Musicals galore

What took so long?  Anne of Green Gables seems like perfect fodder for a musical, but I don’t think there’s been a successful version.  One apparently premiered at Vassar and has toured regionally, but has not played New York.  There are other versions, too.

But the one I saw today, curiously renamed Bend in the Road, well, it might be on its way.  The  New York Musical Theatre Festival gives three weeks to new shows, and this one certainly has its fans, given the whistles and enthusiastic reception for each number.

The casting, the tone and the book are all just right.  This Anne is just how you’d picture her and has a huge, but sweet voice.  The Matthew and Marilla are Broadway vets, both with soulful voices, as is the Diana.  It’s perfect family fare.


The show has issues though.   I think the music  is bland and won’t stand on its own.  It works in context, but I’d like at least one hummable song to take home. With a better second act  (including a strong number) that can approach the fizzy first, this one has potential.  Despite my critique, I was enchanted and charmed, as I always am with Anne.   I wish this version a healthy future.

My vote for best musical though (admittedly, I saw only two this year) is Castle Walk.  I was swept off my feet by the behind-the-scenes story of the Astaire-Rogers film “The Story of Irene and Vernon Castle.”

Milton Granger, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, has captured the verve, flair, grace, and romantic froth of the American Songbook.  Unlike Anne’s show which started with a strong book and had no stand-out songs, this one is filled with gem after memorable, luscious gem.

True to the Castles and Astaire, the dancing also tells the story.  For the first time in a long time, I wanted to be on stage with them all, feeling the swoop of the waltz, the rhythm of the fox trot, the sensuality of the tango. I could sense a little soft shoe in my feet, too.

I wonder if a show this old-fashioned feeling could have a future.  Certainly, all ages in the audience slurped the show up.  But NYMF is fueled by its groupies.  What do you think?

Beats volleyball on the beach

Today, I’ve been at summer camp–the Jane Austen summer camp.  Forget ‘capture the flag’!

Goodies and favors for all the campers

Goodies and favors for all the campers


We’ve had a very full day practicing our penmanship with quill pens, dressing our hair in Regency styles, sewing reticules and pocketbooks, and making the daintiest watercolors.  For geeks like me who despise dodge ball, this is the perfect way to while away a summer Saturday.
Check out the slide show for snaps.


Here are some things you definitely need to know.

Irene has a bunch of quills for us to choose from

Irene has a bunch of quills for us to choose from


When you’re picking out your feather–goose, turkey, duck and crow all work–for your quill, consider whether the feather came from the bird’s right wing or left wing.  Yes, feathers have sides, and you need to know this.  Victorians believed you match your handedness with the side of the wing.  During the Austen era, the Regency period, eh, not so important.

From another camper, I learned that the ink is very, very permanent.  Remember when Gilbert dips Anne of Green Gables’ braid in the inkwell?  No doubt, her braid would then have dripped ink on her dress, a permanent marker on what was probably her only garment until she grew out of it.  Sure enough, a camper got some ink on her Regency gown.  Sigh.

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We practiced writing some “moral maxims.”  My favorites are “Art polishes and improves nature” and “Content alone is true happinefs.”  Note the fs for our double-s.  f’s substituted for s’s at times and not at others.  All part of the very complex set of rules that went along with superlative penmanship, which by the way leans to the right at a 56 degree angle.  Good thing we had a guide to help us get that slope just right!


Henri-François Riesener (1767-1828) -  Alix de Montmorency, Duchesse de Talleyrand

Henri-François Riesener of
Alix de Montmorency, Duchesse de Talleyrand
probably early 19th century

We started with the “round hand” style, used by women and men, but I found myself preferring the “Italian” style–a precursor to our italic and favored by women.  Now your posture is very important.  Take a lesson from this young lady.

Note her beautiful uprightness.  Also she has turned sideways, so that her entire forearm rests on her writing desk.  She holds the quill with a delicate touch, like holding chopsticks.

You don’t want any blobs of ink!

Now this Regency lady had plenty of time to sew for pleasure and probably plenty of help dressing her hair.  We did some of both.

