If You Blinked, You Might Have Missed It

Or: 8 Hours in London, including travel time!

So, it’s Friday morning and we’re just about to embark on our Etihad fantasy, and I thought I’d give you the details of our sprint through London yesterday. In a word, it was “perfect”.

Our flight from JFK arrived right on time and, because we were fast-tracked through border control, we sped down to baggage claim and, unlike all US baggage systems, our luggage was already on the carousel and ready for us to pickup. We were on the street moments later.

We had intended to take a taxi from Terminal 5/Heathrow to the Hilton London Heathrow, which is located at Terminal 4. As it turned out, our intrepid AAC, CPA saw a shuttle bus which would do the very same thing. Ten minutes later, we were dropped off at the hotel.

Hilton Exterior
AAC, CPA does the Hilton and does it well

We had requested an early check-in (for a nominal surcharge), so our room was ready upon arrival, rather than the usual 3:00 PM check-in. We chose a king junior suite to give us some extra room and it was more than adequate. And the bed was SENSATIONAL!

We got settled in, checked out the hotel – there are several different dining venues down at the lobby level and a nice bar. 

And then we were off to London. Remember how I mentioned that there is a 10-minute covered walkway directly from the hotel to Terminal 4, getting us to both the Piccadilly line for our trip into London and, also, to Etihad check-in for our flight to Abu Dhabi? Well, I wasn’t misinformed.

Hilton - Walkway
Follow the walkway!

We hopped onto the Piccadilly line and – an hour later – we were exiting at the Green Park Station. You may think that’s a long time to get from Point A to Point B, but with London traffic as heavy as it is, we arrived in London possibly faster than if we’d taken a taxi. All for 3.10GPB each!!

AAC Puts on The Ritz
AAC, CPA puttin’ on the Ritz

Strolling along Piccadilly towards the theatre, AAC CPA was a bit peckish, and we all know how he gets when that happens. So we stopped into one of our favorite casual spots, Paul, and picked up some sustenance.

Paul - pre-matinee snack
Dee-lish!

From there, it was a hop, skip and a jump to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where we had tickets to see Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? What better way to spend a lovely afternoon that with Mr. Albee and his twisted characters?

AAC - Haymarket - 01
AAC, CPA in the theatre throng

AAC Damian & Sophie
AAC, CPA and Damian and Sophie

Haymarket Interior
The beautiful interior of the Haymarket 

The Set
The dimly lit set

Verdict on the play? Let’s just say that it was a very intense 1 hour and 50 minutes. Due to a bit of jet lag on both our parts, AAC, CPA and I may have had a few long blinks during the show….. But we enjoyed it nevertheless. (BTW, this play is not for the feint of heart!)

From the theatre, we shimmied over to our favorite hotel, the Corinthia in Whitehall Place, so that we could have a pre-dinner cocktail at the trendy Bassoon Bar. It’s a beautiful and low-key space with excellent cocktails. We know the manager there and he always takes wonderful care of us. They also have yummy nibbles.

Bassoon Bar Negronis
No, No, Negroni!

Corinthia Tulips
AAC, CPA tiptoes through the tulips as we leave the Corinthia

After lazing around the Bassoon Bar for an hour or so, it was time to get back on the road and head over the Hawksmoor Air Street, one of several Hawksmoor establishments throughout London. It’s basically a steak house, but really well done. We shared a couple of apps, a beauty of a beef fillet, yummy sides, a lovely Malbec and, for dessert, a very special Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
The aforesaid Sticky Toffee Pudding at Hawksmoor Air Street

By then, it was time to tube it back to the Hilton. Piccadilly Station was just 2 minutes from the restaurant and, within an hour, we were back at our digs.

Hilton - Walkway - Night
AAC, CPA retraces his steps after our 8-hour London adventure

By the time we got back to our room, the combination of not sleeping too much the night before and all of the day’s activities conspired to send us right to bed. We set a 6:00 AM wakeup call, slept fitfully and, now, here we are awaiting our flight, which we will board in about 30 minutes.

Etihad Lounge Entry

AAC orders breakfast
AAC, CPA fortifies himself before boarding our flight.

