One Last Look At Where It All Began

In 1969, Stephen Sondheim was in a bind. He hadn’t been represented on Broadway since his collaboration with Richard Rodgers (a promise he’d made to his dying mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, several years prior) on the ill-fated 1965 musical, Do I Hear a Waltz? And he hadn’t been heard as both composer and lyricist since the 1964 Anyone Can Whistle, which lasted all of 9 performances.

For the past several years, he and his collaborator, James Goldman, had been working on a new musical entitled The Girls Upstairs, which had been optioned by producer Stuart Ostrow. More recently, Sondheim and George Furth had started work on a new musical to be produced and directed by Sondheims’s long time friend, Harold Prince. At that point, it seemed that Sondheim would have two shows opening on Broadway during the 1969-70 season.

And then Ostrow let his option lapse on The Girls Upstairs. Sondheim lamented to Prince that he saw years of work going down the drain, to which Prince made the following proposition: If Sondheim would agree to finish the show with George Furth first, Prince would agree to produce and direct The Girls Upstairs as his next project.

Ever the pragmatist, Sondheim agreed, which turned out to be a stroke of profound good luck. The Sondheim-Furth collaboration turned out to be Company, which opened in April 1970 to strong reviews and potent box office. More importantly, the collaboration between Sondheim and Prince became a turning point in the American musical. Over the next eleven years, they would present six shows, all of them distinctly different from each other and, until the last of them, considered to be a high-water mark of musical theatre creativity, if not always commercially successful.

But back to The Girls Upstairs, which – to that point – told a realistic story of a reunion of former showgirls and their husbands and what had happened to them over the 30 years they had all known each other. The show also had hints of a possible murder mystery: during the first act, it developed that each of the four central characters had cause to commit murder; the second act would reveal why and what happened. But Hal Prince had other ideas.

He recalled a photograph that had been taken of Gloria Swanson in the ruins of New York’s Roxy Theater, which had been razed in 1960. Swanson had been one of the greatest silent film actresses and had fallen into obscurity until 1949, when Billy Wilder offered her the role of Norma Desmond in his masterpiece, Sunset Boulevard, which was released in 1950. As Norma herself said, it wasn’t a comeback, it was “a return”. Now, some 11 years later, she was immortalized in that photograph. And it occurred to Prince that he didn’t want to direct a realistic story about former showgirls with murder on their minds; he had something much bigger in mind. And that’s when Follies was born.

Gloria Swanson
Gloria Swanson amid the rubble of the Roxy Theater, 1960

As a result, James Goldman jettisoned most of the original plot and, instead, created a mood piece in which the former showgirls and their husbands were now obsessed with life-altering decisions they had made decades before and the ramifications of those actions. The play would now take place inside a theatre on the eve of its demolition. Goldman and Sondheim had discovered early on that, as they eliminated plot points, the play became more interesting. Additionally, in earlier drafts, the 4 central characters lapsed into behavior as if they were 30 years younger. Now a consequential decision was made, instead, to have their younger selves portrayed as characters in the play. They would, literally, be beside themselves with grief.

This was precisely the kind of theater that lit a fire in Hal Prince. Recognizing that this production would be bigger and more demanding than anything he had done before, he decided to elevate his choreographer on Company – a young man named Michael Bennett – to serve with him as co-director. As the score was now approaching 22 musical numbers, there would be plenty for both of them to do: Bennett would be responsible for the musical staging and Prince would direct the book scenes.

It was to be the most expensive show to date to open on Broadway with an $800,000 budget. The celebrated scenic designer, Boris Aronson, would create the magnificent sets, Florence Klotz, the hundreds of costumes required, and Tharon Musser the intricate lighting.

Set Model - Boris Aronson
Boris Aronson’s set model for Follies – note the apparitions on the upper levels

Loveland - B&W
The main set transformed into “Loveland”

Final Scene.JPG
The final set piece – the theater is now partially demolished

Loveland Beauties
Florence Klotz’s Loveland beauties

The set, in fact, was so complicated and challenging to work upon that Prince decided to rehearse the show at the scenic shop in the Bronx so that the cast, some of whom were already in their 60s and 70s, could grow accustomed to the stage, thus saving valuable time when the show moved out of town. So, every day, the cast would board a bus in midtown Manhattan and travel uptown for intensive rehearsals. (This move also created additional pressure on the scenic shop, as it reduced the time it had to build the sets.)

There was some anxiety over the fact that the musical score hadn’t been completed when the show went into rehearsal. With the show’s new structure, the last half hour consisted of a Follies-esque sequence entitled Loveland, during which the 4 principal characters would each confront their personal bête noir in a song or production number. But some of these numbers couldn’t be staged, because they hadn’t been written. It is said that Michael Bennett had to order costumes for two of these numbers without actually knowing what they were going to be. As the rehearsal period drew to a close, Sondheim delivered the missing numbers, which were quickly staged.

