Tag Archives: tex and the city

A pOptimistic Christmas Note

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s Christmas note announces the end of the ABCityblog sitcom as we know it, but the launch of a new pOptimistic network.

2010 Christmas Card Wreath

Receiving Christmas cards is one of my great holiday joys.  I’m not one of those curmudgeons who complain about the cutesy pictures of kids posed in their holiday finest, or roll my eyes at the “year in the life” letters that could have used a deft editing touch.  In the age of Facebook, when you’re only one passive peek away from knowing the latest thought of your 389th best friend, I find Christmas cards wonderfully anachronistic.

Maybe it’s the sense of anticipation that has me addicted to holiday snail mail.  Will I make it back onto the Jewish Billionaire’s Christmas card list having run into him on book tour a couple times this year?  No, but his company sent me an e-greeting with a recipe for a trifle.  Bah-humbug. Will Tyra see her way clear to forgive a little out-of-context PageSix book publicity?  Unfortunately, no.

But then there are the true friends and family on whose cards I can always count.  Frida’s veterinary pet insurance kicks in the season early with a note that arrives right after Thanksgiving.  My 83 year-old Uncle Cleigh typically sends a picture montage card—usually posed with his dogs and sky diving on his last birthday.  My best gay Gareth chooses a homosexually charged fold-over.  Keith mails an artistic and intricate pop-up cut out.  Cathy manages to unearth yet another jokey Mexican theme featuring yet another Chihuahua, this year posed in a sweater with message, “Fleece Navidad.”  Which, by the way, has Chef in stitches—never underestimate the power of homonym humor to a non-native speaker.

Given my love of the card tradition, you’d think I’d get in on the action.  But no, I’m just a greeting voyeur.  And I don’t even feel guilty about it.  I suppose if you get right down to it, that’s what this blog is really: each post one big Christmas card note, a snapshot of my thinking at a certain point in time.

Here then is my (electronic) Christmas card missive:

With Chef in Mexico

Dear friends, family, fans and casual readers—

2010 has been a life-changing year for me, and I couldn’t have done it without the love of Chef, my partner of a decade (yikes!), not to mention all the encouragement and support you’ve given me along the way.  A year ago, the success of this blog in connecting with readers convinced me to muster the courage and independently publish my humorous memoir Alphabet City.  And what a joyous journey—both literal and emotional—with consequences I never anticipated.

On book tour, I had the opportunity to connect personally with so many of you who graciously opened your homes for book parties with friends.  Christine E., Cathy, Mandy and the ladies of Chi Omega in Dallas/Ft. Worth made my hometown welcoming again—and the reconnection with my stepmother Christine C. was an early Christmas gift.

Alphabet City themed cupcakes at sister-in-law Laura's party

My Mexican family—Isabel in S. Florida, and in-laws Laura and Miguel in Boston—thanks for trying to translate Mary Tyler Moore to a Latino audience.  Of course, the coastal gays jumped into action: Bryan K. for the first Manhattan gathering, Larry for LA’s Gay Pride, Chris and Tom for a weekend on Fire Island.  I had the opportunity to see dear friends blossoming in their new homes: Kara in DC, Dana in LA, and Jimmy in Madison.  Old friends like Shannon took me to new places like Lubbock where her sister Colleen charmed the boots off of me!  Even older friends (and family) introduced me to their new friends and family: sister Paige to the Whole Foods gang, Valerie to Austin’s Media Mavens, including Tammy and her gorgeously renovated historic abode.  Not to mention the reconnections along the way: Kathryn, Mila, Julia, and Diana.

The love I felt from you, your friends, and the fans I met along the way, made me truly believe that I have a unique, fun and optimistic voice that is connecting with readers.  And that is what has given me the courage to announce my next journey: following my passion and dream of being a writer, and doing so full-time.

An optimistic attitude, like Mary Tyler Moore

That means I bid a fond farewell to life as a marketing/public relations consultant, and say hello to the life of a writer.  While I anticipate many ups and downs, I’ve learned that my passion, creativity, hard work and optimistic attitude can take me far.  Already, my focus and energy landed me an important story for Condé Nast Traveler (watch for it in March 2011).  And I have many more exciting changes in store, including a complete redesign and relaunch of this blog.  The topics I write about are more than can be captured in a sitcom called Alphabet City.  With favorite shows like Tex and the City (culture), Green Globe Trekker (travel), and 40, Love (life), and soon-to-be-released shows like Service Entrance (food) and Biz Savvy Blogger (technology), I may just need my own network—like Oprah.  As the wise and wealthy media mogul says herself in promos for her OWN channel:

“What if I could take every story that ever moved me?  Every lesson that motivated me?  Every opportunity that was given to me?  All of my most special celebrations?  And shared them with you?”

Some might call that nauseating, others might call that Facebook and Twitter, but I’m calling the new JP network:

Watch for this fresh, frank, fun website-network to launch in the New Year.  I can’t wait to share this next part of the journey with you.  As Oprah says, “Oooh, this is gonna be good!”