Etihad Flight Board
The flight board

So now it’s time to pack it in for awhile. Barring any surprises – both your’s and mine – the next time you’ll hear from me will be when we get to Dubai.

That’s all, folks!!

 

 

On the Road Again – Part One

Greetings from a slightly sunny and cool Sunday morning in New York City. Spring is trying to arrive in fits and starts. I suppose one must be patient.

I know we’ve been away a long time. We’ve missed you, but we’ve had a very productive winter, attending lots of theatre and opera and the like, dining out at establishments both new and familiar.

But now it’s time to get out of town and our upcoming trip will take us to some fabulous places and, perhaps, just a bit out of our comfort zones. 

The main event of this trip will be a 19-day cruise from Dubai to Piraeus (Athens). We’ll sail through the Middle East and the Suez Canal, to Israel and through the Greek Islands. It’s going to be quite the big deal, I think.

Our ship will be the 3 months old Seabourn Encore. As you know, we’re very loyal to Crystal Cruises, and this will be our first time aboard a Seabourn vessel, but everything we’ve heard augers well and we’re looking forward to trying something new. 

Seabourn Encore
The beautiful new Seabourn Encore

Spoiler Alert: If you look at the 2nd deck up from the jacuzzi at the front of the ship, the outdoor area on the right is the balcony for our cabin. We’re literally under the bridge.

More about the cruise later.

But first, we must get to Dubai to board the ship. And therein lies a tale and a bit of an adventure. 

It’ll be no surprise to you that we like to travel well and, most importantly, we like to get the best bargains wherever we find them.

We also like to tick off our “bucket list” items, one of which is to fly on Etihad Airways in the first class Apartments.

Oh – and we want to do it on miles, ie., for cheap!

So, for the past year, I’ve been looking to score 2 award flights from JFK to AUH (a/k/a Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates). There are 2 flights daily but, in order to fly in the Apartments, you must fly the A-380, which service is currently offered only on 1 flight daily. Awards in first class on this aircraft are impossible to obtain. The other daily flight is on a smaller aircraft and, therefore, doesn’t offer the Apartment. It’s always something, right?

(Wouldn’t you know – starting on June 1st, Etihad will offer A380 service on both daily flights from New York and, at that point, it’s possible to find award availability if you can book about 3 months in advance. Sigh!)

To cover ourselves, we booked flights on British Airways through Heathrow (London) with a connecting flight to Dubai. We were able to do it all on miles, but BA charges hefty taxes on awards flights. Even so, for a few hundred dollars each, we booked first class for both segments. These flights were booked last May and, ever since, I checked and rechecked award availability on Etihad, just in case.

BA 1st - 777
Our British Airways chariot from New York to London

BTW, we love taking the BA overnight flights to London Heathrow. If you’re lucky enough to be flying in first class, you’ll have access to the Concorde Room at JFK, which features a proper restaurant, so you can have dinner there (no charge for food and/or drinks) and, then, once your flight has taken off, you can climb under the covers and sleep for most of the light. Delovely!

Concorde Room JFK - 01
The Concorde Room at JFK

Concorde Room JFK - 02
You can enjoy a proper meal in the Concorde Room before your flight.

After months of frustration being unable to get that elusive Etihad award, I had – what Dorothy Kilgallen on What’s My Line used to call – a wienie! I remembered that Etihad has service to Abu Dhabi from London Heathrow. Would it be possible to find an award on that route?

The Etihad website has a very useful tool that allows you to find available awards and I hit the jackpot in finding exactly what I needed! Now, I wondered, would American Airlines allow me to rebook the 2nd segment (London – Dubai) over to Etihad (London – Abu Dhabi)? Only one way to find out.

The American AAdvantage rep couldn’t have been nicer: Not only was it possible, but we ended up saving several hundreds of dollars on the 2nd segment, because there were virtually no taxes! The whole thing took about 15 minutes and we were done! Woo-Hoo!

Etihad 380
The Etihad A380 – a beautiful piece of engineering

Etihad Apartment 3A and 4A
Our Etihad “Apartments”: mine on the left and AAC CPA’s on the right

Etihad Bar
If you want to be social, drop by the bar at 36,000 feet!