The company traveled to Boston for its out-of-town tryout and played its first performance by the seat of its pants on a Saturday night in February 1971. The physical production was so complex that it wasn’t until the first performance that the show could be run start to finish without stops. There were other problems. The opening sequence – a prologue in which all the characters and their “ghosts” were introduced – was confusing to the audience. A number written for Yvonne De Carlo, cast as a former showgirl now turned television star, was a one-joke song and much too long. As the show was intended to play in one act without intermission, pacing and flow became an issue. Alexis Smith, who had been cast at the regal Phyllis Rogers Stone, hadn’t yet asserted herself and lacked the confidence to take center stage and deliver a star performance.

And there was one other major problem bubbling up to the surface: Michael Bennett didn’t like Goldman’s book, feeling that it was too dark and depressing. While it couldn’t be argued that Follies was a dark show (it was intentionally so), it offered at least the possibility of hope at the end of the evening. Bennett wanted a play doctor (Neil Simon was rumored to be his choice) to come to Boston and add some lightness to the proceedings. But he was overruled by his co-director, Hal Prince, who (not insignificantly) was the show’s producer and, therefore, the “muscle”. He liked the doom and gloom and felt – along with Goldman and Sondheim – that it served a larger purpose. The theme of the show was that one must learn to live with the decisions that you’ve made in life, rather than to dwell upon the past and become paralyzed by the mistakes you may have made along the way. “The Road You Didn’t Take” is not the end of the line; it’s a detour to someplace else.

One of the brilliant aspects of the original production was that, as stated in the playbill, it took place “tonight” and was set at “a party on the stage of the Weismann Theatre” – meaning right now and in real time. It therefore gave the show an immediacy that cannot be reproduced in revival. The show looked back to 1941 – the last year of the fictional Weismann Follies – and, thus, created a context for its audience in 1971. Thus, the references in the score, which today’s audiences might not grasp: Benda Frazier, Windsor and Wally, Pinko and stinko, Beeby’s Bathysphere, heebie jeebies – would be recognizable to 1971 audiences. They would also recognize Prince’s original cast as names from their collective past: Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins, Yvonne De Carlo, Gene Nelson. And those with longer memories might dimly recall some of the supporting players: Ethel Shutta (herself a Ziegfeld girl), Fifi, D’Orsay, Mary McCarty. John McMartin, whose brilliant performance as Ben Stone has never been surpassed, was a journeyman actor but – at that point – didn’t have the name recognition of the other leading actors.

Dorothy Collins & Alexis Smith
Dorothy Collins and Alexis Smith

Gene Nelson and John McMartin
John McMartin and Gene Nelson

Yvonne De Carlo
Yvonne De Carlo

Ethel Shutta
Ethel Shutta, introducing and immortalizing “Broadway Baby” at age 74

Fifi D'Orsay - Ah! Paris
Fifi D’Orsay

Mary McCarty
Mary McCarty leads the ladies in “Who’s That Woman?”

During the four-week Boston tryout, many changes were made. It took Bennett until the very end of the Boston run to come up with the prologue that would stick and absolutely and unambiguously set the tone for the evening. Sondheim locked himself in his hotel room to come up with a replacement song for De Carlo, a little ditty called I’m Still Here, which is said to have been based on the life of Joan Crawford and has become an anthem for cabaret ladies of a certain age. The show was tightened and the production fine-tuned to the point that it became a very well-oiled machine.

More importantly, during the Boston run and as the show began previews in New York prior to its official opening, Alexis Smith began to deliver the performance Prince knew she was capable of. It started with a replacement production number for her in the Loveland sequence, along with a new costume, which was much more complimentary and showed off her fabulous gams. Things like that can make all the difference.

Lucy & Jessie - 02
Alexis Smith, new costume and new song, takes center stage

And so, on the evening of April 4, 1971 at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York, the house lights dimmed, an ominous drumroll sounded followed by 4 somber chords from the brass section as the curtain rose on an empty and darkened stage. Downstage center was a spectral apparition, an impossibly tall and beautiful showgirl. She slowly raised her arms toward the audience – in welcome or in supplication? Imperceptibly at first, she started to move as if in slow motion, soon to be joined by other spectral figures: more showgirls, a dance team, and a line of 6 chorus girls, also in slow motion and silently mouthing the words to some forgotten tune as they strutted slowly around the stage. Suddenly, a major domo and a waiter or two strode through the scene in real time, as unaware of the apparitions all around them as the apparitions were of them. And then, breathlessly running onto the stage, appeared Dorothy Collins, as former showgirl Sally Durant Plummer, announcing to no one in particular how thrilled she was to be at this party tonight. As she began speaking, one of the chorus girl ghosts was wrenched from her position in the line and stopped dead in her tracks as her eyes bore into Dorothy Collins’ Sally – she was the ghost of the younger Sally observing what became of herself thirty years later and, perhaps, not liking what she saw. And that was how Follies began.

Follies Showgirls
Ghostly apparitions appearing during the prologue

Two hours and twenty minutes later, the curtain fell on the opening night performance. Amid many cheers, there were dissenters who didn’t go for the show feeling that, like Company the season before, it was cold and off-putting. I can well imagine that middle-aged audiences were certainly dismayed by the notion of characters who felt they had made wrong turns in their lives when younger and were now paying the price. And then there were others who, perhaps having been beguiled by the title of the show, thought they were attending a light entertainment. After all, No, No Nanette had opened to great acclaim just 3 months earlier – wasn’t Follies supposed to be more of the same?

