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The Kennedy Center is a living memorial honoring President John Kennedy. The iconic Kennedy Center’s history began in 1958 as the National Cultural Center. It was a product of bi-partisan legislation signed by President Dwight Eisenhower, but as a strong supporter of the arts, President Kennedy became the driving force in raising the funds to complete the construction of the Center. He appointed his wife, Jacqueline and Mrs. Eisenhower as honorary co-chairwomen which I find fascinating since they were from different political parties but worked together on this important endeavor. Not something we see much of in today’s polarized political climate in the US. 

In January 1964, two months after President Kennedy was assassinated, Congress designated the National Cultural Center as a living memorial and renamed it: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Congress appropriated $23 million to fund it and fundraising continued with the Friends of the Kennedy Center volunteers. The volunteers worked earnestly across the country, raising money from private support and from nations around the world who respected President Kennedy and wanted to contribute to his legacy. Because the Center is a Federal Memorial, it continues to receive funding each year for the maintenance and operation of the facility but the artistic and educational programs are paid for through ticket sales and gifts from individuals, corporations and private foundations.

President Lyndon Johnson participated in the ground breaking ceremony in December 1964, and in keeping with its historic importance, he used the same gold-plated shovel which was also used in the ground breaking ceremonies for the Lincoln Memorial (1914) and the Jefferson Memorial (1938). The Kennedy Center officially opened in 1971 and the New York Times wrote a rave front page review which stated “The capital of this nation finally strode into the cultural age tonight with the spectacular opening of the $70 million [Kennedy Center]…a gigantic marble temple to music, dance, and drama on the Potomac’s edge.”

I always enjoy going to the Center and had the opportunity to attend several musicals including “Wicked”, “South Pacific” and “Book of Mormon.” I became a member for one year and appreciated their member benefits. As members, my daughter and I were able to watch a rehearsal of the National Orchestra. As a viola player, my daughter loved observing the behind the scenes of a professional orchestra.

Earlier this month,  I finally made it to one of the free performances at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. We arrived early enough to take the last free tour at 4:30 p.m. I particularly enjoyed seeing the contributions of artwork throughout the Center which had been generously donated by several foreign governments. Click here to see the book listing all the gorgeous gifts given to the Center.

The Millennium Stage offers free performances nightly from 6 to 7 pm. The Happy Hour at the Grand Foyer bar is from 5-6 p.m. Seating begins at 5:30 and you can take your drink/food with you to your seat. The monthly calendar usually comes out the last week of the previous month. Click here for a list of upcoming performances.

Tips for visiting The Kennedy Center:

  • If you’re 18-30, you can sign up for My Tix at kennedy-center.org/mytix which offers discounted and free tickets.
  • There’s a free shuttle between the Center and the Foggy Bottom Metro Station. Departing every 15 minutes from 9:45 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, 11:45 t0 midnight on Sunday, and 4:00 p.m. to end of last performance on Holidays.
  • If you want a good seat for the Millennium Stage performances, be in line shortly after 5 p.m.

Georgetown Kennedy Center
The Kennedy Center

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We are officially Mamma Mia! fans.

Mama Mia

Logan in front of the Broadway poster (2014)

and a few years before…

Logan at Mama Mia Nov 2007

Logan in front of Broadway Mama Mia! poster (2007)

We went to see Mama Mia! for the fifth time last night at National Theater in Washington DC. The show was  fabulous! My daughter leaned over after the third song and whispered It never gets old!”  We all agreed we liked it even better than the Mama Mia show we saw on Broadway in January 2014. In fairness, the Broadway show had just recently changed out almost all of their cast except for “Donna.” Unfortunately, the chemistry hadn’t developed yet among the new actors.

The musical is campy, funny, and you can’t help but start tapping your feet when the music begins. Mamma Mia! is based on ABBA songs. ABBA was an internationally popular Swedish pop group that started in 1972. They won Eurovision in 1974 with the song “Waterloo”   The play was written by British playwright Catherine Johnson and opened in London in 1999. It’s currently ranked as the 9th longest running Broadway show. 

Admittedly, I was not an ABBA fan before seeing the play in 2007 but there’s just something about the play that makes me smile and I can relate to most of the songs.  I’m glad John likes it too ~ makes it more fun for the whole family to enjoy.

