Memo from London: Making Music with Christine Andreas & Martin Silvestri

 

Edith Piaf Photo - 01                   Christine - 01

Edith Piaf (1915 – 1963) was born in the 20th arrondissement of Paris.

Christine Andreas (it’s not polite to share a lady’s age when she’s still with us) was born in Camden, New Jersey.

Last week, at the legendary Angel Recording Studios in the Islington section of London, these two phenomenal women converged as Andreas recorded fourteen of Piaf’s most famous songs. Because of our longstanding friendship with Christine and her multi-talented husband, composer-arranger-musical director Martin Silvestri, AAC CPA and I were invited to attend the recording sessions.

We were literally seeing art created before our very eyes.

This recording follows the premiere of Christine’s sensational Piaf No Regrets, her 90-minute show performed at New York’s 54 Below last summer. She recalls “I wanted to present her to newer generations, while reminding older generations of the humanity in her. She came from nothing, she was just singing songs about the working class, as any good anti-bourgeoisie singer would do, she was a punk rocker. Someone called her Patti Smith with a French accent.”

With Marty as her musical director and arranger at the keyboard (and, occasionally, on the accordion), this initial engagement played for only four sold-out performances. However, the response caused such an uproar that she was immediately signed by Columbia Artists and plans are now underway for a national tour of the show beginning this fall. Rather than playing in intimate venues, such as 54 Below, Piaf No Regrets will play bigger venues so as to maximize Christine’s and Piaf’s exposure to much larger audiences.

15 - Marty and Christine
Christine and Marty

Once Christine and Marty agreed to take their act on the road, the next logical step was to record the songs from the show as a kind of calling card. This time, however, in place of Marty’s accompaniment, there would be a 35-piece orchestra backing Christine. Marty reached out to one of the most sought after conductors and orchestrators, Larry Blank, and, together, they created the arrangements for each song and Larry then set down the orchestrations. Their aim was to create a lush, historically authentic and yet modern sound that would be faithful both to Piaf and to Andreas.

Larry Blank
Orchestrator/Conductor Larry Blank

Having recorded at Angel Recording Studios several times over the past 20 years, including the West End original cast album of Marty’s and Joel Higgins’ The Fields of Ambrosia, and Christine’s Love Is Good and Here’s to the Ladies, Marty wanted to make the recording there. In fact, Marty’s recording engineer of choice, Gary Thomas, would come out of retirement to supervise the recording solely because he wanted to work again with Christine and Marty. Marty and Larry also requested certain orchestra members with whom they had worked previously and who, if available, would be part of the team.

01 - Gary in Control Booth
Recording engineer Gary Thomas at the controls

This recording would be a prestige project.

It is interesting to note that the building which houses Angel Recording Studios opened as the Islington Chapel in 1888, which itself replaced an earlier chapel built in 1815 and redesigned in 1847. The chapel closed in 1979, at which time the building was acquired by De Wolfe Music. Major renovations were undertaken and recording began in 1982.

Amongst the many artists who have recorded there are Adele, Placido Domingo, Liza Minnelli, and Kylie Minogue. Film soundtracks have also been recorded there, including GoldenEye, Jackie, Moulin Rouge!, Nine, Romeo + Juliet, The Crying Game, and The English Patient. Television scores recorded there include Downton Abbey.

Angel Studios - Exterior - Professional
Angel Studios in the Islington section of London

Studio 1 - Organ
The organ on the upper level of Studio 1 – a remnant of its prior existence as a chapel

And so, on a sunny Thursday morning in London, 3 dozen musicians, 1 conductor/orchestrator, 1 sound engineer and his assistant, 1 producer (Marty) and 1 chanteuse walked into Angel Recording Studios to get to work. Oh, yeah, AAC CPA and I were there as flies on the wall.

06 - AAC at entrance to Angel Studios
AAC CPA arrives at Angel Recording Studios to see the magic happen

The process went something like this:

The sequencing of the songs was based on the number of orchestra members needed for each arrangement. The recording schedule allowed 2 days to lay down all of the orchestral tracks for the 14 songs. For most of Thursday, the entire orchestra was required. On Friday, the number of players was reduced by half. By the end of the day, there were only about 4 or 5 players remaining.

