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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wicked

Most of us have seen or heard the story of The Wizard of Oz. Wicked is a prequel to that classic tale and gives us a glimpse of what happened before Dorothy and Toto landed in Oz. The main characters of the story are the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North. Wicked draws the audience into understanding that these women became who they are because of the circumstances they were born into and the lives they led. In truth, no one is born wholly “good” or “bad” but their actions, the events in their lives, the people around them, these shape who they are and who they become.

In the case of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba Thorpp was born with green skin and spent most of her life ostracized and ridiculed because of it. Her father despised her and she lived in the shadow of her beautiful sister, Nessarose. Elphaba is sent to Shiz University for the sole purpose of looking after her sister. Glinda Upland, on the other hand, was a pretty but spoiled rich girl whose life is perfect because she got everything she wanted. She is popular and obsessed with the finer things in life. Their worlds come together when they become roommates. In the beginning they dislike each other but soon come to an understanding, admiration, and eventually a deep friendship.

Their friendship is tested when they both fall in love with Fiyero and when they take opposite stands to an issue that is plaguing the land. Elphaba decides to go against the norm and to fight for what she believes. Thus she is branded “evil” because she is passionate and different. While Glinda decides to stay, maintain her popularity, and be viewed as “good”. In the end, these choices prove to be their destiny.

Although the story left several questions unanswered and would prove confusing to the original story if you really thought about it (but I won’t get into them anymore), the play was extremely entertaining and the characters very vivid and full of life. I think the crowd favorite were the powerful song numbers that really left you breathless and all goose-bumpy. My personal favorites are Glinda’s light and cheery performance of the song “Popular” and Elphaba’s powerful rendition of “Defying Gravity”. Such wonderful performances all around. The play was dramatic (with poignant scenes and climatic revelations), exciting (as there were plot twists and turns), hilarious (as the characters played their comedic roles to the hilt), and just overall a wonderful three hours of entertainment.

The sets were fabulous. There must have been a dozen different scenes – all so magically done – that you felt transported to the halls of Shiz, the grandeurs of the forest, the picturesque Munchkinland, and the glamour of the Emerald City. It was absolutely flawless. The costumes were amazing too. Everyone, from the star of the show, to the ensemble, were dressed to the nines. The effects were thrilling – with the flying monkeys, Elphaba soaring to the sky, the effects of rain, the wonder of meeting the Wizard for the first time, and the startling green glow when they first enter Oz. All of it combined, the songs, choreography, set, effects and performers really made it easy to see why Wicked is such a phenomenal hit.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Avenue Q

Although I love Broadway musicals and grew up watching Sesame Street, I was hesitant to watch Avenue Q since I really could not fathom how musical theater could be portrayed well by puppets. I envisioned it to be a full-blown puppet show complete with high-pitched sing-song voices and Muppets-esque storylines. Boy was I wrong! And am I ever glad that Jeff talked us into watching the show.

In a nutshell, Avenue Q is about a struggling group of twenty-somethings who live in an apartment complex in a rundown but very affordable outer borough of New York – right on Avenue Q. The cast of puppet characters are lead by Princeton, a recent graduate who struggles to make ends meet as he tries to find his “purpose” in life; Kate Monster, a homely teaching assistant who one day dreams of opening her own school; Rod, a stoic investment banker who is in denial about coming out of the closet and who harbors a secret crush on his straight roommate, Nicky; Nicky, on the other hand, is an aimless, happy-go-lucky guy with no real sense of direction in life. Then there’s Lucy the Slut, a vampy nightclub singer who comes between Princeton and Kate's budding romance. And finally, there’s Trekkie Monster, the upstairs weirdo who surfs the internet all day for porn.

As for the human characters, there is Gary Coleman (yes, the Gary Coleman), a down on his luck former child actor who now manages the building; Rob, a comedian who can’t get a decent job and has fears of commitment; and his fiancée, Christmas Eve, a Japanese therapist with two masters degrees but no patients to work with.

It does parody Sesame Street in using cartoons, songs and short skits (shown on the monitor) to teach lessons - and of course there are the puppets... But the similarities end there. The story revolves around these 9 characters as they share their life drama on stage. It’s quite fascinating watching the human characters interact with their puppet co-stars – rather seamlessly done as there are times when you forget which actors are real and which ones are inanimate. The performers displayed an amazing balancing act as they danced, sang, acted and worked with the puppets. The puppeteers were clearly visible working their puppets the whole time – but rather than being distracting, their presence actually heightens the actions and expressions the puppets try to portray.