There was one small glitch, however: Because the Etihad flight departs London at 9:30 AM, we will end up having a 22-hour layover in London. Well, folks, I certainly know how to put a layover to good use!

Within 30 minutes of booking the Etihad flight, I’d arranged for matinee tickets to see Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Theatre Royal Haymarket, and made an early dinner reservation at one of our favorite London restaurants, Hawksmoor in Air Street. In between, we’ll swan over to one of our favorite hotels, The Corinthia in Whitehall Place, where we’ll enjoy a cocktail at the lovely Bassoon Bar.

Theatre Royal Haymarket
The historic Theatre Royal Haymarket

The Goat
Hey – recognize the guy on the left? He was Brody on Homeland!

Bassoon Bar - 02
The trendy Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

Hawksmoor Air Street
Great steakhouse and more: Hawksmoor in Air Street

Oh, and as we needed a place for the night, I booked accommodations at the Hilton London Heathrow. It was recommended to us by friends who know. And get this: the hotel is a 10-minute walk to Terminal 4/Heathrow, from which our Etihad flight will depart the next morning.

Hilton Exterior
The Hilton is a 10-minute covered walk to Terminal 4 at Heathrow

Hilton Room
Cool accommodations at the Hilton

Walkway LHR - Hilton
Hotel to airport – quick walk – how great is that?

So, our layover will be filled with fun things to do: culture, liquid refreshment, grub.

Oh, and from Terminal 4/Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus in Central London, we can take the Piccadilly line in just about an hour. How great is that?

Tube Map to London
How to get from here to there.

The flight from London to Abu Dhabi take about 7½ hours (wish it were LONGER!), so we’ll arrive in Abu Dhabi at about 8:00 PM local time. For the transfer to Dubai (about a 90 minute drive), we’ve arranged for our hotel – Raffles Dubai – to pick us up at the airport.

Dubai
Iconic Image – Dubai

Raffles Dubai
Our digs in Dubai – cute, right?

We’ll have 3 nights and 2 full days in Dubai before boarding Encore on Monday, the 17th.

There, in a nutshell, is the first 5 days of our trip. Another preview on the cruise will follow in a couple of days.

Enjoy!

Tuesday: LHR Layover

Good morning from an overcast and cool London. We arrived about 2 hours ago following our transatlantic flight from New York. Due to unfortunate scheduling, we have a 7 hour layover here until we can board our flight for Lisbon and, from there, to the beautiful Crystal Symphony, where we will board in about 9 hours – not a minute too soon.

Backing up 12 hours:

Our car and driver picked us up right on time and swept us out to JFK. Considering it was rush hour, Sammy made excellent time and we were checked in, whisked through security and seated in British Airways’ Concorde Room within minutes of our arrival at the airport.

concorde-aac-enters
AAC, CPA enters the Concorde Room at JFK

We are very fortunate to be able to avail ourselves of the facilities of the Concorde Room, as it has a very nice restaurant with table service. Here’s the dinner menu from last night:

concorde-dinner-menu

And the wine and cocktail list, which is on an iPad:

concorde-wine-spirit-list

concorde-aac-toast
AAC, CPA makes a bon voyage toast

We’ve dined in the Concorde Room before and the great advantage is that you can eat on the ground and then sleep on the plane (unless you’re a certain couple who have a second dinner on the plane – no names, please). And the food you get in the Concorde Room is likely to be better than the food on the plane.

concorde-beets
First up: Roasted baby beets and charred goat cheese

concorde-rack-of-lamb
Followed by a delicious rack of lamb

concorde-dessert
Our waiter insisted that we have this pumpkin mousse

By the time we had finished eating, it was almost time to board.

ba-116-waiting-to-board
AAC, CPA waits for the boarding announcement

Then, a 5-minute walk to the gate and – voila! – we board our 747 chariot bound for LHR.

ba-116-aac-01
AAC, CPA gets settled in for the night

As I mentioned, we could have had another dinner but I just wanted to put on the pajamas that were provided for us and get into bed. So, I opted for this:

ba-116-cocoa
White chocolate cookies and some hot cocoa (with a drop of Bailey’s!!)