Opening Night Relief
The cast immediately after the opening night curtain fell

Actually, anyone who took the trouble to take even a cursory look at the original poster for Follies – a somber face resembling simultaneously a Follies-type showgirl and the Statue of Liberty, with an enormous crack running down the right side – must have realized that No, No Nanette this wasn’t going to be.

Byrd Poster
David Edward Byrd’s brilliant poster design

The reviews ran the gamut from A to Z, as Sondheim might have said. Some critics loved it, some respected it, some even understood it; others dismissed it, except for the extraordinary physical production, which couldn’t be faulted.

When awards season came around, Follies was nominated in multiple categories and seemed to be the show to beat. It ultimately won seven Tony Awards: Alexis Smith (Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical), Stephen Sondheim (Best Score), Harold Prince and Michael Bennett (Best Direction of a Musical), Michael Bennett again (Best Choreography), Boris Aronson (Best Scenic Design), Florence Klotz (Best Costume Design) and Tharon Musser (Best Lighting Design). With seven Tony Awards in the bag, it seemed inevitable that Follies was perfectly positioned to take the award for Best Musical of the season which went, instead, to Two Gentlemen of Verona, produced by Joseph Papp and originally presented in Central Park and later moved to Broadway. It is instructive to note, when discussing the history of Follies, that the two major Tony Awards it lost were for Best Musical and for Book of a Musical (which, ironically, also went to Two Gentlemen of Verona).

The show ran in New York for 522 performances and then went on the road, with almost the entire original cast, first for a week in St. Louis, and then to Los Angeles for an open-ended run to inaugurate the Shubert Theatre in Century City. The LA engagement was intended to be the first stop of a national tour. In LA, the show got the kind of reviews of which a producer can only dream. And yet, the show lasted not even 3 months before closing. In spite of the rave reviews, the show couldn’t establish an audience. And so, on October 1, 1972, the original production of Follies came to an end.

The production lost its entire investment.

For those of us who fondly remember that original production, we’ve waited for a new production to recapture the magic we experienced almost half a century ago. After many near misses and disappointments, it seems that lightning has struck again, this time at the National Theatre in London.

To be continued.

 

 

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On the Road Again – Part Three

Greetings from the Concorde Room at JFK, which is the 1st class lounge for British Airways passengers. The great thing about this lounge is that you can have a lovely dinner on the ground before you board your flight. We’ve just finished a 3-course meal and have about an hour before we board our flight to London Heathrow (which you probably already know).

Before we got to the airport, though, here’s our intrepid AAC, CPA with the baggage (no, not me), whilst waiting for our car to arrive:

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AAC, CPA with the bags

CONCORDE ROOM ENTRANCE
The dapper (and hungry) AAC, CPA arrives at the Concorde Room

The meal was quite delicious:

Artichoke
A grilled artichoke and frisee salad for AAC, CPA

Gravlax
A delicious gravlax with pickled fennel and lemon Greek yogurt for me

Sirloin
We both had the Szechuan Crusted NY Sirloin with Sauteed Baby Bok Choy

Mille Feuille
And we each had the Raspberry Mille Feuille with White Chocolate Ice Cream

Each course came with the appropriate wine pairings and we are both now very relaxed and satisfied. Can’t wait to board the plane and climb under the covers!

Getting back to business:

Now that I’ve told you about how we’re getting to Dubai and also about Seabourn Encore, I thought you might like to know our cruise itinerary. Although there are 9 sea days – the entire cruise is 19 days! – it is, especially for us, port intensive. And all of them are new to us, so it’s a good thing that we’ve done our homework and brought along sensible shoes!

We will sail from Dubai next Monday at approximately 5:00 PM. Here’s a look at our cruise itinerary:

Cruise Itinerary
Map courtesy of Seabourn

As you can see, our first stop will be Doha, Qatar. One of the things we were most looking forward to seeing was to visit the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by the renowned architect, I.M. Pei. As luck would have it, the museum is closed on Tuesdays which is, of course, the day we’ll be in port. (Grrrrr.) We will, however, most likely visit the famous Souq Waqif, the central market, which has served the city for many centuries. If falconry is your thing, the Falcon Souq is just next door!

Doha - Museum of Islamic Art - IM Pei
I.M. Pei designed the Museum of Islamic Art – closed on Tuesdays!

Doha - Souq Waqif
The Souq Waqif – centuries old

Following our depature from Doha, we’ll enjoy our first day at sea (my fave!)

Our next port is Muscat, Oman, the “Pearl of Mystic Arabia”. Muscat is a city of untold riches, as personified by such sites as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the recently built Muscat Royal Opera House, which attracts many of the world’s finest singers. Unfortunately, there will be no performances while we’re in town, but we hope to take a tour and see the opera house for ourselves.