Avenue Q can be described in three words: fresh, smart and feisty. It gets away with being raunchy and risqué as it tackles such controversial issues like racism, homosexuality, relationships (and one night stands), pornography, careers, and how sometimes it’s ok to take pleasure at the expense of someone’s pain. Because most of the characters are puppets, they manage being brutally honest without appearing crass and impudent. It is definitely an R-rated version of Sesame Street complete with full frontal puppet nudity. But even as they manage to shock and poke fun at such sensitive issues, even breaking into song about such taboo topics – they do so without triviliazing them or without resorting to bawdy slapstick routines.

The brilliant writers of Avenue Q sticks to making the audience laugh at the issues by drawing on irrefutable truths. For example, Kate and Princeton’s discussion about racism (and their singing “Everybody’s a Little Bit Racist”) – is hilarious because there’s some truth to it – and we know it. No one can claim to be a total non-racist – because we live in a society where stereotypes and assumptions are everywhere. It’s human nature to have opinions and sometimes those opinions may stem from being prejudiced. It’s not wrong … it’s just how it is. It becomes wrong when you perpetuate it and start acting on it. But as Kate and Princeton sing and dance to the idea that everyone is a little bit racist, everyone in the audience finds it funny because we all know what that means – we’ve all been there and done that. It’s funny because it’s sort of, kind of true.

Avenue Q is a refreshing second look at life today and the struggles that many of us are facing. I am sure every person who has seen it can find themselves relating in some way to the angst, hopes, struggles and dreams of at least one of the characters. And as the play ends, there is no magic wand that makes each one’s life instantly better … since after all it is a story about real life – and so the message is, we make do with where we are for now, discover ourselves and our purpose in the process, get by with the help of friends and just take it one day at a time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Weekend 9/22-9/23

Last Saturday morning, Jojo and I stopped by my BILs place to greet Roy a “happy birthday”. Since we could not make it to his birthday dinner that night, we decided to pop by early and bring him his present. We spent a good part of the morning catching up with my in-laws and visiting with my nieces. After that, we swung by the house to pick Jeff and Yam up for a quick lunch at Chipotle. Jules met us there. We headed over to downtown LA after lunch since we had tickets to see Avenue Q.

Of all the theaters in LA, I think the Ahmanson Theater is my favorite. Located in Downtown LA amidst the complex that houses the Mark Taper Forum and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the theater is a stone’s throw from the Walt Disney Music Hall. Ahmanson is a modern theater without the usual modern attributes of starkness or austerity. Parking is convenient, the lobby and theater décor is muted yet functional, seating is quite spacious, and the restrooms are ample enough for a full house. The actual theater is neither cavernous nor cramped – and feels like an intimate concert hall. We got there right as the show was starting and sat back to enjoy the performance. I’ll reserve my Avenue Q review for my next blog post. The play is simply too marvelous to limit to a one-paragraph description.

After the show, we drove over to visit with Ray, Janice and baby Colin. As we sat chatting with his folks, Colin slept soundly in his mom’s arms. He was a well-behaved baby and even though he was mostly swaddled in a baby blanket, you could see he was an adorable baby. Kudos to Ray and Janice, who are first-time parents, but made parenting a 3-week old baby look natural and easy. We stayed for about an hour before heading to The Grove over at Fairfax.

We had reservations at Maggianos and were being joined for dinner by someone we literally did not know. Yes, you read right. We were meeting a guy named Adrian and his cousin, Christina - none of us knew either of them nor did they know us. I know that sounds strange so let me explain. My best friend Les works with Adrian back in Manila. She is constantly telling Adrian about me and how she thought he and I would click should we ever get the chance to meet. When Les was here last year, she told me countless Adrian stories and convinced me that I would absolutely find him fun to be with and extremely likeable. Little did I know, Adrian would be in LA this weekend – till he actually texted me and asked if we could meet up. How could I say no? I asked him to join us for dinner that night. Luckily he could make it. As we sat at the Maggiano’s bar waiting for him to arrive, Jojo asked me how I would recognize Adrian (since we never met and had no idea what each other looked like). I admit that I was a bit stumped. We spent the early part of the evening calling out “Adrian” to every Filipino-looking guy who walked into the place. Finally at 5 past 7, Adrian walks in and we immediately just knew each other. By the way, Les was absolutely right – Adrian and I did click and we were chatting away like old friends. He also got along really well with Jojo, Jules, Jeff and Yam – and we all thought his cousin, Christina, was nice to hang out with too.

