Andy's annual birthday party at Sardi's was a week ago Saturday. Tony and I saw that event as a good reason to spend the weekend in the city and catch a couple plays.
Our Saturday afternoon matinee was Waitress, which I'd been eager to see because the music and lyrics were written by Sara Bareilles, one of my favorite singer-songwriters. And Bareilles's songs—plus Jessie Mueller's out-of-this-world voice, which sounded a good deal like Bareilles's own, with some Reba McEntire1 on top—are the main reasons I'm glad we saw the show.
I bought the original cast recording and am enjoying being able to hear again, in particular, "When He Sees Me" (my current obsession), "It Only Takes a Taste," "Bad Idea," "Never Ever Getting Rid of Me," "She Used to Be Mine" (Mueller's 11 o'clock number), and "Everything Changes."
My main quibble with the show was the utter one-dimensionality of the character of Earl, the husband of Mueller's character, Jenna. And also the ease with which Jenna ultimately extricated herself from a guy who comes across as a potentially violent sociopath.2 I imagine those same problems are present in the film of the same name that the musical is based on, which I haven't seen.
The non-relationship-oriented happy ending for Jenna came across as thoroughly contrived for me until I learned from reading reviews (and confirmed with Tony) that the play makes it clear early on that Joe, the guy I thought was just a cantankerous customer, is the owner of the diner where Jenna makes her world-class pies and works as a waitress. Somehow I missed the dialogue that indicated he was the Joe in Joe's Pie Diner.
I'd been looking forward to seeing Jenna Ushkowitz—who was Tina Cohen-Chang on Glee—as Dawn, one of Jenna's two besties and fellow waitresses. But both she and Keala Settle, the original Becky, who's the other one of Jenna's two besties and fellow waitresses, had departed the show earlier that week. Their replacements, Caitlin Houlahan and Charity Angél Dawson (whom I'd seen as the fortune teller in Side Show), were very good.
Sunday's show was The Cherry Orchard. Tony sat a row behind me for the first act, so I didn't have any idea what he was thinking of the show until intermission. He said he was hating it. (After intermission, we helped ourselves to empty seats in Tony's row that weren't so far stage left as the ones I'd purchased.)
I didn't know until a couple days before we went into the city that this production of TCO was utilizing a somewhat revised script by Stephen Karam, who wrote The Humans, another play Tony couldn't stand. And those revisions introduced maybe the biggest problem Tony had with the play: The characters retained their Russian names, and the family around which the play revolves still had their very of-that-period-and-place problem: They were running out of money and would have to sell their estate and its grand cherry orchard if they didn't come into some major coin immediately. But Karam introduced themes germane to our time and place—systemic racism and access to healthcare—that didn't mesh with the original text, with its observations on an aristocracy in decline and a newly rising middle class. Tony argued that Karam and everyone else involved in the production should have either done a more thorough update—including a modern American setting—or left the text alone, rather than half-assing it.
I was taken in by many of the performances, especially Kyle Beltran's as the student/tutor, who came across as a wisely philosophical Black Lives Matter activist; everything he said had me mentally nodding my head. Diane Lane was great as Lyubov, and so was John Glover as her daffy brother, Leonid, who delivered my favorite (original Chekhov) line in the play: "If there's any illness for which people offer many remedies, you may be sure that particular illness is incurable." But I agreed with Tony and those other critics who said the actors—including wonderful performers (both here and elsewhere) such as Joel Grey, Harold Perrineau, Chuck Cooper, and my girl Celia Keenan-Bolger—seemed to be in several different plays; there was no coherent style in their performances.
I'd never seen or read the original play before. I knew only the general plot point about the family losing its beloved home and orchard, and I'd read that Chekhov considered it to be a farcical comedy even though it's most often staged as a tragedy. It sounded like a tough play to pull off under any circumstances, and this Roundabout production's decision to complicate it even further was ill-advised.
I made Lace Cookies for Andy's birthday. These cookies are pretty straightforward to bake—at least as straightforward as gluten-free and vegan recipes, with their gums, alternative starches, and egg replacements, can allow. But as regular readers of Hawleyblog know, I've never been completely thrilled with how they've turned out, even though Tony and our friends, especially Rich, have raved about them.
This time, I used much more coconut sugar than refined cane sugar and more refined coconut oil than canola oil, and I was very pleased with the results. I really enjoyed their flavor. And they looked more like the photo in the recipe book than ever—darker in color and lacier—but I still think the one in the picture must have been baked longer or at a higher temperature than is called for.
We had fun at Andy's party. I congratulated his friends Zach and Jesse on their engagement. And I spoke with Zach about their production, first in New York, now in Los Angeles, and returning to New York next month, of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, a show written by and starring Drew Droege—who's best known for the videos in which he portrays an über-hip, constantly-name-dropping version of actress Chlöe Sevigny—and directed by Michael Urie. I want to see it when it's back in New York, and Zach offered to get us tickets, so I reckon we will. 👍
We didn't get our traditional photo with Andy; as regular readers of Hawleyblog may recall, he always has a photographer there to cover the party. The photog took a shot of the three of us, and it looked good, but it wasn't in the pics he touched up and sent to Andy. So this blog post will have to settle for this photo I took of a caricature of Sally Struthers:
Tony overheard a tourist say that 42nd Street "is the busiest street in this whole place."
We had good meals on Saturday evening, at Bistango, and on Sunday for lunch, with Eugene, at Nizza. Eugene and I split a big-ass Chocolate Tiramisu for dessert:
Tony really enjoyed the glass of wine he got at Bistango, and I liked it much better than the glass I got, based on the sip I had, so I just ordered some bottles of it online.
After the Sunday matinee and before we caught our bus home, we had some coffee in the indoor space of the hotel's rooftop lounge. The outdoor seating area was enticing, but we didn't want to be out in the wind:
The music in the lounge was terrific: We heard the 1978 classic "Got to Be Real" by Cheryl Lynn and this much more recent hit by Estelle and featuring Janelle Monáe that I was unfamiliar with but immediately liked so much that I bought it on iTunes that night.
1She has a Southern accent for the part. And it's much better than Norbert Leo Butz's was in Big Fish, which, along with Big Knife, is the play Tony and I reference the most whenever we want to make a point about a show stinking. I've got a feeling, though, Tony will begin bringing up the Roundabout Theater Company's production of The Cherry Orchard when he wants an example of a failed show. Keep reading!
2That can't possibly be a spoiler. No one seeing Waitress would think for a minute that Jenna and Earl might rekindle their romance and end up raising their baby together. Some past-tense positive characteristics of his are alluded to during the show, but in the present, Earl is all insufferable asshole, all the time.