Until then, wishing you a

Viewer programming note: To prepare for the Poptimistic programming change and to celebrate the season, ABCityblog will be going on hiatus—except for instances of breaking thoughts/news.


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Tex and the City: Lambs Flop

Today on Tex and the City: JP’s meal at The Lambs Club is saved by a very tan designer.  Guest star: Michael Kors.

The Lambs Club Broadway-like set

It was an over zealously gingerized take on a traditional Pims Cup that was the most memorable part of last night’s meal at The Lambs Club, Geoffrey Zakarian’s buzzy 44th street eatery plopped down at the back of the Chatwal Hotel.  Well, that, and the fact that Michael Kors’ over zealously tanned skin looked right at home in the back banquette.  Speaking of, anyone notice how the “CFDA lifetime achievement award” designer and our soon-to-be new Speaker of the House share the same skin tone?  Oops, sorry about that.  I got distracted.  Which might be the perfect word to describe everything about The Lambs Club.

Arriving early for my reservation, the host seemed distracted—uninterested—in offering to check my coat, or suggest I have a drink at the bar while waiting for my party to arrive.  Because I had spoken to others who dined here, I knew the main bar is up some weird staircase to the 2nd floor—completely disconnected from the rest of the restaurant.  But I prodded, and he revealed, indeed I could go up the stairs.  As if it’s some secret wonderland.  Hardly.  The most interesting thing about the upstairs is the light fixtures sort of made to look like a faux Chrysler-Empire State building.  On first glance, they seem cute, but on closer inspection they look like the kind of thing you might find at an upscale tourist vendor around the corner.

In fact, the entire restaurant and bar design felt like a set of a Broadway show from just down the street—everything’s a little too loud and showy—like the red banquettes and red glowing lights.  The perfect thing to distract you from the just okay food.

only one of the "clams"

Granted, I knew going in this wasn’t going to be one of the best meals of my life.  Both The New York Times’ Sam Sifton and New York Magazine’s Adam Platt gave it reasonably good reviews for basically what it is—a hotel restaurant headed by a well-regarded Chef.  So I ordered up the items they raved about—Heritage Pork Ravioli and the Chatham Cod Cheeks.  Both of them were much less interesting than any review led me to believe.  The broccoli rabe paired with the over salted ravioli was cooked into mush.  The cod was dry and included only one clam despite the menu’s pronouncement of “clams” plural.  I’m a sucker for a citrus dessert, and the Deep Dish Lemon Meringue Tart didn’t disappoint.  Although it came flying out of the kitchen within seconds of ordering—odd since everything else took forever at the table.  Perhaps that meringue hadn’t been torched to order? Maybe it’s the curse of mediocre reviews—what’s the point in trying too hard if no one coming in is expecting too much?  Just when I started to feel bad about subjecting my out-of-town companions to less than stellar meal, in walked the faux sunkissed Michael Kors and his entourage.  We all perked up, and began discussing our feelings that Mondo had been robbed on Project Runway.  We were thankful for the distraction.

Tex and the City Bottom Line: Because it was easy to score a reservation on OpenTable, The Lambs Club is a perfectly acceptable spot for pre/post theater.  Just hope there’s some tanned eye candy to distract from the less than stellar main course.


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Tex and the City: Pass the Valium

Today on Tex and the City: Jon Paul needs a valium to recover from the mess of Broadway’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

At times on Saturday night, I felt like the ladies of Broadway’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown were warming up for the New York Marathon.  What with all the choreographed pacing back and forth and up and down the non-stop moving set.  Unfortunately, no amount of movement could breathe authentic energy into this show.  It’s like their coach, er director Bartlett Sher, was too worried about distracting gadgets like colorful projections and flying set pieces, and lost site of the fundamentals like character development and interaction.  Granted, it’s never easy to adapt a beloved classic, but I was on the edge of my seat wondering what in the world Pedro Almodóvar thought of the mess this production had made of his lovably funny and tender film.  Like the women on stage, I needed a valium to stay calm—and get by.

The problem starts from the opening scene setting number “Madrid” which is supposed to paint a picture of an exciting capital city in 1987 undergoing rapid changes after a decade of democracy.  Much of the audience is probably unfamiliar with the history and pulse of Madrid—and this number certainly doesn’t rectify that.  The city conjured up here feels dull and lifeless.  It’s not like it’s impossible to create an electrifying opening number about an unfamiliar Latino ‘hood—think the first pulsating moments of In the Heights.

What happens next is a weird back-to-back montage of musical numbers with almost no character interaction.  One of the things that made the movie so heart warming was the relationships—good and bad—amongst the women.  We get none of that here.  Which is tragic since the talent assembled here is near legendary Broadway proportions.

Sherie Rene Scott in one, fleeting captivating moment

Sherie Rene Scott, who normally dazzles, seems like she’s in an entirely different production from the rest.  As Pepa, the centerpiece, she plays the whole thing straight, and sad, yet not pathetic enough for us to think she’s funny or even interesting.  Patti LuPone—I mean, hello, if there’s anyone that could nail the crazy diva of Lucia it would be this icon—but she’s not given anything to work with in either the book or the score.  Both of her big numbers have no real ending so the audience couldn’t even applaud.  What?!