Muscat - Sultan Taymoor Grand Mosque
The fantastic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Muscat - Royal Opera House
The Muscat Royal Opera House

Muscat - Royal Opera House Interior
Interior of the Opera House

Following another sea day, we land in Salalah, Oman’s ancient incense capital and an oasis of lush vegetation, unlike the otherwise arid landscapes of the Arabian peninsula. One of the excursions offered will include a visit to Job’s tomb: a sacred site of pilgrimage for Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.

Salalah
Salalah, Oman

SONY DSC
A sacred biblical site: Job’s tomb

Once we depart from Salalah, we will then have 5 full sea days, giving us a chance to become really well acquainted with Encore and its passengers and crew. Hopefully, we’ll have good internet service during those seas days so that I can keep you up to date with all of our on board adventures.

Our next port – and the highlight of the trip for us – is Aqaba, Jordan which, for those of you who are Lawrence of Arabia fans, played a major role in the Arab revolt during World War I. Nowadays, the port serves as Jordan’s only deep water port and, as important, is the place from which you can get to Petra, the country’s most important historical attraction.

Because we are in port for only 11 hours, it was necessary for us to book a private car and guide, as we wanted to visit not only Petra but, also, Wadi Rum, which was also one of the primary locations in Lawrence of Arabia. This excursion will be very intensive, but also very exciting.

Long considered the Lost City, Petra is one of the most spectacular sights in all antiquity, a city carved out of solid sandstone, and lost to all but the most intrepid Bedouins until 1812, and excavation of the site didn’t begin until more than a full century later. To get to the main city, you walk on foot (or via a horse-drawn carriage for hire) through a narrow gorge, a mile-long siq. We’re told that a vist to Petra is an experience that you will not easily forget.

Petra Souq
You walk through the extremely narrow siq to get to Petra

Petra Treasury
Petra’s most famous landmark – the Treasury, carved out of sandstone

Once we’ve visited Petra, we’ll return through the gorge to our waiting car. As time is so short, we’ll have a box lunch en route to our next site, the majestic Wadi Rum, about an hour away. Indeed, we’ll be transported back to the time of T.E. Lawrence, Auda Abu Tayi, Prince Faisal and the fearless Bedouins who particpated in the Arab Revolt.

Wadi Rum
The majestic Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum - TE Lawrence
Memorial Carving of T.E. Lawrence at Wadi Rum

Following our visit to Wadi Rum, it’s back to the ship. I believe that this excursion will be one of the most memorable we’ve ever experienced.

Another sea day and, then, the ship will transit the Suez Canal. Having already been through the Panama Canal a few years ago, it will be very interesting to compare and contrast the experience. 

Suez Canal opening
The Suez Canal opened to traffic in 1869Suez Canal Modern
A more modern look at the Suez Canal

The following day, we land at Ashdod, the largest port in Israel and the main gateway to Jerusalem. From the port, it’s about a 75-minute drive (in good traffic!) to this sacred city. Again, because time is short, we’ve elected to hire a car and guide/driver to take us from the ship through the Judean Hills to Jerusalem. I visited Israel many years ago (let’s just say not in this millennium) but AAC, CPA has never been. So I’ve chosen what I believe to be the most important sites for us to see: the Old City (in quadrants for the many faiths who live and worship there), the Wailing Wall (the holiest Jewish site in the World) and the Dome of the Rock (the holiest of all Muslim shrines). 

AShdod
The port city of Ashdod, Israel

Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount
Jerusalem

Thanks to our good friend, Yaniv, who has been so generous in suggesting things to do while we’re in Israel, we’ve also scored a reservation for lunch at one of the city’s finest restaurants, Machneyuda, adjacent to the world-famous Mahane Yehuda Market. It seems that Israel has become a place for foodies!

Machneyuda
Machneyuda for lunch!

Mahane Yehuda Market
The Mahane Yehuda Market next door

After our return to the ship, Encore will reposition over to Haifa, Israel’s primary port and located about an hour away (by train) from Tel Aviv. AAC CPA and I have decided that we’ll venture out on our own, starting with a train ride and then visiting Yafo (Jaffa), the Old City, much of which has become a cultural enclave and also has wonderful cafes and restaurants. 

Tel Aviv - Yaffo
Yafo

So we’ll spend our day in Tel Aviv strolling around the city and taking in the sights. Then we’ll get back on the train to Haifa and return to the ship.

Another sea day and then we’ll travel to the Greek Islands. We’ll visit two ports: Rhodes and Santorini, both of which have rich histories and are extremely picturesque. Although excursions are available, I think we’ll opt for “independent activities”, checking out the sites, taking in the cafes, and just soaking up the atmosphere.

Rhodes
Rhodes

Santorini
The magical island of Santorini

We’ll depart Santorini late in the afternoon – it’s our last port and we’ll sail over to Piraeus (Athens), where we’ll disembark after our 19-day adventure aboard the beautiful Seabourn Encore and transfer to Athens International for our flights home – and to reality – and to getting on the scale to see how much damage we’ve done. 🙂

How lucky are we that we get to travel to these fabulous places? Stay tuned for my reports as we experience them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road Again – Part Two

Greetings from a fabulously warm and sunny day in New York City. The last time I checked, the Fahrenheit was sitting at a sumptuous and dreamy 78. At least for now, Spring has sprung.