12b - Larry with the Orchestra - Christine in Foreground
Larry with the orchestra, Christine in foreground

14 - Harpist.jpg
Legendary harpist, Skaila Kanga, awaiting her entrance

The layout of the studio had a large space for the entire orchestra. Each player or section had his/her/their own microphone(s) which enables the sound engineer to create a mix that features certain sections (more strings or horns or percussion) as needed. (Wires were everywhere – you had to be very careful where you stepped.) Just off of this main room was a soundproofed booth where Christine would record her songs. Video cameras were recording everything so that Larry and Christine could see each other at all times. Larry’s video would be preserved for later retakes and refinements that would be recorded by Christine after the orchestra had finished their work.

09 - Empty Isolation Booth
The isolation booth where Christine would lay down her tracks

04a - Christine in Isolation Booth
Christine, with headsets to hear the orchestra, in recording mode

10 - Christine Relaxes in Isolation Booth
Relaxing between takes

07 - Christine & Marty in Isolation Booth
Marty guest stars (and channels Bing Crosby) in a duet of “Poor People of Paris”, recorded in one perfect take!

Adjacent to both of these spaces was the control room. It was here where Marty would follow the proceedings with a full vocal/orchestral score and Gary would oversee the recording process. AAC CPA and I were seated at the enormous control panel, but out of the way.

05a Marty & Sylvia in Control Booth
Marty with “fixer” (orchestra contractor) Sylvia Addison

The recording of each song would begin with a run-through with Christine and the orchestra. What I found most interesting was that Larry and Christine each had a metronome app that they would consult before each take. Well before coming into the recording studio, Christine chose the tempo for each song that would complement her unique style and interpretation. It’s preparation like that and attention to every detail that saves time (and money) in the recording studio.

04 - Larry & Christine Rehearse in Studio 1Larry Blank and Christine rehearse

Following the run-through, Christine would step into her recording booth and a take would be made. Barring any kerfuffles (mostly due to ensemble issues or missed entrances), the entire song would be recorded. At that point, another take would immediately be recorded, or the principals would traipse into the control room for a listen.

08c - Larry, AAC, Christine, Marty & Gary in Control Booth
Larry, AAC CPA, Christine, Marty and engineer Gary Thomas listen to a take

In most cases, no more than 2 or 3 takes would be made before moving on to the next song.

Here’s the really impressive thing:

We were in the midst of absolute and complete artists who were there to get the job done. Singer, conductor, orchestra, producer and engineer worked together as a well-oiled machine, no muss, no fuss, no fits, no feuds and no egos. Amigos: they were totally concentrated on doing their best work and creating the best possible performance of each and every song. This must be the meaning of “professional”.

On Thursday and Friday, the two days when we had the orchestra with us, there were some interesting challenges.

In one instance, an accordion accompaniment to – what else? – “L’Accordéoniste”, was not quite what Christine, Larry and Marty had envisioned. When Marty had played the accordion for Christine at 54 Below, he had delivered exactly the emotion that the song demanded. The accordion chart that Larry had created was only the beginning – it needed some imagination and improvisation to convey accurately what the song was about which, by the way, was very challenging to achieve on the first or even second attempt. And so, at the end of the day and after the rest of the orchestra had been released, Mark, the accordionist, remained behind to rerecord his accompaniment. After thinking it through, he got into the groove and hit it out of the park. And now he, as well as Christine, Marty and Larry, were very pleased with the results.

Likewise, the final track of the recording, a reprise of “Milord”, which has a sort of curtain call or end credits feel, was missing a certain something from the clarinetist. The chorus is played three times and, for the 2nd and 3rd repeats, the clarinet needs to get a bit wacky and wild, again not something that had been orchestrated but relied, instead, on the imagination of the player. After 3 or 4 attempts, the clarinetist nailed it and then he, too, was done.

The really cool way that these patches are recorded is for the player to wear headphones, enabling him to hear the entire orchestra, and to follow the conductor. In the control room we’d hear both the prerecorded orchestra and what the player was now performing. Once everyone was happy with the patch, the new version would replace the original performance. Voila!

After a well-deserved day off, Christine, Marty, Larry and Gary returned to a smaller studio (no orchestra this time) to rerecord certain sections of those songs that required some refinements. In most cases, it was a matter of interpretation; in others it might be to perfect the pronunciation of a lyric, or it might just be that Christine wanted another go at a song.

01a - Gary & Marty in Control Room
Sunday morning – Gary and Marty in our smaller digs, Studio 2

Generally speaking, Christine would go into the recording booth and hear the orchestra through her headphones while watching video of Larry conducting the orchestra to assist her with entrances and exits. For the most part it was a fairly easy process, because she had originally recorded her tracks from the isolation booth in Studio 1 and, therefore, it was easy to separate her voice from the orchestra tracks.

