Halfway Home

I’m halfway through with my summer here, isn’t that ridiculous?  How did July happen?!

Today was busy, though work was normal–I guess that’s what happens when you have a regular job?  Daily routine and all?  I left work in a fairly good mood because Diana (my supervisor) told Theresa and I to go home tomorrow after our group intern meeting from 10:00-12:00.  Early start on the holiday weekend?  Sounds good to me.  I am debating trying Kefi for lunch on the Upper West Side or shopping–tell me what I should do with my free afternoon!  Maybe I’ll do both (and go to the gym, of course).

After work I headed to Hell’s Kitchen for some pre-theatre grazing.  I decided to try dinner at Amy’s Bread though oddly enough did not get one of their sandwiches (which had been hailed as delicious by SeriousEats).  None of the selections that day really appealed to me, so instead I got a really delicious salad (whole and pureed cannelloni beans, pumpkin seeds, avocado, grilled zucchini, sun-dried tomato with lettuce and a really light, citrusy vinaigrette) which came with a yummy roll of my choice.  I went for rosemary, because it’s a classic.  Because I was being quasi-virtuous for dinner I decided to try Amy’s Outrageous Chocolate Pudding for dessert. Chocolate pudding is one of my secret favorite desserts, and I’ve been craving it ever since I saw a SeriousEats post about an entire mason jar full of chocolate pudding which is available at Sarabeth’s Chelsea Market location.  Chocolate pudding for the win: creamy, simple, chocolate.

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The salad was excellent.  The pumpkin seeds added crunch and salt, and cannelloni beans were really hearty and well seasoned, the zucchini wasn’t soggy at all and the sun-dried tomatoes added a lot of punch and flavor.  I always love avocado, so that was an added bonus.  I wish I’d shaken the vinaigrette a bit more so that the citrus bits were better distributed in the salad, but what can you do.  The roll was fragrant with rosemary, but I wish it had been a little softer.

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Apologies for the graininess of the pudding photo, I couldn’t get it to focus.  The pudding was also excellent and maybe a little too rich for the amount they give you.  Perfect pudding consistency.  The richness is cut with fresh whipped cream (I saw them whip it in front of me) and small pieces of dark chocolate.  I almost couldn’t finish the pudding but sometimes you have to take one for the team.  My craving is officially sated.

I still had a lot of time to kill post dinner so I decided to walk off the pudding by going to Sullivan Street Bakery and picking up some pizza bianca for the weekend.  However once I was there I saw that there was still some pizza patate (potato pizza) leftover and I decided to have a little after-dinner snack (it happens).

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Guys, this little slice of pizza was amazing.  I was only going to have a few bites and then save the rest for later but I ate the entire thing because it was that good.  The pizza is a room temperature slice of pizza bianca covered in potatoes and sweet, tangy onions.  The potatoes are crispy on the edges but gratin soft in the middle and extremely savory.  The onions add snap and bite, and I believe there’s some black pepper involved too because there’s an after-kick.  Rosemary, of course, is the finishing touch.  The pizza bianca at Sullivan Street is a fantastic bit of carb loading and a perfect pick-me-up snack between shows or while wandering Hell’s Kitchen.

I then walked, pleasantly full and extremely happy with the evening’s eatings, to the New York City Center to see the Encores! Summer Stars performance of The Wiz. The Wiz is a musical that was written in the 1970s as a soul-version of the Wizard of Oz.  Traditionally it is performed with an all-black cast, and that precedent was followed here.  I known and love The Wiz through the highly entertaining and fantastic (the critics hate it, go figure) Sidney Lumet film from the late 1970s, starring a too-old Diana Ross as Dorothy (they turned the character into a spinster schoolteacher), Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Richard Pryor as the Wizard and Lena Horne as Glinda.  Even though the current production of The Wiz received middling reviews, I decided to check it out.  Discount tickets didn’t hurt my decision either.

Ashanti, the pop starlet, plays Dorothy in this production.  Ashanti has a lovely, clear young voice, but Ashanti cannot act.  I could have told you that Ashanti cannot act.  She evidenced her non-ability in the seventh season Buffy the Vampire Slayer where, in one of the worst episodes ever, she played another demon on whom Xander developed a crush.  Ashanti played the demon in a very wooden, one-dimensional manner, which is fine for a one-episode monster-of-the-week character.  But she brought that same woodness to Dorothy, and since Dorothy is the emotional center of the show, that woodness extended to the rest of the production.

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I found the production curiously lifeless.  It doesn’t help that the orchestra, impressively situated on a platform in the shape of a cyclone, takes up half the stage.  This orchestra platform/set is revealed during the tornado which whisks Dorothy to Oz, in a really neat moment of theatrical magic, but I don’t think the “wow” moment was worth having half the stage unavailable for the rest of the show.  The orchestra, it must be said, is really fantastic.  The dancing was intriguing but didn’t necessary seem to have a purpose.  Rather than ease on down the road the characters sort of meandered along the stage, against slow-moving, contorted dancers with yellow gloves and yellow converse that were meant to represent the road.