Following my little meal, I popped some Sudafed, aspirin and an Ambien and I was off to the races for the next 4 1/2 hours. 

By the time I woke up, we were about an hour from London, so I took care of some business, made sure that AAC, CPA was awake and just relaxed.

When we had landed at LHR, we knew we had to change terminals for our flight to Lisbon. However, we had been under the assumption that we’d be able to spend most of our layover in the Concorde Room over in Terminal 5, which turned out not to be true. That’s a shame, as the Concorde Room here is perhaps even nicer than the one at JFK. Not only that, but we had requested a complimentary private “cabana” for a few hours so that we would have been able to get some more sleep. No such luck.

So we traipsed from Terminal 5 over to Terminal 3 and here we are in the first class lounge. Not bad, not great. They also have a sit-down restaurant, and we’ll probably go over for some lunch a little later.

As a friend of ours’ says, “These are champagne problems”; ie., I’ll get over it.

So here’s a little look at the Terminal 3 lounge – it’s not terrible 🙂 

ba-bar-01
One of several bars here – all complimentary, of course

ba-bar
Another bar – what, no Campari??

ba-champagne-bar
It’s the champagne bar – too early in the day, perhaps?

ba-aac-breakfast
AAC, CPA chows down on a light breakfast

ba-flight-board
The departure board – see how far down the list our Lisbon flight is?

So, that’s where it’s at, kids. I’ll update you tomorrow when we’re ensconced in our digs about Symphony.

Have a good one!!

 

 

London Recap

Greetings and Salutations. And sorry to be MIA over the past few days – it’s been a very busy time and all that.

The last time you’d heard from me, we had just attended a performance of Funny Girl, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, which was a real treat. If you’re planning a trip to London in the spring (and beyond), you can get tickets to see the production, which is transferring to the Savoy Theatre in March. Ticket sales are quite brisk, I’ve been told.

CULTURE TIP: Purchase Tickets to Funny Girl

Otherwise, our trip to London last week was a raving success. We had a blast and, rather than talking about it too much, I thought I’d share some photos with you to give you the flavor of the trip – you’ll get the idea.

On our 1st full day in London, we took afternoon tea at The Georgian at Harrod’s. The place was all gussied up for the holidays, of course.

Day 2 - HarrodsWorld famous Harrods

Day 2 - Harrods GeorgianIt’s the Georgian for your afternoon tea.

Day 2 - Harrods Tea - AAC
AAC CPA anticipates his afternoon tea

Day 2 - Harrods Rose Tea
Rose Tea made with actual Roses!!

Day 2 - Harrods Tea Tray
And all of the tea goodies.

CUISINE TIP: Take Tea at Harrods

Our first show in London was Terence Ratigan’s 1948 comedy, Harlequinade, starring and co-directed (with Rob Ashford) by Kenneth Branagh, preceded by Ratigan’s 1968 one-woman monologue, All On Her Own, starring Zoë Wanamaker. This double-bill is part of an ambitious six production season that the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company is presenting at the Garrick Theatre and is currently playing in rep with A Winter’s Tale, again starring Branagh alongside Judi Dench. The season culminates next summer and fall with Branagh taking on the touchstone role of Archie Rice in John Osborne’s The Entertainer. Needless to say, I already have my tickets for that one!

Day 2 - Harlequinade - AAC
AAC CPA does Harlequinade at the Garrick

CULTURE TIP: Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company

Following the performance, we had supper at one of our favorite London restaurants, the venerable J. Sheekey which serves, arguably, the best fish in town.

Day 2 - J Sheekey

Day 2 - J Sheekey Fish & Chips
AAC CPA had the fish and chips – enough for many

CUISINE TIP: J. Sheekey

Next day – typically cloudy but unusually mild for December – we were walking around our hood and snapped this pic of the Shard, where the Shangri-La is located:

Day 2 - Shard from a Distance

Following the Funny Girl matinee, we had dinner at another of our favorite London establishments, Hawksmoor, which is where you go for beef and great cocktails. There are several locations and we ate at the one just off Picadilly in Air Street:

Day 3 - Hawksmoor Exterior

Each Hawksmoor has its own distinct design and this one is Deco:

Day 3 - Hawksmoor Deco Detail
Fab Deco Chandelier

Day 3 - Hawksmoor AAC
AAC CPA anticipates his cocktail and dinner

The grub is really good here, too. In addition to amazing beef, this Hawksmoor has lots of fish on the menu. We shared the scallop appetizer:

Day 3 - Hawksmoor Scallops
Great presentation, right?