Dinner at Maggianos is usually a sure thing. The place is really nice, the food is very good and the service is really impeccable. But that Saturday night – sadly they struck out on all 3. The place was so crowded and we were kept waiting for almost an hour till eventually being seated by the kitchen. Service was incredibly slow (strange since all the servers seemed to be rushing to and fro but none of them could stop and take our orders – this went on for about 15 minutes). When we finally gave our orders – our server got them wrong too (Jeff’s Coke never arrived, we got a chicken salad rather than a steak and arugula salad, and our side order of onion rings never arrived). But the worst part was the food. The Rigatoni D (a cream-based chicken marsala dish served with caramelized onions over penne pasta – which is Jojo’s and my favorite dish) – was bland and too way too watery. The garlic shrimp linguine had overcooked noodles. And the spinach and artichoke dip was a tad too salty. The meal’s saving grace were the crabcakes (which were good) and the calamari rings (but really who can mess up deep fried squid rings!). We passed on dessert. Adrian told us they had to meet with some of his other cousins and had to go. The rest of us walked around The Grove (outdoor shopping area), enjoying the cool night air, browsing Barnes and Noble, window shopping and hanging out at the Apple store while waiting for a table to clear up at The Cheesecake Factory. Of course since Jeff and Yam were visiting we had to give in and had to “force” ourselves to have cheesecake and coffee drinks for dessert with our guests.

Sunday was sleep in day and then lunch at Lucille’s Southern Barbecue (now that place is consistently good). We made a quick stop at Costco for Jeff’s pasalubong shopping – I picked up two books The Kite Runner (by Khaled Hosseini) and The Jane Austen Book Club (by Karen Joy Fowler) - both good books I’ve been looking forward to reading … now all I have to figure out is when I’ll have time to read them! Then it was off to Hollywood for our second “Broadway” experience of the week. We had tickets to see “Wicked”.

In stark contrast to the Ahmanson Theater, the Pantages Theater located on Hollywood Blvd., is the anti-thesis to modern. Instead it is a throwback to the Hollywood era of glamorous art deco but sadly with hints of architectural wear and tear. The theater which is a historical institution has decor that can be described as rather heavy and very dramatic complete with velvet curtains, intricate carved walls and ceilings, dark wood and brass décor and dim-lighting. Also, as with many older establishments the place had a severe bathroom shortage – especially for the ladies. Again, my review for Wicked will follow in another post – as the show deserves much more space on my blog. After the show, we were hungry but since it was late an the next day was a work day, we decided to head home to leftovers, hit the sack and call it a weekend.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Housewives ...

This morning as I drove myself to work, I spent some time daydreaming about what my day would be like if I were a stay-at-home-wife. For starters I’d get to the many things I have not gotten done around the house because I have no time. I’d schedule for the work on our master bathroom to get started and I’d call for the installation of our water softener unit. I’d get started on putting away the two huge baskets of laundry at the foot of our bed. I’d prune our lavender and rose bushes and re-plant our empty flowerboxes with autumn-hued blooms. I’d make my hubby a healthy, well-balanced, home-cooked meal. It’s been ages since we’ve had a meal that was not take-out, frozen or from a can.

I’d do my errands like visit the bank, drop off stuff at the post office and the cleaners, handle the bills online. I’d visit Mrs. Chong and get Jojo’s pants hemmed and have the zipper on one of my jackets replaced. It would leave my hubby and I time for more luxurious weekends. I’d browse the aisles of Costco, Trader Joe’s and Albertsons just to see what’s new and what’s fresh. Take my time instead of my usual rushing in and out of the supermarket with a grocery list in my hand and a mental map guiding me as I zigzag thru the aisles getting only what we need. I’d take some time to shop for new sheets, matching towels for the guest bathroom and throwpillows for our family room couch.