Our countdown clock now stands at about T-28 hours, which marks our departure for JFK, where we’ll catch our overnight chariot to LHR. As you already know, we’ll have a 22-hour layover and then catch a flight to Abu Dhabi and then we transfer to Dubai for a long weekend.

The reason that we’re jumping through all of these lovely hoops is that, on April 17th, we’re boarding the almost brand new Seabourn Encore, which launched this past January. AAC CPA and I are Seabourn newbies, but we’ve been told that it’s a superior line with excellent service and attention to detail.

The newest addition to the Seabourn fleet , Encore introduces a new class of ship (indeed, the “Encore-class”), and is about 26% larger than the three “Odyssey-class” vessels. Built in Italy at the famed Fincantieri shipyard, Encore carries just 600 passengers in 300 suites.

While the vessel has many of the familiar features and venues of past Seabourn ships, Encore has been totally rethought by famed designer Adam D. Tihany and, from what we’ve heard, the ship operates more like an elegant yacht than a more formal vessel. 

So far, all of our dealings with the line have been terrific. One funny thing that happened was that, the day after we booked the cruise, we heard from our travel agents that Seabourn had added an extra day to our cruise at no extra cost to us, which was quite lovely. This cruise – from beginning to end – will last 19 days (9 of which will be sea days), making it the longest time we’ve ever been on a ship. (We’ve already packed some trousers with elasticized waistlines, just in case.)

An important benefit of the Seabourn line is that it is all-inclusive (although excursions are an add-on) and, unlike Crystal or Cunard, every night is a casual night. We’ve heard that the ship will have 1 or 2 optional formal nights, but that will just be in the main restaurant. We’ve been able to eliminate one piece of luggage simply from not having to schlep the formalwear. 

Another innovation on Encore – which will be extended to the other Seabourn ships is the new partnership with famed California chef, Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame, as well as many other establishments). The Grill by Thomas Keller can be booked online one time prior to boarding and, as I understand it, there is no surcharge to dine there, unless you want to order from the premium wine list. We’re already set and will dine there the 3rd night of our voyage. 

One unfortunate and truly bizarre situation occurred in February when Encore was docked in Timaru, New Zealand. A sudden change in weather – high winds – caused the ship to lose its moorings, and the ship started to drift away (almost in slow motion) from its berth. Take a look at the following youtube video to see what happened next.

Seabourn Encore gets a boo-boo

We were all relieved to hear that, following a thorough inspection, Encore was cleared to depart on schedule and continued to its next scheduled port. The extremely minor damage was repaired very soon thereafter.

As this is just a preview and, since we don’t embark until next Monday, that’s all I have to say about the ship right now. 

In the meantime, I thought you might like to see some photos and renderings of the ship. It looks quite gorgeous and, rest assured, I’ll have more to share with you once we’re on board.

Seabourn Encore
The beautiful new Seabourn Encore

Atrium
The ship’s atrium – are we dizzy yet?

Observation Bar
The Observation Bar – high up on deck 11

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The pool deck – there’s also a bar around there somewhere, as well as a casual restaurant

The Colonnade
The Colonnade serves up tasty buffets for breakfast and lunch

The Colonnade
The Colonnade also provides dining al fresco

Seabourn Square
Seabourn Square – the center of the ship

The Restuarant
Encore’s main restaurant – all open seating

The Retreat
One of the few add-ons: the Retreat – private cabañas rented by the day

Sushi
A new Seabourn dining venue: Sushi, open for lunch and dinner

Thomas Keller Lounge
Before dining at the Grill, stop by the adjacent watering hole for a cocktail

The Grill by Thomas Keller
After whetting your whistle, enjoy your dinner at the Grill by Thomas Keller

So now you have a bit of an overview for our home starting next Monday.

Next time, I’ll tell you more about the fascinating itinerary and the many unique places we’ll be visiting over the next few weeks.

To be continued!!

Thursday in Paris: Two Exhibits

So: AAC, CPA and I are still in the afterglow of our magical week in Paris. I’ve shared a lot of it with you already, but I wanted to tell you about two exhibits we saw last Thursday – our last day in Paris – which were as different as night and day, but equally valid and important.

You probably already know that, back in the day, the Jeu de Paume housed the impressionists before the Musée D’Orsay was restored over 30 years ago, at which point the art was moved there. Between 1947 and 1986, Jeu de Paume was arguably the most notable museum of impressionist painting in the world. While the D’Orsay restoration was under way, AAC, CPA and I made our first visit to Paris and visited the Jeu de Paume specifically to see the art that was then on display. It was breathtaking. But, once the Musée D’Orsay opened its doors, we never returned to the Jeu de Paume.

jeu-de-paume-thursday
Jeu de Paume at the edge of the Tuileries at the Place de la Concorde

Until last Thursday, that is, when we went to see an exhibition entitled Soulévements (Uprisings). Georges Didi-Huberman, curator of the exhibition, says:

“What makes us rise up? It is forces: mental, physical, and social forces. Through these forces we transform immobility into movement, burden into energy, submission into revolt, renunciation into expansive joy. Uprisings occur as gestures: arms rise up, hearts beat more strongly, bodies unfold, mouths are unbound. Uprisings are never without thoughts, which become sentences: we think, express ourselves, discuss, sing, scribble a message, create a poster, distribute a tract, or write a work of resistance.