James Martin of
Abigail Noyes Sill
courtesy of
Florence Griswold Museum


Kandie showed us willing ladies how to make a butterfly curl, like you see on Abigail here.  You can find out how to do this on youtube, but the basics are to make a spit curt, then wrap your triangular shaped tissue paper around the curl, heat it, and wait.  You can wrap your whole head, so it looks like you are covered in butterflies!  By the time the tissue paper cools down, take it off, reveal your curls, and you’re ready to dance…




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Several of the ladies had their hair done by Kandie.  Do check out the slide show above for several examples.  Me, I’m a short-haired girl.  But I got a kick out of the transformations!

Thin hair becomes thick with a donut.  Thick hair can be tamed as it is here–elegant and beautiful!




I had some success with hand stitching my pocketbook, the Regency equivalent of a wallet.  Lisa was a huge help, of course.

Here she shows off reticules, replacing “pockets” worn under the skirt when dress styles changed to become skimpier.  The proper lady carried her reticule rather than bulk up her gown with a pocket.  Just the right size for all your essentials–your Regency cell phone included.

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Silhouette of Jane Austen


Originally for the rich, silhouettes became popular at markets and carnivals, bringing the uncanny form of capturing a likeness to the masses.  Although we didn’t get a chance to make them (working with watercolors instead), I know how to do a silhouette now and have the kit.  So call me and come over at dusk.  Let’s give it a try!

After all that hard work, I was ready for tea.  This tea came complete not only with scones, but also chocolate-covered strawberries and tea sandwiches.  And a performance.

Two campers put on a show–an extremely condensed version of the five acts of Lover’s Vow.  For those of you who know Austen, that’s the very naughty play that causes such an uproar in Mansfield Park.

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We were prompted when to hiss and even more importantly gasp at just the right moments.  The “Audience Gasps” sign was liberally used.  Thank goodness we all had our smelling salts.

smelling salts



I’m of a hardy constitution and made it through the play without fainting.  In fact, the whole day was a wonderful boost for the system.

Who says adults can’t go to camp?

A cinematic drama

  A cinematic drama unfolded on an early train into Grand Central today.  A young man sat in front of me and seemed to go to sleep.  The ticket taker came by shortly thereafter.

She asked for his ticket after punching mine.  I couldn’t hear the details, but something about a mistake.  Apparently, he had meant to get off the train several stations before arriving in New Haven from New York.  Maybe he missed his stop because he fell asleep…I’m not really sure.

Metro-North ticket machines photo
Politely, the ticket-taker explained his options: buy a ticket from her or get off at the next station and buy a less-expensive ticket for the next train.  He must have said he had a ticket, so she said she’d be back.

The next station stop came, and she had not returned.

When she did make it back, he talked with her again.  This time, she said, “we all make mistakes.  One or two stations would be okay.  But not five or six.”  Then she used her tiny computer and quoted him a ticket price of $12.

The guy must have taken out a large roll of cash, but refused to pay, again arguing that he already had a ticket and made a mistake.

“Everyone else here has bought a ticket,” she said slowly and with forced calm.  “You have to buy a ticket or get off at the next station” and paused.  I guess he didn’t respond so she said, “I’ll stand over there by the door, and you’ll get off at the next station.”

And she did.  The train pulled in to the station.

“Okay, now.  Let’s go.”

The man didn’t move.

“Let’s go,” she insisted.

He said nothing and sat very still.

“This train’s going nowhere until you get off.”

A woman who had just boarded groaned.  “I have to get to work!”

We all sat.

“I’ll have to get the police now.  We’re going nowhere,” the train ticket taker stated.

We sat some more.  The woman grumbled and made eye contact with me and rolled her eyes.

Over the loud speaker, the conductor called for the head car, meaning the first car where we were seated, to close its doors.  Another voice responded, “we’re waiting on the police.”

Probably only three or four minutes passed.  The car was silent.  The ticket taker came by.  She loosely gestured toward the man in front of me.  “The police will be along for you,” then she released the door, and the train started to move.

The next station came and went.  Then another.  People boarded, but the ticket taker didn’t reappear.

I thought, “well, he got away with it.”  I figured to save face, she was avoiding the car.

He seemed to fall asleep again.  When we got to his station, he was out.  I tapped the back of his headrest.  “Hey,” I said.