CUISINE TIP: Hawksmoor Air Street

We took an after dinner stroll and saw some fab sights on Picadilly:

Day 3 - Picadilly

Picadilly, itself

Day 3 - Burlington Arcade

Burlington Arcade

Day 3 - Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason all tarted up for the holidays

Next day, we woke up to a brilliantly sunny day. Look at the view from our room:

Day 4 - Shard Shadow over St. Paul's
Note the shadow of the Shard to the right of St. Paul’s

After breakfast at the hotel – by the way, a great deal when booking through the AmEx FHR program, because your breakfast is included – we checked out the lobby men’s room:

Day 4 - Bathroom with a View
A (Bath)Room with a View

Day 4 - Mens Room Amenity
The Shangri-La thinks of EVERYTHING!!

And, if you want a thrill, take note of how the hotel keeps its windows clean:

Day 4 - Window Cleaners
This photo was taken on the 35th floor, kids!

What trip to London would be complete without a visit to Covent Garden:

Day 4 - AAC - Covent Garden

That afternoon, we experienced our first Panto, a holiday tradition in which drag plays a prominent role and lots of audience participation is encouraged (and expected). Today’s Panto was Cinderella at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Day 4 - Panto - AAC
AAC CPA does Panto!

Day 4 - Panto Show Curtain
The Panto show curtain

Following the Panto, we rushed back to the hotel to change for the evening performance of Guys and Dolls at the Savoy Theatre where, last Spring, we had seen Imelda Staunton’s star turn as Madame Rose in Gypsy.

Day 4 - Savoy Guys and Dolls - 02
Doesn’t this photo remind you of a publicity still from the film?

Day 4 - Savoy AAC
AAC CPA studies the Hot Box Cuties

Day 4 - Savoy Show Curtain
Opening image of the set

Needless to say, the show was aces. It’s such a great musical, definitely one of the 10 best of all time. Even when the show ground to a halt in the last few minutes – technical difficulties, they said – the audience was totally enthralled by the show, roaring its approval at the end.

On our way out – no pix, please, we’re British! – we noticed, sitting directly behind us, Jim Carter (Carson on Downton Abbey, and a former Big Jule himself) and his celebrated wife, the aforementioned Imelda Staunton. I couldn’t help myself and, in a very un-British-like manner, told them how much we’d enjoyed their performances and thanked them. They looked a bit startled (I guess that my outburst just isn’t done) but thanked me very graciously.

After humiliating myself, we strolled over to The Ivy, which is our favorite London haunt. As I reported when we were there earlier this year, the place had a makeover last spring and looks terrific, but the service and congeniality of the place remain unchanged.

Day 4 - The Ivy Exterior
The one and only Ivy

Day 4 - The Ivy - AAC
AAC CPA anticipates his Americano whilst perusing the menu

CUISINE TIP: The Ivy

Next day – Christmas Eve – was another double-header, starting with Jim Broadbent starring as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Noël Coward Theatre. Dickens’ story was adapted by Patrick Barlow (whose 4-actor adaptation of The 39 Steps played for years and years both in London and in New York) and was designed by Tom Pye and directed by Phelim McDermott. We initially wanted to see the show for Jim Broadbent, a fave actor of ours’ since the 1999 Mike Leigh film,  Topsy Turvy, in which Broadbent played W.S. Gilbert. As it turned out, we found the production imaginative, enchanting and surprisingly moving. I guess that Dickens knew what his was doing.

Day 5 - A Christmas Carol - Exterior
Marquee at the Noël Coward Theatre

Day 5 - A Christmas Carol - AAC
AAC CPA does Dickens

Day 5 - A Christmas Carol Show Curtain
A Christmas Carol show curtain

And, by the way, can I just put in a word about the London theatre-going audience and, in particular, the kids? We saw two matinees in which the audience was literally filled with children (as young as 4 or 5, I’d say). They were amazing! Respectful, attentive, and really into the experience. Dare I say that I prefer them to most of the audiences to be found on Broadway these day? OK, come and get me for that last remark.