We each have our favorite songs and mine is “Does Your Mother Know” It’s sassy and, last night, “Pepper”(P. Tucker Worley) and “Tanya” (Gabrielle Mirabella) did a great job with the song and dance. P. Tucker Worley did a back flip and some killer toe-touches.  Fun, fun, fun!

There is a sad part of the play that causes both myself and my daughter to shed a tear.  It’s the song “Slipping Through My Fingers” It goes right for the heart. Here’s a video of ABBA singing the original.

One of the best parts of the show is at the very end when everyone stands up to sing and dance along ~ it becomes a feel-good party.

I’m glad we went on the closing night or else we might have been tempted to go again before the show left town. If it comes to your town, be sure to go. You won’t regret it. Since some people consider us groupies at this point, we might have to travel down to Atlanta in September and see it there at the beautiful Fox Theater.

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The only West End Show John has begged repeatedly asked me to get tickets for is “Book of Mormon” which opened in February 2013. By the time I checked for tickets, the show was sold out through the summer with only a few very expensive seats available on third-party ticket sites. Last Tuesday, he decided to go to the box office to see if there were any same day tickets to be had. Turns out they have a lottery everyday for FRONT ROW seats. Here’s the deal: A lottery application has to be filled out at the Prince of Wales theater 2.5 hours prior to the start of the show. At 5 pm, John filled out his lottery application (photo ID is required). At 5:30pm, two hours before the show, they drew names from one of those rolling cages. It’s all very exciting as the names are called out. John went on a Tuesday, there were 21 tickets available for about 100 hopefuls and, “Hallelujah Joseph Smith”, John was the sixth person called for two tickets. The winning tickets are only £20 each. Quite a deal for any West End show but especially for this very extremely popular one.

The lottery in progress...

The lottery in progress…

John will his winning ticket

John with his winning ticket

Review (hopefully without any spoilers but I will mention a specific line and song titles)

Front row is not always considered the best seat in the house because you get a myopic view of things but I love to see the actors up close ~ sweat, spit and all. I’m in awe of those who can perform on stage night after night with such precision and energy. “Book of Mormon” did not fail in any aspect. The actors, music, energy, set were all top-notch.

The play was written by the creators of South Park and it’s a religious satirical musical with plenty of clever lyrics and catchy tunes to keep your toes tapping. My favorites are “Turn it Off” and “You and Me (but Mostly Me)” which both John and I find ourselves singing frequently around the house. But mostly John.

Having lived in an area of the US with a lot of Mormons, I caught the little detailed nuances regarding the culture and terminology  of the Mormons but it seemed everyone in the theater enjoyed the show even the older Spanish-speaking man sitting directly behind me. During the opening number of “Hello” with the Mormon Boys, it had me wondering where they found so many Mormons who could act and sing. Even their twinkling eyes had me convinced they were the real deal. There’s something about a devout Mormon and his “smiling, shining eyes”. But when the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” came on and those same guys came out, they looked nothing like Mormons. And it wasn’t a costume change, it was solely their attitude and great acting.

It’s sacrilegious, vulgar and I have to admit during one song I thought to myself “I’m going to have to go see “Mama Mia” so I can wash off the stench of this song.” BUT the story itself is about acknowledging and respecting everyone’s right to follow (and sometimes invent themselves) any faith they choose. It’s an all-out onslaught at Mormonism through many fun songs but it could have been any religion’s dogma. What I took away from the play was it’s easier to tolerant another person’s religion if we look at the effect it has on the practitioners and not at the religion itself. In other words, actions speak louder than words.

Having seen the show, I’m surprised several British reviews I’ve read are less than glowing. I thought they’d love the satire. Perhaps it’s the complexity of the American view of religious tolerance, no matter how extreme the religion (so long as it doesn’t physically hurt others).

I would definitely recommend “Book of Mormon” but with the caveat that they understand it’s satire. Or as my favorite line in the play states “It’s a F&&^ing metaphor, you didn’t really think there was a Salt Lake City, did you?”

(more…)

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Thirtysome years ago, at the end of a High School class trip into New York City, I went to see my first Broadway show ~ A Chorus Line. I loved it and that’s when I became a fan of musicals. It originally opened at the Shubert Theater on Broadway in 1975 and closed on April 28, 1990. The show had some serious staying power but I never had the chance to go back and see it on Broadway.