I’d clear out our overflowing closets and donate to Goodwill. I’d help out in our parish by joining the committee that collects children’s toys and books and brings them over to homes and shelters. I’ve always wanted to but can’t since they meet Wednesday mornings. I’d restart my bookclub and find time to meet with smart women and have intelligent conversations about good books. Hmm … speaking of books … I’d read a lot more, visit local libraries and volunteer in one of those after-school “storytelling for kids” programs. I’d take cooking classes – something exotic like Thai cooking – at our local community center. I’d take beading classes at Michaels and maybe a literature or child psychology class at the Torrance Community College.

I would have family and friends over – maybe a barbecue or even a dinner party. We haven’t had that in a while since just the thought of preparing for a party, cooking and after-party clean up is exhausting. I’d invite a girlfriend over for an afternoon of tea and gossip. Or prepare an “inuman” night for my hubby and his colleagues. I’d visit people I haven’t seen in a while, like my grad school classmates and professors. Or I’d spend the afternoon babysitting my nieces and nephews and make them Ghirardelli brownies. I’d spend time sitting on the porch with June (our elderly neighbor) who always has a warm smile and wave for me when I drive up.

It does sound idyllic … and I think it would totally work for me … at least for some time. I know myself and I have to admit that if I had this kind of lifestyle, it would be nice for a while and then it would drive me crazy. I’d have to have a part-time job … maybe something half day or three full days a week. Something to balance the “domesticity” of my idyllic life. No offense to housewives – but I need to have some sort of career where I interact with my peers, am challenged by projects and deadlines, and am still part of the working world. Not to say that housewives have none of that – since in their own way they work hard, smart and under lots of pressure too. Both my grandmothers, my mom and even my mother-in-law are examples of successful but very accomplished housewives. They are the perfect examples of domesticated divas who managed to have rich, busy and fulfilling lives.

Take my mom - she always has an impeccable home, good food on the table, is the perfect hostess, and is the personification of grace and charm. She is just as comfortable in a table surrounded by girlfriends gabbing about recipes and raising kids as she is in the company of my dad’s colleagues talking about finances and state of world affairs. But she also works on community livelihood projects, started a local school for the hearing impaired, was on every parent council committee in our schools, is on our company’s board of directors, and manages to raise 5 kids all at the same time. That’s the kind of “housewife” I want to be – and even more. Not just some lady of leisure who spends the day in country clubs, lunching with friends, shopping, getting massages and manicures. I want to be one that runs a happy household but still have purpose and meaning in my life. I still want to earn my own money and share in our household budget. I don’t want to be my husband’s servant – but I do want to take care of him. And sometimes, I want to be taken care of as well. I want to be a good mom – not by being a maid to my children – but by being there for them and being someone they can be proud of too. It’s a tall order. It’s idyllic. But possible … definitely possible.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Weekend (9/8-9/9)

Last Saturday we had dinner at The Stinking Rose over in La Cienega. The restaurant’s claim to fame is its prominent use of garlic in all its dishes. It was evidently so in every part of our meal – from appetizers, our main course and even dessert. The ambience of the place was somewhat elegant –in a dimly-lit-lounge-meets-a-Roman -amphitheater kind of way. The décor was old world Italy with muted lighting and stone and marble décor, velvet drapes and cozy booths. We started dinner off with warm garlic rolls and the bagna calda (the restaurant’s signature appetizer, “spreadable” roasted garlic cloves, in olive oil with a slight trace of anchovy).

Since I was having dinner with 4 guys (Jojo, Jules and my good friends Jeff and Ray), our meal was a carnivore’s dream. We shared large servings of the Forty Garlic Clove Roasted Chicken, the Garlic Encrusted Full Rack of Ribs, and Garlic Roasted Prime Rib – a 20 ounce piece known as “The Slab”. Each dish came with creamy garlic mashed potatoes (which were really good – my favorite part of the meal actually). And our only attempt at a healthy respite to this rich meal was the sautéed spinach which was more of a garnish rather than a side. For dessert, we shared garlic infused ice cream with caramel sauce. It was actually quite good and yes, you could savor the mild garlic aftertaste with every bite.

It was an interesting dinner to say the least and really nice catching up with Jeff and congratulating Ray – he and his wife (Janice) just had a baby. Too bad she couldn’t join us for dinner though.

(Jojo, me, Ray, Jeff and Jules at The Stinking Rose - after this meal, we all needed after-dinner-mints!)