No response.

The louder, “Hey.  This is South Norwalk.”

“Thank you,” he said quietly, standing to exit.  He nodded his head, with another soft  “thank you.”

The woman across the way announced, “oh, there are the po-lice.”  I perked up and thought, “huh!  I guess she had a plan after all.”

The two cops entered the train through a different door, and the non-payer started in the opposite direction, opening the interior door to the next car.

One of the policemen must have seen, and said, “hey, you, stop!”

Both cops then picked up their pace and exited the train.

The woman across the aisle twisted around to watch and started a commentary.  “Uh-huh, they got his wallet.  His phone.  Oh yeah.  They snapped ’em on.  Yeah.”

The doors closed, and the train started rolling.

The ticket taker came in and apologized to the woman.  “Sorry, I was rude.  We had a situation here.”


“Cuffed him.”  Pause.  “You gonna make your bus?”


A tough-looking man said, “you were real nice,” and tapped her consolingly on the arm.  “Real professional.  He had a wad of cash,” he declared in disbelief and looked at me.

“Stupid,” I said adroitly.

Then the ticket taker went up a few rows and turned around.  “It wasn’t fair to you,” she pointed emphatically at a woman. “Or him,” and pointed, “or her.”

Then she turned around.  “Tickets!”

Following Holden Caulfield

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Following in the footsteps of Holden Caulfield in Central Park today brought out the kid in us all.  Fun fact about Catcher in the Rye–the New Yorker wouldn’t publish a short story version of it for five years because they didn’t want to be seen as encouraging runaways.
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First, we admired the Delacourt clock but missed the animals circling when the clock struck.  Boo.  Our circling would have to come later.

I didn’t know that the Central Park Zoo was formed when people dropped off their animals like goats, and the resulting menagerie grew into what we see today.


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Like Phoebe and Holden, we paused at the duck pond.  My friend Helen and I wondered what the turtle was doing with these geese, and we came up with some pretty good stories.  I bet you can, too.


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We gawked at the Victorian Gardens carnival, no doubt just as those two kids did.






Then it was time for the circle.  How long has it been since you rode a carousel?  Right in Central Park, a real old fashioned carousel.  Pretty great!
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Apparently, the animals were originally used as a Coney Island draw.  When they were no longer needed for that purpose, the animals were put in storage.  In 1952, right around Holden’s time, the original carousel burned, and new life was given to the horses and other figures in storage.
Another fun story is that the carousel was originally mule-powered.  The barker would 2013-07-13 11.03.36stamp twice for the mule to go, round and round in a circle, and stomp once to stop.  Apparently, children would lie on their stomachs to see underneath the carousel, fascinated to watch the mule work–more of an attraction than the ride itself.

I really got a kick out of our ride.  Thanks to Helen for the treat.  Holden told his sister Phoebe to go for the brass ring, a tradition on the carousel.  If you successfully grab the ring while going around, you got a free ride on the carousel, while grabbing the brass ring of life as well.
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We wandered off the tour at that point, and Helen introduced me to Hans Christian Andersen in the park.  We lucked into a magical storyteller giving us an African origin story, accompanied by a musician playing a kora–a traditional string instrument–that really added to the experience.   Evocative.


Our time in the park ended as the day turned tropical and sultry. We ducked into the Whitney for the superb Hopper show and then the Guggenheim for the transformative James Turrell light work.  The nautilus interior of the museum has never been more heavenly.  To my perception, it morphed from 3D depth to impossibly flat.  Weird and almost psychedelic.  If you haven’t seen it yet, make the trip, fight the crowds.  It’s worth it.

Kinky Boots held no surprises, but the vegan Japanese shojin meal at Kajitsu was full of gastronomic delights.  Shojin ryori developed in Zen Buddhist monasteries, based on the avoidance of taking life for their food and on simplicity.  Their tea ceremony grew into shojin ryori, the devotional practice  of the meal I had.

I sat at the chef’s table, and my meal was prepared right before me, the silence in the room only punctuated by the sound of the Chef’s wooden clogs.  Every so often, a server would bring him a tiny cup of something to drink that he would toss back.  Sake?