Recently, A Chorus Line opened in London at the Palladium Theater which is within walking distance of our flat. Very convenient. I was thrilled when John came home yesterday with half price tickets to see last night’s performance. I wasn’t quite so thrilled when I got to the theater and we were in the nosebleed far above the stage upper circle. I have eye-strain from trying to see the dancers. Oddly, the women next to me actually took off her big boots which I accidentally kept kicking because they were in my foot space. But once the show started, I got lost in the dancing and the music.

Full House at the Palladium

Full House at the Palladium

A Chorus Line is about dancers auditioning for a Broadway Musical. No surprise, there’s lots of dancing, but the dancers are asked by the director, Zach to tell about their backgrounds. He wants to get to know them before he selects the eight he needs for the chorus line. The set is simple ~ black backdrop and mirrors. Nothing else. No fancy props or stage sets. It’s about their passion for dance and about the dancers themselves. The show is a two-hour non-stop musical adventure. There’s no intermission so be sure to get your drinks before it starts. The show last night was true to the original. If you go, you seriously need to consider the context of the 1970s. Dancers ambitions were to dance on Broadway which was the pinnacle of their careers. They weren’t trying out for MTV since there was no MTV. They spoke using 70’s vernacular. Also, in the 70s, coming out as gay was more difficult and less accepted than today. Embrace that it is “dated.”

It was great fun to hear the familiar tunes such as “Dance Ten, Looks Three”, “Kiss Today Goodbye”, “One” and “At the Ballet.” All the singers are wonderful. I couldn’t help but compare it to the original. Since the show just started 12 days ago, it seemed to me the dancers are still getting their rhythm with each other worked out. Some scenes seemed a little stiff. The chemistry between the two main characters (Zach the director and Cassie who is his auditioning ex-girlfriend) needs a little more development/chemistry. The most distracting part for me though was the “American accents” and attitude of the dancers. A person from the Bronx is very different in both attitude and accent from the perky kid fresh off the Missouri farm. Last night, I found the dancers to be much too homogenous for this show. I realize it is very difficult for British actors to get a localized accent down but it’s a critical part of the show. The storyline is about dancers from all over the US coming to audition for a Broadway show and then by the end of the show, you can’t tell them apart from one another.

A side note: One thing I really enjoyed about Rock of Ages is the lead actor had me totally convinced he was a Californian circa the 1980s. No doubt about it. Attitude and accent were spot-on. But when he spoke to the audience after the show, he reverted to his English accent and admitted he’s from Essex. I was so shocked!

If you’ve ever had to come together as a group, whether it be dancing or marching in step, I think you’ll enjoy the show. John could relate because he was on Sword Drill at The Citadel (his alma mater). It was a group of cadets from different walks of life who performed a drill~ reminded me of A Chorus Line as they also look like one singular sensation:

Sword Drill "Singular Sensation"

Sword Drill “Singular Sensation”

A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line

Bottom line ~ I recommend A Chorus Line . Since my daughter is a dancer and didn’t get to go with us, I’ve already purchased tickets for the two of us to go in May. I was able to get 4th row seats and I’m really looking forward to seeing it upclose.

If you want to purchase tickets, click here. The show will run until 18 January 2014. They have matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Closed on Mondays. There is a minimum age of 5 years old but I wouldn’t recommend it for under 10 years old ~ mostly because of the two hours with no intermission. Tickets for the stalls (floor) run £67.50 although there are a few which are more expensive. Again, I would not recommend sitting in the upper circle for this particular show ~ it’s more intimate so it’s best to be closer to the stage.

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Train Tickets to Gatwick Airport: √
Easy Jet Tickets to Málaga, Spain: √
Hotel in Málaga: √
Euros in my purse: √

Living in London for a year already makes me feel like I’m on a vacation so I find it odd to plan another trip. I did manage to get the basics done for my first trip to Spain, which starts tomorrow, but I’ve done very little no planning for once we’re there. This is a first for me as I’m not a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of girl. In fact, I usually have a detailed, typed itinerary to include the cheapest places to park.

I do know I want to take a day trip to see The Alhambra and spend a day at the beach (we’re forecasted for one sunny day).  That leaves three other days to explore. Any suggestions from those who’ve been there will be much appreciated.