03 - Gary & Christine - Studio 2
Gary adjusts the equipment before Christine records her first take of the day

Except for one song: “If You Love Me”. The initial take was recorded with Christine in the studio with the orchestra. There are tremendous advantages in having the soloist and orchestra in the same space – the synergy that is created makes for a heightened performance and the connection that Christine had with the orchestra enabled her to give a deeper reading of this particular song.

03c - Larry & Christine in Studio
Friday morning: first take of “If You Love Me” – Christine in studio with full orchestra

On Sunday, Christine wanted to rerecord a couple of passages, which presented an additional challenge. Gary, the recording engineer, told Christine that – in order to achieve a perfect edit – her phrasing would have to match precisely what she had originally recorded. Otherwise, there could be either a pre- or post-echo of the original take. It was absolutely riveting to observe Christine’s professionalism and concentration in order to get the desired result. A lot of it was technical, but most of it was her artistry. I also have to credit Gary, who worked closely with Christine to achieve a successful outcome. Once she and Marty were satisfied with what she had recorded and it was then edited into the original performance, it was completely seamless and did full justice to the material.

To heighten the experience, I had been taking photographs of the previous recording sessions from the safety of the control room. Marty suggested that, while Christine was reworking a few passages, I go into the recording booth to photograph her as she sang. Let me just say, for the record, that I was a total wreck that I’d make a noise and ruin the take. I have to hand it to Christine: she just went about her work as if I wasn’t there and I got some great photos.

04 - Christine Prepares
Sunday morning: Christine awaits her cue for retakes on “If You Love Me”

04b - Christine Retakes.jpg

04c - Christine Retakes

04e - Christine Retakes

04h - Christine Retakes

04i - Christine Retakes

04l - Christine Retakes

04m - Christine Retakes
Christine, in the zone, making beautiful music

At this point, I’d like to say a few words about Christine and Marty. Whenever you’re working on a strict schedule and you know you have limited time to complete your work, it can be nerve-racking and extremely tense. At no time did we observe any negative energy on anyone’s part. Christine and Marty knew what they had to accomplish and so, taking one step (song) at a time, they kept moving forward and doing their work. Not only that, but their professionalism shone through the entire three days we were with them. Relaxed (as much as one could be under the circumstances), enthusiastic, and very good-humored, but always aware of the task at hand, they kept their cool and created beautiful art.

AAC CPA and I were privileged to be a witness to this project and I hope that you, like us, are looking forward to the release of Piaf No Regrets this coming fall.

08 - THE END
It’s a wrap

Christine and Marty will be back in London to premiere Piaf No Regrets at the Pheasantry on the Kings Road on October 11th, 12th and 13th.

If you can’t make the trip across the Pond, but happen to find yourself in New York on November 8th, 9th, or 10th, Christine and Marty will be returning to 54 Below for three encore performances of Piaf No Regrets, which may very well be the last time Christine performs the show in a small venue prior to her national tour of the show.

As Piaf herself might have said (sung): “Musique à tout va” – “Music is everything”

Christine performs at the Pheasantry in London – October 2018

Christine performs at 54 Below in New York City – November 2018

Visit Christine’s website here

Sneak Preview: Watch Christine perform “La Vie en Rose”

 

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A Cultural Detour Along the Way

Greetings, ladies and germs. I know it’s been awhile since TheCulturedTraveler has taken pen to paper (electronically speaking), and I apologize for being so missing in action.

There are extenuating circumstances and, before I tell you about the trip on which AAC CPA and I embarked just yesterday, I’ve decided to fess up and tell you know how I’ve been spending my time of late.

One might even say that I’ve been distracted with a different kind of culture, one that doesn’t necessarily pertain to travel except, perhaps, in one’s own mind.

Several months ago, I was invited to participate in the making of a Broadway show. While initially intrigued – but not really certain – at first I demurred. Eventually, the temptation was too great not to take a leap of faith and, so, I’ve just made my debut as a Broadway producer of a new production of David Henry Hwang’s groundbreaking play, M. Butterfly, now playing at the Cort Theatre.

Artwork

(Are you as astonished as I am?)

Before things get totally out of hand and you get the wrong impression, I am not THE producer but one of a group of them. One of our lead producers brought me aboard and it’s been an amazing journey so far.

You might be interested to know that the star of our play is the celebrated actor, Clive Owen, who I’m sure you’ll recognize from his many films including Gosford Park, The Bourne Identity, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and Closer and the television series, The Knick.

