Monday, December 14, 2009

Sizzling Delight

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Apollo Theater continues our legendary talent competition with the indefatigable Stepp Sisters….”

Despite the immediacy of live theatre, there are only a handful of so great “you-HAD-to-see-it” live performances.  Ethel Merman in Gypsy.  The Beatles in Central Park.  Barbra Streisand; ditto.  The original Broadway production of Hair.  Judy at Carnegie Hall.  Bette Midler at the Continental Baths. Eponine’s soliloquy in Les Miserables.  The original production of Rent.  Cher’s Farewell Tour.  Patti LuPone in Gypsy. (Some things come full circle.)

I’m gay, so my list clearly has an unnaturally high number of performances by women who are dead or dying – actually, fictionally or professionally (Ma chere Cher, where art thou?)  Your list may be different, but the one thing we’re likely to agree on is that the new national tour of Dreamgirls, which ended its New York run at the Apollo Theatre on Saturday night, is a game and energetic production but is unlikely to be found on either of our lists.

Creatively staged with sliding LCD panels that are artfully and – unlike the recent production of 9 to 5 – not distractingly employed, the show suffers from splitting the difference between the 1981 stage version and the 2007 film, attempting to satisfy fans of both and ending up accomplishing neither.  (There is one exception: the inclusion of the song Listen, from the film, repurposed as Effie and Deena’s reconciliation.  It’s a catharsis the movie never achieves but sorely needs, since the story is as much about the broken bonds of sisterhood as it is Curtis’s defiance of Effie’s love and Deena’s will.)

The young cast brings ambition and energy to the production, but the roles often seem bigger than they are, contributing to the feeling that you are watching not a production, but a reproduction.  Though they are all quite talented, the cast never quite achieves harmony with each other and the pace and activity often seem frenetic and haphazard, rather than focused and urgent – a necessity for a show about trying to breakthrough in entertainment.

Two exceptions prevail.  The first is the young man playing Jimmy “Thunder” Early, who invests the role with humor, self-awareness and a soul-deep need that evaded Eddie Murphy on screen.  You understand who this Jimmy is because the actor knows. 

And the single best performance (as it should be, since this is – ultimately – her story) comes from the exciting new discovery, Moya Angela, as Effie.  Prideful, wounded, stubborn and vulnerable, Miss Angela nails the role without falling into the too-easy traps of lapsing into melodrama or understating the magnitude of Effie’s need.  The role begs inevitable comparisons to the Jennifers – Holliday and Hudson – each of whom blew the doors off the role with powerful performances of voice and emotion, but such comparison are both unfair and beside the point.  The point of the role is to take you, convincingly and devastatingly, on Effie’s journey, and at that she ultimately succeeds.

The show also features season six American Idol third place-finisher Syesha Mercado.  Which is Spanish for Syesha Market, which is where you can buy a Syesha.

Whatever that may be.

The show now leaves on a national tour and, if successful, may return to New York for a Broadway run.  It’s in the canon of great musicals – and one of the few about an African-American experience – and it is good enough to justify seeing.  But once is enough for me.  If it returns, I am telling you: I’m not going.

But I will say it was awesome to see the show at the Apollo Theater.  I haven’t seen so many African-Americans and gays hanging out together since the Democratic National Convention. It’s nice to see us getting along again after all those churches preached against same-sex marriage.

We saw the show with friends of ours – a couple – whose company we’ve come to enjoy quite a bit.  Prior to the theatre we ate at a soul food restaurant on the Upper West Side, to put us in the mood.  The Shark Bar, on Amsterdam Avenue (74th/75th) is among a handful of NYC institutions for authentic soul food (though we can never figure out why the waitstaff is all South Asian.  Every time they recite the specials, I’m half waiting for them to offer Chitlin Vindaloo.)

Bypassing the roasted chicken, which I’ve had before (delicious,) and the meatloaf (divine – and one of the few in Manhattan served with tomato sauce instead of gravy, though the brown stuff is an option if that’s your thing) I order the pork chops, which arrive smothered in gravy and onions.  Neil goes for the St. Louis Ribs, which are falling off the bone and dripping with barbecue sauce.