” . . . . whenever a wall is erected, there will always be “people arisen” to “jump the wall”, that is, to cross over borders. If only by imagining.”

Presented in five sections: “With Elements (Unleashed)”, “With Gestures (Intense)”, “With Words (Exclaimed”), “With Conflicts (Flared Up”), and “With Desires (Indestructable)”, the exhibit spans over 200 years. It is challenging, provocative, sometimes difficult to view, but, also, inspiring and extremely timely.

elements
“With Elements”: The Whims, Francisco de Goya, 1799

gestures
“With Gestures”: Anti-Catholic demonstrations in Londerry, Gilles Caron, 1969

words
“With Words”: Dada raises everything, Philippe Soupault, 1921

conflicts
“With Conflicts”: The Charge, Félix Vallotton, 1893

desires
“With Desires”: Preparatory Drawing for “The Hope of the Dead Man I, II and III”, Joan Miró, 1973

Unfortunately, the exhibit is ending on January 15th but, if you’re in Paris and want to spend a couple of hours seeing an extraordinary array of images, Soulévements is for you.

CULTURE TIP: Jeu de Paume: Soulèvements

After that extremely intense experience, it was time to hop back onto the Metro and head across town to the Bibliothèque nationale de France to see a fabulous exhibit entitled “Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look”. We’re speaking now of Richard Avedon (1923-2004), one of the most significant and influential photographers of the mid-to-late 20th century.

avedon
Richard Avedon

A prolific artist, Avedon worked in many media but he is, perhaps, best remembered in the United States for his fashion photography, celebrity portraiture and, most especially, for the 1957 film, Funny Face, in which Fred Astaire plays a photographer named Dick Avery (get it?) who plays Pygmalion to Audrey Hepburn’s Galatea.

It’s a marvelous MGM musical (check the film’s credits to see all the creatives from that studio) but which, for contractual reasons, was actually produced by Paramount (which wouldn’t release Hepburn to MGM, so everyone schlepped over to Paramount). Mostly set in Paris, Avedon was the visual consultant and created some sensational images that are as astonishing now as they were 60 years ago. In fact, the first thing you see at the exhibit is a large circular room dedicated to Funny Face.

MOVIE TIP: Funny Face Montage, Photography by Richard Avedon

2016-12-29-12-54-28
AAC, CPA channels Audrey Hepburn in his homage to Avedon

Here are some of Avedon’s remarkable images from Funny Face:

funny-face-00
This image became the logo for the film.

funny-face-03-suzy-parker
Suzy Parker in the opening of the film: “Think Pink!”

funny-face-05-dovima
Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, a/k/a Dovima

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Audrey Hepburn with an assist from The Winged Victory of Samothrace

The Avedon exhibit runs through February 26th, and I encourage you to make the trek. You’ll have a great time.

CULTURE TIP: Bibliothèque national de France: Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look

All in all, a day well spent by AAC, CPA and me.

Paris Muse: The Best Way to See Paris

Happy New Year! AAC, CPA and I returned from the City of Light on Friday afternoon. Over the next few days, I’ll be telling you more about our Rainbow High week in one of our favorite places on the planet.

Today’s topic is seeing Paris. Although we’ve been there over a dozen times, there are a few things we haven’t yet done. For instance, some years ago we made a quick visit to Musée du Louvre, but only to see the “Big 3”. Even your faithful correspondent, TheCulturedTraveler, was at a loss at how to see the most famous museum on the planet.

Enter Paris Muse, which is in the business of providing private tours to the discerning traveler (cultured or not). I happened to stumble upon them when doing some research a couple of months ago. They offer all kinds of tour options from the great museums, to walking tours around Paris, themed tours, family-oriented tours for kids aged 6 and up. There’s even a “Cracking the DaVinci Code at the Louvre”, which is much more interesting than you might expect. Or how about “The French Revolution: A Murder Mystery Tour”, which is also very family friendly? 

When you decide to book a tour (or tours) on their website, it’s incredibly easy. You’ll have an option of being in a group of no more than 4 people but, for a total of an additional 20 Euros, it’s just you and your guide. Should you want to book a tour for your family or friends, I believe it’s up to a maximum of 6 people. It’s such a great deal. 

What makes Paris Muse so superior are two basic things: 

First, I had questions prior to booking a couple of tours online and sent an e-mail inquiry. I kid you not but, within 15 minutes, I had a reply from the intrepid Tricia, who runs the office and seemed to be available 24/7, and she answered all of my questions. She was amazing. We had wanted a tour of Notre Dame Cathedral on a particular day, but their website indicated that nothing was available. One more e-mail to Tricia and, voila!, the perfect time slot on the day we wanted materialized. Paris Muse absolutely runs a first-class organization.