Another rush back to the hotel to change for our Christmas Eve festivities. And look what we found in our room upon our return:

Day 5 - Christmas Tree
Our very own tree. AAC CPA thought it might be edible. It wasn’t.

That evening, we had a brand-new London experience, and long overdue! We attended the last performance of Carols By Candlelight at the famed Royal Albert Hall. This concert is an annual event and completely fills the 5,200 seat venue. It was a real thrill for us to be there.

Day 5 - RAH - Moon
World famous Royal Albert Hall with a full moon overhead

Day 5 - RAH - AAC
AAC CPA checks out the program pre-concert

Day 5 - RAH - Concert
The Mozart Festival Orchestra and Chorus in performance

Day 5 - RAH - Doris Day
For all you film buffs, AAC CPA has a Doris Day moment

We had a great time at the concert, although there was too much audience participation for my taste. I didn’t realize that we were expected to sing traditional carols!! Standing, no less, and I’d already had a long day. (Bah, humbug, you say?) And added to all that, most of the carols were sung to different tunes than their American counterparts. Who knew??

CULTURE TIP: Royal Albert Hall

After the concert, we had another magical view of the full moon over London:

Day 5 - Moon Over London

Merry Christmas, everyone!! Friday – our last full day in London – and did you know that the entire city shuts down?? We had thought we might go to a movie, or ride around, or something. Uh-uh!! No dice (as they’re currently saying at the Savoy Theatre). Fortunately for us, we were staying in a beautiful hotel with gorgeous views, so we didn’t mind hanging around our digs and relaxing after seeing 6 shows in the previous 4 days.

As we subsequently found out, Uber was available for getting around – whew!! We had decided to have our farewell dinner at another of our favorite London hotels, the Corinthia, and Uber got us there and back. Not only that, but Uber turned out to be cheaper than taking a cab (if we could have gotten one)!

Day 6 - Corinthia ExteriorThe gorgeous Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall Place

We started our evening at the Corinthia’s Bassoon Bar, one of our favorite watering holes in London.

Day 6 - Corinthia Bassoon AAC
AAC CPA chooses his cocktail from the iPad menu

We moved from the Bassoon to the Northall for our dinner. It’s a beautiful room and the food was delicious.

Day 6 - Corinthia Northall
My starter: Beef Tartare and it was yummy!

Day 6 - Corinthia Lobby
AAC CPA strolls through the Corinthia lobby after dinner

Ubering our way back to the Shangri-La from the Corinthia and look at what we saw:

Day 6 - Uber View of London Eye

By the way, did I mention that we ate on the early side so that we could get back to the hotel in time for – wait for it – the series finale of Downton Abbey? Yes, gentle readers, we had already seen all of season 6, save for the final holiday episode. How lucky are we? No spoilers here. Just know that we’ve seen it all, and mum’s the word.

Day 6 - Downton Finale
Opening Downton Abbey credits – for the very last time

All good things must come to an end and, on Saturday morning, we got into a taxi and made our way to Heathrow, where our BA flight was waiting to return us back home (and to reality).

Day 7 - BA Concorde Room - AAC
AAC CPA hanging out in the Concorde Room prior to boarding our flight

Day 7 - BA 177 - AAC
And settling in for the 8-hour flight home (with Mimosa)

Here’s our lunch menu:

Day 7 - BA 177 - Lunch Menu

I opted for the fillet of veal, which was pretty good:

Day 7 - BA 177 - Entree

And then, several hours later, it was time for afternoon tea, British-style:

Day 7 - BA 177 - Tea

Post-script: The flight landed a few minutes early but, due to some unexplained issue involving attaching the jetway to the plane, we were delayed for about 40 minutes!!

An imperfect end to a just-about-perfect trip.

Happy New Year, everyone!!

PS. Next week, we’re off to Buenos Aires and then, via Crystal Symphony, we’re sailing to Antarctica. More to follow!