Meanwhile back in London, it’s been an eventful week. Went to Westminster Abbey for a guided tour. The tour started at 11am and it was already way too crowded. I would recommend getting there when it opens. Despite the crowds, it was well worth the visit. The Abbey is AMAZING and has so much history to it. Unfortunately, no photography allowed inside.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Oldest Door in the UK (Westminster Abbey) circa 1050s

Oldest Door in the UK (Westminster Abbey) circa 1050s

Battle of Britain Monument ~ near Westminster

Battle of Britain Monument ~ near Westminster

London Eye on a sunny London day

London Eye on a sunny London day

On Wednesday, I joined 87,452 football fans to watch the England v. Brazil match. My first professional football match. What fun ~ cold, but fun! I was impressed with the crowd control at Wembley Stadium and there was only one time I felt claustrophobic (when we were heading back to the train). Logan and I are ready to go again but would like to see a Real Madrid match.

English Flag made by the fans

English Flag made by the fans

England v. Brazil ~ start of the match

England v. Brazil ~ start of the match

Yesterday, John went to the half off theater stand and got “We Will Rock You” tickets for £25. We enjoyed the show and the lead singer (the Dreamer) was outstanding. If you’re flexible and can purchase your tickets the day of, then there are great bargains to be had. We’re trying to take advantage of the proximity and low costs ~ so many great shows to see!

The Dominion Theater

The Dominion Theater

London’s Chinatown is getting ready for the New Year’s celebration and unfortunately we’re going to miss it but hoping to catch a Fat Tuesday celebration in Málaga.

London's Chinatown getting ready for New Year celebrations.

London’s Chinatown getting ready for New Year celebrations.

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I’m a HUGE fan of Jane Austen with Pride and Prejudice being my favorite book in her collection. I immediately booked my tickets for Pride and Prejudice at London’s Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park as soon as I realized the tickets for the 2013 season had gone on sale.  Don’t know how John or Logan will feel about being dragged along ~ I can’t get either of them to watch the Jane Austen movies let alone read one of her novels.  Maybe the stage version will win them over.  Thankfully, they are both usually game to try something new.

The productions slated for 2013 are: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sound of Musica new stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale which has been adapted for children aged six and over.

Regent's Park Fountain

Regent’s Park Fountain

I don’t have an actual photo of the Outdoor Theater having never been to it but the above photo was taken in Regent’s Park last August and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll have just as beautiful a day during the play because the weather policy is rain or shine, the show will go on.   If you want to see a photo of the actual theater click here.

If you have an interest in seeing a production, click here for more information and to book your tickets!

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I’ve got a good excuse for not being on facebook for a week ~ Heidi and Colin came to visit. Heidi is a good friend who I met when I moved to Germany in 2001.  Her son, Colin is 8 years old (soon to be 9) which I find hard to believe since it seems like yesterday we were visiting the Weiden Klinikum and he was one day old.

I’m very impressed how both of them dealt with the six hour time difference and jet-lag with no problem at all.  Heidi is an intrepid traveler and is passing on this wonderful trait to Colin.  Logan was in charge of making sure they felt welcomed to her room (she camped in our room for the week):

And in case they didn’t remember the time back in Texas

Hampton Court was on the schedule for Monday but since the landlord called and stated the window repairman would be coming to fix a window which has been broken since we moved in (and is very unsightly), Heidi and Colin ventured off to Hampton Court on their own.  Turns out, the repairman cancelled around 11.  I was bummed since I wanted to spend the day with my friends and I haven’t been to Hampton Court yet.

On Tuesday, we went on a “behind the scenes” tour of St Paul’s Cathedral.  I was a little disappointed as I was lead to believe we’d be going to the top of the dome (or at least higher than usual).  They even warned us about the 400 plus stairs and I wore my running shoes which I’m loathed to do in this fashion conscious group/town.  I was anticipating great views. It was not to be.  Our tour guide was informative and gushed when she spoke of Christopher Wren, the builder of the Cathedral.  I think she has a bit of a crush on him but I didn’t come away feeling I’d learned much about the history of the Cathedral that I didn’t already know (which isn’t much).  I’ll be going back for another tour soon.  There’s so much to see there and we didn’t scratch the surface.  Photos aren’t allowed in the Cathedral but you can check out beautiful photos on their website by clicking here.