A few performances do stand out.  LaChanze, who won the Tony for The Color Purple is excellent as Aunt Em and Glinda.  She has a really beautiful voice but unfortunately she was seriously over miked, to the point of painful loudness.  People, LaChanze has a strong voice, she doesn’t need a mic.  Actually the entire cast was over-microphoned, which led to some staticky feedback during the major production numbers.  City Center, you should know better by now!

Evillene (the Wicked Witch of the West) reminded me of Sister Patterson (New York’s mother) wearing a giant sparkly red dress House of Dereon will design in about fifteen years.  I mean all of this in the best possible way.

The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion are all great–but I’m partial to the Lion, since he gets to sing some of my favorite songs.  I actually got Nostalgia Tears (my newly-minted term for my odd tendency to start bawling at songs that remind me of my childhood; this frequently happens during Disney Films and with anything involving Julie Andrews) during the fantastic song “Be a Lion.”  Nostalgia tears also happened during “Home.”  It doesn’t help that I was picturing the movie in my head as Ashanti and Co. sang these songs.

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The Wiz is played by Colman Domingo, who I saw as the “What’s Inside is Just a Lie” guy in Passing Strange.  Colman, I think, is filling for Orlando Jones who was originally slated to play the role–not sure why he isn’t in the final cast.  Colman is fairly awesome, he’s good at vast gestures and strange voices, and can make a tongue-click hilarious.  When he is in his wizard garb he wears a shiny green coat with epaulets, an unintentional tribute to Michael Jackson.

Speaking of Michael Jackson (of course) I have to say, I prefer the scarecrow song from the film to the scarecrow song in the show’s score.  Not sure why they changed the scarecrow song for the movie, but if you want to hear it (sung by the King himself), here’s the clip.

The show can’t help but have Michael Jackson references.  One of the dancers even did the crotch-grab hip-thrust thing.  It is curious to see the different audiences that come to different shows.  People want comfort zones, I think.  When my family and I saw Bombay Dreams a vast majority of the audience was Indian.  When I saw In the Heights much of the audience was hispanic.  Much of the audience at The Wiz was African American, and I saw several sporting Michael Jackson remembrance pins.  The audience loved the show–they applauded whenever Ashanti or LaChanze performed vocal acrobatics, and leapt to their feet for a standing ovation at the show’s end.  The production was entertaining but I have to wonder about the psychology behind why certain audiences like certain productions that clearly have major issues–such as a leading lady who isn’t fit for the role.

The Wiz, of course, has a major place in the history of black musicals.  I did a seminar project on Shuffle Along, the 1921 musical by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle which is widely considered the first African American Broadway success.  African American shows, particularly comedies, tend to tred a line of minstrelsy in order to pander to white audiences.  I felt that The Wiz tended to slip into that direction, though whenever characters mentioned their weaves or when the Scarecrow received a GED diploma rather than a regular diploma the audience laughed extremely hard (just a few examples of some dialogue that made me cringe).  Maybe I am reading too much into the musical, but I can’t help but note certain tendencies–or perhaps it is just that “thing” where you can make Jewish jokes if you are Jewish and you can make black jokes if you are black etc.

One last note about the show–I know it is late and I am not making much sense, so apologies/thanks to those of you who read this far.  Does anyone else read the song “Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day” as a metaphor for slavery?  The song is sung by the subjects of Evillene after she is killed by Dorothy, and includes lyrics such as “Freedom you see has got our hearts singing so joyfully” and “Hello World!  We have a different way of living now!”  Also the dancers in this scene, both in the film and in this production, strip off their heavy working clothes (their shackles?) and perform joyful awesome dances.  I mean maybe this is obvious but why doesn’t anyone ever say anything about it?

So that’s The Wiz.  The production has a limited run (it closes Sunday), but considering the enthusiasm of the audience I saw tonight the production seems to be a success.  A flawed production, certainly, but as long as it is making theatre-goers happy–and introducing the many children I saw in the theater tonight to the Broadway musical–then I’m okay with it.

4 thoughts on “Halfway Home

  1. I assume you know that The Wizard of Oz is based on the Depression? I always thought of Brand New Day- singing about getting out of the Depression and returning to happy life again? I suppose it could relate to slavery as well, considering the show we are talking about…

    I don’t know if that made sense. It is 2:30 am (hi mom and dad!) and I need to go to bed.

  2. Girl I know the Wizard of Oz is based on the Depression. I am talking The Wiz here, purely removed form the Wizard of Oz and as a piece of black musical theatre. Why are you awake? Go to bed.

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