Next and, perhaps, most importantly, the guides are incomparable. They are knowledgeable, accessible, friendly and totally passionate about their subject matter. They also make it very personal. It’s like having a good friend showing you something they love.

We elected to take two tours: Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre (a 2½ hour tour) on Monday and Notre Dame Cathedral (a 90 minute tour) on Tuesday. When you book a tour online, you receive an almost immediate confirmation, along with the name of your guide and an assigned rendezvous point (photographs attached). When you arrive at the assigned spot, your guide will be waiting with your name on a placard.

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AAC, CPA outside Musée du Louvre with the Tour Eiffel in the background

Our Musée du Louvre guide was Irina, originally from Russia, but living in Paris for the past decade. She has two Master’s degrees – in French literature and journalism. She was marvelous in squiring us around the massive Louvre and showing us things we’d never seen there before.

We started over 3,700 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. Irina led us right up to the Code of Hammurabi, which features the first laws ever put down in writing. The text is written in cuneiform script and the Akkadian language. In fact, it predates biblical law by centuries. If we had seen nothing else at the Louvre that day, seeing this work of art, history and literature would have been more than enough. And we were just starting.

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The Code of Hammurabi

I could take up a lot of space telling you what we saw that day but, instead, I’ll concentrate on a few photos. You’ll get the idea.

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One of the entries into the Palace of Darius, built over 2,500 years ago.

Of course, the “Big 3”:

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The beautiful Aphrodite, a/k/a the Venus de Milo

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The Winged Victory of Samothrace

We couldn’t even get close to the Mona Lisa – there were literally hundreds of people crowding in to see La Gioconda. Fortunately, we discovered another, earlier version of the painting in an adjacent gallery, which we went to see. If you look closely, the model bears an uncanny resemblance to someone we all know and love.

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The alternate Mona Lisa

Finally, here’s a picture of Irina with AAC, CPA at the conclusion of our tour:

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Irina showed us a great time.

The next morning, we had our tour of Notre Dame Cathedral with Jason, a Harvard PhD candidate specializing in the history of architecture. He’s wrapping up his dissertation this year. Like Irina, he’s very personable, highly knowledgeable and has a great passion for architecture.

We spend most of our tour studying the exterior of Notre Dame, which took well over 100 years to complete and is one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses, which support the extremely high exterior walls. The structure was erected in stages and underwent a controversial restoration in the mid-19th century, led by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Due to his expertise, Jason was able to explain the intricacies of the architectural history of the cathedral over the past 800-plus years.

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AAC, CPA anticipates our Tuesday morning tour.

Various shots of the cathedral:

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And, finally, here’s a shot of AAC, CPA and Jason at the conclusion of our tour:

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So, if you’re planning a trip to Paris and would like to experience a terrific private tour that is immersive and entertaining and educational, contact Paris Muse. You’ll have a wonderful time.

Culture Tip: Paris Muse

 

A Night at the Opera

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AAC, CPA; TheCulturedTraveler and Unnamed Guest

So, our Paris adventure continued last night (Christmas) when we attended an opera at the Palais Garnier – Iphigénie en Tauride, by Christoph Willibald Gluck – preceded by dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the historic opera house. So adjacent, in fact, that you can enter the opera house from inside the restaurant – more about that later.

It had always been intended that there would be a restaurant adjacent to the Palais Garnier. But it took almost 140 years for L’Opera to be opened in 2009. The restaurant is where the original carriage entrance was located and patrons were dropped off to attend performances. While architecturally trendy and modern, L’Opera pays respect to its renowned neighbor. Additionally, due to the fact that the Palais Garnier is a national monument, the restaurant’s structure was forbidden from touching any of the existing wall, pillars or ceiling. The cuisine under the direction of Chef Chihiro Yamazaki is modern, yet classic, with an Asian influence. The menu also features many seasonal ingredients.

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AAC, CPA arrives for pre-opera dinner

We were immediately shown to a lovely table and looked over the menu, as we snacked on a delicious amuse bouche, a truffled mushroom mousse. Here’s what we had for dinner:

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Smoked salmon, black radish, red currant, pomegranate and lemony cream for me

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Duck fois gras, apple and arugula jelly, gingerbread for AAC, CPA

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Miso-marinated black cod, kohlrabi with saffron, daikon turnip for me

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Beef tataki, small grenaille potatoes with lemon and thyme for AAC, CPA

Every bite was a taste sensation, generously portioned, very fresh ingredients, beautifully prepared, as you can see.

We opted to skip dessert, as we didn’t need a sugar rush before the opera, if you know what I mean. The cost of the above, with a large bottle of Evian, was just 100 EUR which, we felt, was a bit of a bargain.

CUISINE TIP: L’Opera Restaurant

From there, we went through a black door, down a corridor and, somehow, we were inside the opera house. What’s most interesting – although I probably shouldn’t share it with you – is that we somehow ended up beyond the point at which our tickets should have been scanned for admittance. I hope that no one will take advantage of this information – you know who you are!

Although we had been inside the Palais Garnier many times – in the old days, one could wander around unattended on non-performance days – we hadn’t been inside the building in about 12 years. As we had some time before the performance, we wanted to revisit this amazing building.