After St Pauls. we walked over to the Tate Modern which is, hmmm how to I say this…. very modern.  After going through several of the exhibit rooms, Heidi and I gave each other “the look”  which we both knew meant let’s get the heck out of here.  Thankfully, Heidi and I have very similar tastes/tolerances.  Once we left the Tate Modern, we walked over the Millenium Bridge (for walkers only) to the tube station. Here’s Heidi and Colin on the bridge with the Cathedral Dome in the background.

On Wednesday, we thought Colin (being the 8 year old boy that he is) would enjoy the Guard Museum and the National Army Museum.  I hadn’t even thought of going prior to their visit since there’s so many other museums to see but I’m glad I did. I would highly recommend both of them.  The Guard museum is small enough to go through in about an hour and the Army museum is about an hour and a half or so.  And there’s a really nice gift shop at the Army Museum.

Wednesday evening, Logan and Colin stayed at the flat while John, Heidi and I went to an event with a few friends from John’s class.  It was an “American” themed evening with dinner at The Diner  (My dinner was good/Heidi’s a little too rare)

and then it was off to Rock of Ages which we really enjoyed. Although all the performers were spot on, my favorite is Simon Lipkin who plays Lonny the narrator.  He could easily interact with the audience and then drop right back in line with the story.  Very talented and can really rock the mullet hairstyle. The show is a little raunchy and a lot burlesque so if you’re in any way prudish I suggest you don’t go but if you want a good laugh and want to rock to the 80s music, give it a try.  I haven’t seen the film version but can’t imagine I’d like it  ~  it’s the live performance that made this so much fun.

After a late night at the theater, we got up at 0’dark thirty to catch the 8:30 train from Paddington station to Bath Spa.  Again no photos but this time it’s because I forgot to bring my camera.  Will have to rely on Heidi to send me her photos.  Speaking of cameras, Colin accidentally left his camera on the back of the stall door hook at the Roman Baths Museum and he/Heidi didn’t realize it until we were on the train to London.  Thankfully an honest soul turned it in to Lost Property!  Good karma for him/her.  Colin has some interesting photos on the camera and was relieved it’s not gone forever.

Bath is a World Heritage Site and truly a beautiful town.  I had fun just walking around the town spying a couple of locations I’ve seen in films such as “Persuasion” and “Vanity Fair.”  Unfortunately,  it was started to rain as we got off the train and it was VERY windy.  I lost another umbrella to the wind ~ this makes my third since moving here.  Guess that means I shouldn’t buy the cheap umbrellas and go for sturdiness.

For me, the highlight of the visit was the Roman Bath Museum ~ the self guided audio tour is interesting and the kid version was fun too. Colin clued me in when to listen to the kids version if there was something particularly funny or something “gross” like the killing of a sacrificial goat.  Sometimes it’s interesting to see life through the eyes of an 8 year old boy or, at least, try to figure out what they find entertaining.

Bath is also having their Christmas Market now.  Although Heidi and I are spoiled by having been to so many German Christmas Markets (they are the best!), we both enjoyed wandering the streets looking at all the vendors.  The vendors were selling quality items.

I’ll be going back to Bath soon with John and Logan. It’s easy to see why Bath is listed as a must see on all the travel guides and has been the number one city suggested by our British friends.

Yesterday (their last day) came way too quickly ~ they went to Hamleys (the FAO Schwartz of London) in the morning and then we went to the Wallace Collection for a student led tour.  The students were from St Vincents and are between the ages of 8 to 13.  I was impressed at their presentation of selected collection pieces.  Colin even got to try on a knight’s helmet.

For our final dinner, we went to our favorite neighborhood restaurant on the corner called “Gettis”  We’re always treated so well when we go there and this time was no exception.  The waiter picked up right away that Colin is a “meat only” kind of guy and so the waiter teased him for the entire meal that he was bringing “vegetables” for him.

…and Colin declared Getti pizza better than Pizza Express.

… and then we said farewell until next time.  Heidi and Colin stayed at a Heathrow hotel on Friday night so they wouldn’t have to get up any earlier than necessary.  Smart traveler!

Missing them lots ~ the flat is way too quiet!

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