Each entrée comes with two sides and Neil – as I could have predicted – chooses the macaroni and cheese and the cole slaw, while I (also predictably) order the candied yams and a salad of tomato, avocado and Vidalia onions.  The corn bread and mini muffins that accompany the meal are cakey and sweet, and the whole experience is enough to make you want to move someplace on the delta if it weren’t for the humidity, the hurricanes, and the Klan.

Equally as delicious was our meal at Fusha, a new(-ish) Asian restaurant on the corner of 75th and Amsterdam.  This is one of those spots that ends up being nine different restaurants before you know it.  When we moved to the Upper West Side it was Gabriela’s (Mexican) and closed immediately.  It re-opened months later as Mama Goo (note: good Asian drag queen name) which was a Chinese restaurant.  We liked Mama Goo – it was cheap enough to eat at once a week, but nice enough to actually go to for a sit-down meal, which is anomalous for Chinese restaurants in Manhattan.  Mamo Goo “closed for renovations” (New York-speak for: “We’re broke”) and re-opened months later as San Luigi – a checkered-tablecloth red-sauce Italian place, best referred to as a “joint.”  But San Luigi was also a good weeknight dining spot, had a nice variety of dishes and a decent inexpensive wine list, and we enjoyed it.

So, of course, it closed.  For renovations.  And re-opened as Fusha, a pan-asian restaurant (this is also New York-speak for “We can charge you more if we do a few Thai dishes, a few Vietnamese dishes, something Chinese, and throw in a sushi bar.”

We resisted Fusha for a long time.  No good reason – just, well, unfocused revenge (it’s the little things like a shared love of unjustifiably hating inanimate objects like restaurants and handheld electronics that keep Neil and I together.)  To paraphrase something my husband would say, “Sure!  We’ll go.  We’ll like it.  I’ll find a favorite dish and then they’ll close.”  We held out for nearly a year, patiently waiting for it to become a deli or tapas bar.  Now thst we’ve eaten there, it’s almost bound to happen.

Anyway.  Neil got a green curry that was spicy and creamy and delicious and I got something called Sizzling Delight. 

They were half right.

It definitely sizzled, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself “delighted” (though I imagine trying to market something called “Sizzling Adequacy” presents marketing challenges.)  It was fine, but the flavors were kinds of muddy, and the texture was a little gummy, as if the flour used to dredge the chicken didn’t get hot enough in the wok.

I know it sounds like we’re bulking up for winter, and maybe we are, since today we did a big brunch at Lansky’s deli before retiring to the couch to stare at the tree and a line-up of Christmas movies, or movies prominently featuring Christmas scenes (apparently You’ve Got Mail falls into the latter category.) 

And we must be eating too much because a toothpaste commercial featuring Brooke Shields saying “I like to eat healthy” evoked a flood of emotion from Neil (“I need to eat healthy.  I’ve been eating nothing but bread and potatoes and carbs all weekend.  I should be eating salmon.”)  It may be the most one person has ever been moved by a Brooke Shields performance.

And as long as were talking about the current status of people who were famous in the 1980s - my Entertainment Weekly informs me that Brian Bonsall (little Andy Keaton from the final, shark-jumped season of Family Ties) was just arrested for attacking a man with broken bar stool.

This is why I want to be on TV, people!  Where else but America can you spend five minutes on television at age 6 and still be a bold-faced name, years later, and have your white trash behavior end up on page 11 of a major periodical.

Not that I'd ever beat someone with a bar stool, though Neil might come after me with a frying pan if I interrupt him while he's cooking.

I give my husband a hard time, but he’s a truly wonderful man.  He decorated our tree so beautifully it could be in a department store window.  He spent yesterday bargain hunting for gift wrap and cookie tins and holiday decorations (I finally have a stocking to replace the $1.99 polyester one I bought at CVS in 1995 and ironed my name onto.)  He even got us a poinsettia and it might just manage to live until December 25 – a true Christmas miracle.  Actually, it will probably die, and we’re not sure why the only living things in our apartment that manage to remain in that condition are the two of us.  Between the microwave that takes 4 minutes to heat water and all the wireless and cellular technology, we’ve probably got more radiation running through our veins than Karen Silkwood. 

Guess we’ll hold off on that baby a little longer….

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you guys are READY!! Post pictures of the tree, please!

    By the way, Cher has been out of commission ever since her real face started to age naturally over top of all the artificial parts of her face, the resulting aesthetic being something akin to a Salvador Dali painting.