From London: Funny Girl at the Chocolate Factory

Good evening, sports fans and greetings from an extremely windy London town.

We’ve just come from a matinee performance of the completely sold-out run of Funny Girl, starring Sheridan Smith, at the Menier Chocolate Factory. You may recall that I was able to obtain a pair of seats the day before the box office opened to the general public. Good thing I did, as the entire run sold out in something like two hours!

Funny Girl - 04

Before this production even started previews, a transfer to the Savoy Theatre on the West End was announced, and now tickets are available at least through the summer. (I was at the Savoy box office yesterday to pick up my tickets for tomorrow evening’s performance of Guys & Dolls and, apparently, tickets to Funny Girl are few and far between until next July!)

So, what did we think? Funny Girl hasn’t been seen onstage in London since Barbra Streisand brought the original production here in the mid-60’s. Since then, there’s been no first-class production either here or in the states. Part of the problem is that the iconic Streisand performance has been memorialized on film and it’s very difficult to compete with that. Also, the show had a very troubled gestation period and, only due to Jerry Robbins’ out-of-town doctoring – particularly working to get a performance out of Streisand – did the show succeed once it opened in New York. It is a flawed show with a great score. And it requires a star in the title role to make it work or even to contemplate a new production.

Funny Girl - 01
Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice

As it turns out, Sheridan Smith is that star. While no one will mistake her vocals for those of Streisand on stage or on film, one could say that, Smith is “the greatest star” in London at the moment. Diminutive in size, she is an oversized personality who brings her considerable skills to creating Fanny Brice. She is quirky, cute, gritty, and utterly believable, particularly in the early scenes of the play, when Fanny is on the ascent.

Funny Girl - 02
Don’t rain on her parade!

Our one reservation about this production was that it was being presented in a teeny-tiny theatre and Funny Girl is an exemplar of the big-scale Broadway musical. The original production boasted a huge cast, lavish sets and costumes and a full orchestra. None of that is possible in this incarnation. However, Michael Mayer’s production presents the material in a way that almost makes you forget that you’re seeing no more than 20 people on stage, accompanied by a 10-piece orchestra (with skillful new orchestrations) that makes the most from the least.

The show is very well cast. Fanny’s obsession with Nick Arnstein is no surprise, thanks to Darius Campbell’s performance. Towering over Fanny, he is both suave leading man and lost soul. And he gives the best vocal performance of the role of anyone I’ve seen or heard. In fact, a number that may have been cut from the original production (or was it written for and subsequently cut from the movie) – “Temporary Arrangement” – has been reinstated for Campbell. The supporting cast delivers the goods.

Funny Girl - 03
Darius Campbell and Sheridan Smith

It will be interesting to revisit the production when it lands at the Savoy to see if it is rethought on a much larger stage in a much larger theater. 

Finally, Funny Girl is a prime example of one of the last musicals of Broadway’s “golden age”. While not close to perfect, it boasts a great Jule Styne-Bob Merrill score and, in Sheridan Smith’s sensational performance, a case has been made for a new production of this almost lost musical.

 

 

Greetings from London – Part 1

Happy holidays, everyone! We made it safely to London. Left on a jet plane Sunday morning and a mere 8 hours later were checking into our digs at the Shangri-La at the Shard, just a stone’s throw away from London Bridge.

We love London, what can we say. As I type this missive to you, night is falling over the City – look at this dramatic view from our room atop the Shard as afternoon turns into night and you’ll see what I mean:

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See what I mean?

Because I’m on a tight timeline – off to theatre and supper afterwards – here are a few images of our adventures so far:

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Packed and leaving for the airport (too much luggage for only 6 days?)

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Our BA 747 Chariot awaits to whisk us off to London

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AAC CPA buckles up – fasten your seat belts!!

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Our final approach into Heathrow

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AAC CPA under the tree and ready to eat

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The view from our room last night just before bedtime

I’ll have more to report as the days go by. Tomorrow we’ll be seeing Funny Girl at the Chocolate Factory – a very, very hot ticket. Your faithful correspondent will let you know what we thought. (As it that matters at all, it’s already announced a transfer to the West End and tickets are very, very scarce!)

In the meantime, tally-ho!