The quiet, a true rarity in New York restaurants, and the only decoration on the beige-gray wall a sprig of green leaves with small white, feathery buds, diminutive on the long wall reinforced the spare, Japanese aesthetic.

The food was oddly textured to my American palette, tending toward soft, but very flavorful.  Each course had some kind of exotic sauce to mix in myself– one sticky, another thick.  The server explained each dish.  “Chef recommends,” she would say, instructing me on how to mix the sauce and dish.

For the soup course, I mixed kelp broth with many ingredients–seaweed, tofu skins, morel mushrooms (food of the gods!), miso…  I think.  I could hardly understand the server, who was very sweet to explain it all nonetheless.  Etiquette?  Pick up the bowl and slurp.


The third course

The third course

I had four courses, considered the tasting menu, served very slowly, and wrapped up with matcha and candies.  The matcha is dark green from the green tea and thickly bitter like espresso.  You start with the candy, then sip.  Chef  whisked the tea for me, delivered it, bowed silently , then moved on.

Matcha and candy

Matcha and candy

Others nearby were having ten courses or chef’s choice.  I was plenty content with four–the end of a feast of a day!






No matter how hot, the intrepid Taste of New Haven goes on!  In the middle of a heatwave, I joined founder, and author about all things New Haven, Colin Caplan on his walking-eating-history tour of the Goatville section of New Haven. You might guess where the name comes from.  Neighborhood goats were allowed to roam the streets in the early 1900s, and journalists plopped the name on the area, then predominantly made up of Irish immigrants.

Colin is full of great stories, particularly the ‘first-of’ tales.  Lollipops were invented in New Haven, named for the racehorse the inventor bet on.  No, we don’t know if the horse was a winner, but you would probably agree that lollipops are.  And the frisbee?  Mrs. Frisbie’s pies were good, but those pie tins made for a great game among Yale students.

And then, there’s the pizza.  What is it that’s so special about New Haven pizza?  First, we learned to say it right.  The signs say apizza, but this is really pronounced a-Bitz.  Practice that, and you’ll make it in New Haven (which by the way is pronounced new HAVEN, not NEW haven).

Good water is an essential ingredient for pizza dough, and New Haven has been blessed.  This good spring water is why the first artificial ice machine was developed by a Yalie.  And why, you ask, do we need artificial ice machines?  Well, to make beer, of course.  New Haven has excellent water for lager, and as far back as 1646, when Deputy Governor Goodyear (whose descendents would invent the rubber tire) of New Haven Colony applied for his brewery license.  Ice is essential for making, storing, and delivering good beer and would have been seasonal until that Yale invention.

Although the Greeks got us on our way to loving that flat bread (pita) with toppings, Italy helped make pizza what we know today, especially after incorporating tomatoes, an Inca product.  Each region of Italy has its own style of pizza.

Pizza in New Haven is unique, too, developed by Italian immigrants in the 1880s.  Water helps and so does the secret yeast used for the dough.  The dough is stretched not rolled, which affects the consistency of the finished work of art, creating what Colin calls a taffly-like texture.  And so does the oven, and the battles rage on about coal-fired vs oil-fired.  Regardless, very hot, like 800-900 degrees, and flash cook it fast, like in 3 minutes.

Modern’s white clam pie

Today we went to Modern, which I had heard is many people’s favorite, even over the overcrowded, and I think over-rated, Frank Pepe’s, as well as Sally’s and their coal-fired oven.  About Modern, I now get it.  The dough is light and chewy, with a clear olive oil flavor.  The white clam pie?  Okay, that was good.  Squirt lemon on it.  Oh my.  Beats the mashed potato pizza at Bar downtown any day (although I do love the look of Bar).  But I say, try them all and decide for yourself!


Bar’s mashed potato pie

At Modern, I also tried Foxon Park white birch beer, which was refreshing and delicious on this hot, hot day.  It also made a splash during Prohibition.

mezcal…start with the chili-laden orange slice

We didn’t just eat pizza–we went to two bakeries, a farmer’s market, a neighborhood bar claimed by the New Haven police, and a Mexican restaurant, whose owners intend to rectify the dearth of good Mexican food in Connecticut.  The mole was too chocolate-y for me.  Never thought I’d say that, but I want to taste the cumin, chili pepper, cinnamon, anise, oregano, cloves and other spices.  A good mole, you can taste all the flavors.  The place is called Mezcal, and we got a lesson in how to drink mezcal, starting with the chili-spiced orange slice followed by the tequila.  Wow!  A real shot of flavor in the mouth.