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The world famous, Palais Garnier, home of the Opéra National de Paris

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AAC, CPA somehow gets in without having to show his ticket

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AAC, CPA in the grand foyer by the Christmas tree

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The grand foyer and Christmas tree at the far end

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The grand stairway leading to the main floor of the auditorium

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AAC, CPA overlooking the grand staircase.

We had wonderful seats on the main floor, 8th row center.

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AAC, CPA seated and waiting for the show to begin

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The mylar show curtain, which reflected the auditorium.

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The auditorium behind where we were sitting

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More of the auditorium

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The sensational Chagall chandelier

The Krzysztof Warlikowski production of Iphigénie en Tauride was a revival originally presented in 2006. It was a pretty wild affair, presented as a memory play as the now elderly Iphigénie recalls the events of the opera, which was a bit confusing if you weren’t familiar with the story, but never mind. It was very theatrical and entertaining in its unusual way. The performance was sensitively conducted by Bertrand de Billy, who we’ve previously seen at the Met in New York.

While the performance – the last of its current run – was warmly received, there were a very few unhappy attendees who felt it necessary to boo. I rarely approve of booing, but can sometimes understand it if the director and the production are so misconceived that showing displeasure should be encouraged but, in this case, it was unacceptable. I mean you don’t boo the chorus under any circumstances – they’re simply doing their job. There was no ambiguity regarding the principals, all of whom received deserved ovations.

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Curtain call

CULTURE TIP: National Opéra de Paris

And, so, our magical evening at the Paris Opera came to an end. We retrieved our overcoats from L’Opera and called for our Uber. Upon entering our car, we glanced over our shoulders for one last look at the Palais Garnier as we headed back home to the Peninsula.

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Christmas in Paris

Bon jour, mes amis! I hope that Santa was good to each and every one of you. I, myself, felt very blessed today. I woke up next to AAC, CPA and am in the beautiful city of Paris. As Ira once lyricized, who can ask for anything more?

When last I left you, we were about to prepare for our Christmas Eve festivities, starting with a cocktail downstairs at Le Bar Kléber, which was doing a brisk business when we arrived at about 7:00 PM. The barman was very talented and delivered our cocktails with great flourish and enthusiasm.

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The view from our barstools

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Christmas Eve Negronis, mais sur.

IMBIBING TIP: Le Bar Kléber

From Le Bar Kléber, we Uber’ed over to Bistro de L’Oulette, a charming restaurant on the Rue des Tournelles near the Place des Vosges. We’d eaten there a few years ago and have always wanted to return. It’s a tiny little place, probably no more than 12 tables, and has a very friendly and welcoming staff.

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Once we were seated, the maitre ‘d approached with a plate of amuse bouche and offered us an aperitif, and we each opted for a glass of champagne. All were delicious.

As it was a holiday, the restaurant was featuring a 3-course pri-fixe for a very reasonable 52 EUR. The restaurant also has a delightful wine list at excellent prices and a wonderful variety of choices.

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Our table was decorated for the holiday.

Four our mains, AAC CPA had medallions of monkfish with a shrimp risotto, and I had medallions of lamp with a parsley crust, accompanied by crisp sauteed potatoes and mushrooms. Both were mouth-wateringly delicious.

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AAC CPA’s monkfish

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My lamb

Oh, and did i mention that we split a split of Joseph Drouhin Aloxe-Corton 2013 which perfectly complimented our entrees. Every bite was a taste sensation.

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A beautiful pairing for our entrees, AAC CPA hides behind the wine.

CUISINE TIP: Bistro de L’Oulette

Following dinner, it was back into the Uber and a quick return to the hotel. By that point, we were pretty tired. We struggled to stay up for awhile and finally gave up the ghost around midnight.

And then we blissfully slept for over 9 hours. It was heaven.

This morning, we went down to Le Lobby, for breakfast. It’s a beautiful room, with a beautiful staff, providing beautiful service.

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The entrance to Le Lobby

AAC CPA went for the 45 EUR continental breakfast which could, in fact, feed us both. I opted for eggs and then I poached some of his goodies.

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A very happy AAC CPA checking out his continental breakfast

While we were eating, we noticed that a guitarist and vocalist were setting up shop right next to our table. We were at first concerned, because we noticed the amplification that accompanied them. However, once they started to perform, it was totally delightful. Their repertoire was a combination of holiday music and American Songbook. It was a really nice touch to provide live entertainment for us.

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Live music 6 feet away from us!

CUISINE TIP: Le Lobby

After breakfast, we decided to take a little constitutional, as the weather is mild today. We decided to check out the competition’s holiday decorations at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel George V. We’ve stayed there on occasion and have always been wowed by the floral arrangements in their lobby. Here’s what we saw today:

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Meanwhile, out in their courtyard:

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Ice blue penguins!!!

LODGING TIP: Four Seasons Hotel George V

‘Tis the season to be jolly, indeed!

And now, it’s time to great ready, once again, to prepare for our 2nd evening out in this enchanted city. The bill of fare: dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the historic Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera, where we have tickets to see Iphigénie en Tauride.

More to follow!