Also on Saturday, we finally got TFC (The Filipino Channel) on cable. My hubby finally gave in and agreed to get access to 5 tv channels from back home. We have ABS-CBC (Channel 2), GMA-7, one channel that shows Tagalog movies, and two others that I don’t recognize. I spent Sunday afternoon watching “The Buzz” and “Showbiz Central” (entertainment news programs similar to E News, Access Hollywood, and The Insider). It was strangely comforting to watch these shows and to see familiar showbiz faces (although there are so many new faces and names I hardly recognize at all).

I remember when I was back home in Manila, Sunday afternoons were spent with my sisters watching “Showbiz Lingo” before we would head over to my grandparents’ place for dinner. My mom, dad and brothers would be napping while Atsi Jen, sometimes Joy, and I would avidly watch and react to all the entertainment gossip. This time, while I was watching these shows, I sort of felt like I was back home, in my parents’ room, on a Sunday afternoon, with my sisters.

(A snapshot of "The Buzz" on our tv set!)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day Weekend

The 3-day weekend could not come soon enough for me. I’ve been counting the week down till Labor Day weekend. Ironically I needed Labor Day to rest from my "labors" at work - haha :)

Highlights of our weekend include: Spending Saturday morning indulging myself at the Eden Spa in Redondo Beach. After my extremely stressful week, I decided to treat myself to a facial, body massage, manicure and pedicure. I spent the morning with Irene, a wonderful Chinese lady, who massaged the tension out of my muscles and soothed my face with scrubs while Andy, a Vietnamese guy pampered my fingernails and toenails. It was a little strange having a guy do my nails but he was really good and very professional). While Andy was pretty quiet, Irene was very talkative and chatted about everything and nothing all through my facial – luckily she kept the chatter to a minimum while I had my massage. I totally immersed myself in the soothing zen-like music, the cool room and the scented oils while she smoothed away the knots in my back, arms, legs, and scalp. It was the best three hours of the week and I totally felt incredibly relaxed and stress-free. I left the spa feeling pretty awesome. I told Irene that I would definitely be back.

On Sunday, we joined Jojo’s family for a two-hour drive to Solvang. The drive itself was pleasant enough (especially cruising the Santa Barbara coastline) and when we got there we were all charmed by the picturesque Danish village. Jojo and I have been there before but we still enjoyed exploring the quaint shops and colorful sights. After some sightseeing, we all ordered sandwiches and salads from a local delicatessen and had lunch in a shaded patio across a giant windmill. I had a really good salad (mixed greens and a light lemony-vinaigrette dressing topped with sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, crumbled feta cheese, red onions and toasted flatbread). Jojo enjoyed his cold roast beef with a mild horseradish dressing. After lunch, the kids enjoyed freshly made ice cream while my sisters-in-law and I stopped at a local bakery to pick out Danish pastries for everyone to share. The only thing that marred the perfect day was the weather. It turned really hot towards mid-day. By noon, temperatures were in the high 90’s and even hit triple digits as we drove past some of the Santa Ynez vineyards.

We left Solvang when the weather turned unbearable and the kids were getting antsy. On our way back we stopped at the Camarillo Shopping Outlets for a couple of hours. The place was so crowded that parking was pretty bad. What was worse was walking into stores and seeing incredibly long lines - you really had to want something pretty bad to line up for almost half an hour to buy it. It was so outrageous that the Coach store even had a long line of people waiting to get in the actual store. It was crazy. I ended up with two shirts from Ann Taylor after almost 3 hours of shopping since I didn’t want to line up anywhere else. I spent most of the time playing with my nieces while their mom tried to shop. Jojo finally got the Oakley sunglasses that he’s been wanting and a couple of shirts from Eddie Bauer. After that, we all met up and decided to go home.

Monday was our day to get stuff done around the house and relax in preparation for the week ahead. We did stop over at Sears this morning to get a water softening unit (since our old one was busted). Even with the 15% Labor Day sale it cost over $500 (including warranty, tax and delivery). I was pretty surprised it cost so much. But having soft water is a luxury – it’s really better for the skin, for washing clothes and for maintaining our plumbing. So the cost is minimal when you think of it that way. We also stopped by Carters store to get some baby presents for our friends (Ray and Janice) who just had a baby boy - Colin Adrian. :)

So that was our Labor Day weekend. I can’t believe the 3 days went by so quickly. I guess now I have to start a countdown for the upcoming Columbus Day weekend!