Colin continually wove in the history of this odd neighborhood–not quite gentrified, but not desperate either.  I learned about ‘New Urbanism,’ which is just how we all like to live–walking villages with no need for a car–a concept inspired by life in New Haven.  You can see how your neighborhood compares to this list of new urbanism characteristics from wikipedia, the source of all knowledge:

“According to husband-and-wife town planners Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, two of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism, they observed mixed-use streetscapes with corner shops, front porches, and a diversity of well-crafted housing while living in one of New Haven‘s Victorian neighborhoods.

  1. The neighborhood has a discernible center. This is often a square or a green and sometimes a busy or memorable street corner. A transit stop would be located at this center.
  2. Most of the dwellings are within a five-minute walk of the center, an average of roughly 0.25 miles (1,300 ft; 0.40 km).
  3. There are a variety of dwelling types — usually houses, rowhouses, and apartments — so that younger and older people, singles and families, the poor and the wealthy may find places to live.
  4. At the edge of the neighborhood, there are shops and offices of sufficiently varied types to supply the weekly needs of a household.
  5. A small ancillary building or garage apartment is permitted within the backyard of each house. It may be used as a rental unit or place to work (for example, an office or craft workshop).
  6. An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home.
  7. There are small playgrounds accessible to every dwelling — not more than a tenth of a mile away.
  8. Streets within the neighborhood form a connected network, which disperses traffic by providing a variety of pedestrian and vehicular routes to any destination.
  9. The streets are relatively narrow and shaded by rows of trees. This slows traffic, creating an environment suitable for pedestrians and bicycles.
  10. Buildings in the neighborhood center are placed close to the street, creating a well-defined outdoor room.
  11. Parking lots and garage doors rarely front the street. Parking is relegated to the rear of buildings, usually accessed by alleys.
  12. Certain prominent sites at the termination of street vistas or in the neighborhood center are reserved for civic buildings. These provide sites for community meetings, education, and religious or cultural activities.
  13. The neighborhood is organized to be self-governing. A formal association debates and decides matters of maintenance, security, and physical change. Taxation is the responsibility of the larger community.”


A Broadway tryout?

What fun to be in Broadway tryout territory.  In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was something shocking, and New Haven was an important stop before New York.  Tanking in New Haven, not a good sign.  Neil Simon premiered something like 8 plays here, and lots of musicals got their start in New Haven’s theater district.

Now, New Haven has its own thriving theater scene, and the launch pads have moved more to the mountains.  The Berkshire Mountains.  So today, I made my first of 3 day trips to the Berks to see a show that definitely should be on its way to the Great White Way.  Great Barrington Theater Company isn’t in Great Barrington.  Naturally.  It’s in Pittsfield.

And it’s corny enough to have an enormous flag mounted on stage before the show started, with the orchestra playing the Star Spangled Banner as its opening notes.  The audience stood up and sang along.  It was truly rousing.

On the Town from 1944 hasn’t worked too well in Broadway revivals to date.  Too creaky apparently.  But this version?  Wowza!  Sexy, contemporary, witty, stylish, breathlessly fast-paced.  Opera, jazz, tap, ballet, scat singing, rounds, and the rumba.  Exuberant dancing and singing that didn’t make me miss the Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra/Ann Miller/Betty Garrett/Vera-Ellen/Jules Munshin movie one bit.  After all, it’s still Leonard Bernstein music with Comden and Green lyrics.

I did get a bit wistful when the boys sang, “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town.”  But Ben Brantley from the New York Times said it best, “The production runs only through July 13, giving it the mayfly-like life span of the romances it portrays. Normally, I wouldn’t tell citizens of the five boroughs to drive three hours to be told that New York is a helluva town. But this enchanted vision of a city that was — and of course never was — is worth catching before it evaporates.”