ll just have to take my word for it: you must see it for yourself.

Finally – and I know I’ve said it before – we live to travel and we travel to live. It’s a truism that we must get outside of our shells (and, sometimes, our comfort zones) and go exploring. Whether it’s on land, sea or air, there is so much to see out there and we diminish ourselves if we don’t take the opportunity to visit new places, whether it’s the town next door, the state across the border, the other coast, or another continent. 

Give in to your own personal wanderlust and go a-traveling!

PS. Here’s how we know we’re back in NYC and the vacation is over:

2016-02-05 08.28.37