Clive Owen - 03
Our star, Clive Owen

The production has been directed by the visionary Julie Taymor, who stunned audiences with her magnificent production of The Lion King, which just began its 21st year on Broadway.

David and Julie
Playwright David Henry Hwang with director Julie Taymor

If you are unfamiliar with the play, first produced in 1988, it’s based on an actual event about a low-level French diplomat in mid 1960s Peking who becomes intrigued and enamored with a beautiful and mysterious singer at the Peking Opera. They embark on a 20-year affair that ends up in Paris, where our diplomat learns that things are not as they appear to be when they are both charged with espionage and put on trial in a French court.

What’s amazing about David’s original play is that it was inspired by a one-column article he read in the New York Times in the mid-1980s. And because there was so little available information at the time, he had to make up just about the whole thing.

New York Times: The Real Story

As it turned out, almost everything he wrote turned out to have actually happened!

The original production, starring John Lithgow, caused a sensation, won that season’s Tony Award for best play and ran for nearly two years, before setting out on a national tour and was later adapted into a film starring Jeremy Irons. The play made an overnight star of B.D. Wong, who also won a Tony in his Broadway debut.

John Lithgow and BD Wong
BD Wong and John Lithgow in the original production

For this new production, David, with Julie’s encouragement, went back and decided to fill in some of the blanks from his original play by incorporating new information from actual court records and newspaper and magazine articles that had become available only after the original play had opened. He’s also deepened and created a more complex relationship between the diplomat and the singer.

The title of the play, M. Butterfly, is David’s metaphor. Using Puccini’s popular opera, Madama Butterfly, he challenges the audience to reconsider its assumptions regarding east versus west, gender identity and fluidity, and fantasy versus reality. The play is now more startling and revelatory than it was in its original form. It is also highly entertaining theater. At its very core, it’s a play about love, espionage and betrayal.

Jin and Ha - Flat
Jin Ha and Clive Owen

Our production of M. Butterfly went into rehearsal at the end of August, began previews on October 7th and opened on October 26th. I’ve seen the show about 9 times and I can tell you that audiences are riveted from the very opening moment until the play’s shattering conclusion two hours later.

Opening Night
David, Jin, Julie and Clive on Opening Night

Opening Night Playbill
Opening Night Playbill

Every element of the play has been carefully considered and brilliantly executed. Julie Taymor has assembled an extraordinary company of 11 truly gifted actors (Clive is backed up by Jin Ha (Broadway debut as Song Lilong), Murray Bartlett, Michael Countryman, Enid Graham, Clea Alsip, Celeste Den, Jess Fry, Jason Garcia Ignacio, Kristin Faith Dei and Scott Weber), creative designers – it’s a big play, with something like 60 scenes – and the work of Paul Steinberg (sets), Constance Hoffman (costumes) and Donald Holder (lighting) is especially noteworthy, as are the wonderful contributions by composer Elliot Goldenthal and choreographer Ma Cong. As far as I’m concerned – tho’ I may be somewhat biased – M. Butterfly is a show that cannot be missed by anyone who loves provocative and challenging theatre. But, most of all, it will be an experience that you will not easily forget; it’s a play that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

Clive Owen
Clive Owen as Rene Gallamard

Jin Ha as Song Lilong
Jin Ha’s Broadway debut as Song Lilong

In fact, I’ve been told so many times that, after leaving the theatre, our audiences go home and immediately onto Google to get more information about the play and the true story.

Butterfly Lovers
Butterfly Lovers

And so, should you find yourself coming to New York this fall or winter, I hope you’ll pay a little visit to our little show. I promise you an evening you will not soon forget.

CULTURAL TIP: M. Butterfly on Broadway

PS. In my next post, to be published very soon, I’ll get back to our latest travel adventure, currently underway. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

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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

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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. 

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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.

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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

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AAC, CPA channels Audrey Hepburn in his homage to Avedon

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

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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

funny-face-04-winged-victory
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.

aac-outside-louvre
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.

hammurabi-code-01
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.

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

Of course, the “Big 3”:

venus-de-milo-01
The beautiful Aphrodite, a/k/a the Venus de Milo

winged-victory-01
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.

aac-mona-lisa
The alternate Mona Lisa

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

louvre-aac-and-irina
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.

notre-dame-aac
AAC, CPA anticipates our Tuesday morning tour.

Various shots of the cathedral:

notre-dame-02

notre-dame-03

notre-dame-04

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

notre-dame-aac-and-jason

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