Laura Benanti dazzles

The only bright spot—and she shone, thank god—is adorable Laura Benanti.  She lit up the stage and overcame all the overplayed set pieces around her when she pranced about.  I turned to Chef and uttered, “Thank god she’s here.”  Her turn as Candela, the model who has fallen for a terrorist, is the only one that comes close to nailing the comic nature of the original film role, and yet made it all her own.  Her big number “Model Behavior” brought down the house—I think we were all relieved that at least someone was worth watching.  When she left the stage, I nearly had a breakdown.

For the most part, this is a musical that relies on a mixed bag of special effects tricks to keep us from noticing the lack of character development or story.  Not to say that some of the tricks don’t work.  Some of them are splendid.  When Pepa and her recently ex-lover Ivan (played by an oddly smarmy not sexy Brian Stokes Mitchell) dub a love song into a re-enacted movie projected onscreen, it’s truly stunning and heartbreaking.  And then my heart breaks that the trick never shows up again—it’s the only time that an effect merged with character and storytelling device.  Nope, once a trick is finished—we move swiftly onto the next one.  Like a real onstage burning bed (an iconic image from the movie) which made everyone around me nervous that it was a mistake.  Not to mention that it completely upstaged poor Sheri Rene Scott having to sing some unforgettable song next to it.  Unforgettable, except that’s the one song that kept being reprised.  And it’s not nearly interesting enough for that.

I could go on and on about a million other quibbles.  How the taxi—another centerpiece from the movie—comes off as campy and sad.  How many throw away one-liners are included at the expense of real character development.  How the accents seem to come and go at will and are all over the map—some seem Cuban while others seem Argentine.  The only consistency is when anyone says “gazpacho” with a slight lisp.  It’s the one thing delivered over and over again with just the right blend of humor and zest.

Believe me, I wanted so much to love and embrace this show.  It had so much talent going for it, which made it even more nerve wracking to watch it go so wrong.  Someone pass me a little blue pill.

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Tex and the City: Romantic Fall

Today on Tex and the City: JP picks his favorite Fall happenings, while Chef prepares for a Nor’easter.

in a colorful fall scarf. photo by Jamie Beck

By the time of our ninth date, it was fairly obvious that Chef and I had radically different approaches to seasonal transitions.  We met in late summer, and so by mid-September Chef was already breaking out hat, gloves, and down jackets for a stroll around Central Park to see the changing leaves.

“Aren’t you a little over dressed for a romantic walk?” I asked, wearing a light sweater and cute new scarf.

“Romantic?  There’s nothing romantic about this weather.  You never know when a snowstorm might hit.”

“I take it you’re not a fan of fall, then.  That’s too bad, it’s my favorite season.”

“If you ask me, fall is just a harbinger of impending doom.  Six months of Nor’easters and no sun.”

So dramatic.  That’s my boy.  Not that I lack a flare for the dramatic.  I suppose my love of Fall is rooted in too many Woody Allen movies as a kid—they were like love letters to the Big Apple.  And then When Harry Met Sally came along I was mesmerized by  the image of Meg Ryan walking through Central Park while the golden leaves fell around her.

When I first moved to Alphabet City, I was overwhelmed by the energy with which New Yorkers attack the Fall season.  It’s as if right after Labor Day, summering finally ends, and they are allowed to unleash every bit of pent up ambition in a flurry of activity that concludes before Thanksgiving.  I always feel like if I don’t pay attention, and plan, then I’m going to miss something important—especially theatre offerings.  I’ve learned to really sit down and study both New York and Time Out magazines’ Fall Previews, and then triangulate it with the New York Times Arts & Leisure Fall guide.

For those of you traveling to NYC this romantic fall, or those of you living here that need a little help, here’s what’s on my radar screen that Tex and the City will most likely be writing about this Fall.

That is, when I’m not strolling the city with Chef—I’ll be the one with the colorful scarf, he’ll be Nanook of the North.

My ticket tip: register with www.theatermania.com and have access to discount codes for purchasing tickets; otherwise go to www.telecharge.com

Mrs. Warren’s Profession.  Cherry Jones—one of the most powerful actresses of our time—stars as a brothel-owner in this George Bernard Shaw play about mother-daughter dynamics.  The daughter will be played by Sally Hawkins, making her Broadway debut.  www.roundabouttheatre.org

La Bete.  Patsy from AbFab on Broadway in a revival of a famous flop?  Count me in!  Joanna Lumley stars with David Hyde Pierce and Mark Rylance (Tony award Boeing Boeing), directed by God of Carnage’s Matthew Warchus.  www.labetetheplay.com

Without You.  Anthony Rapp writes the book and lyrics based upon his book Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent.  Hey, Alphabet City as a musical?  I’m considering it.  So it’s a must to check out this show part of the New York Musical Theater Festival that gave us hits like Next to Normal and my inspiring fave [title of show]www.nymf.org

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.  Tickets already purchased, thank you very much, for this musical adaptation of the Almodovar movie.  Come on, starring Patti Lupone, Laura Benanti, Sheri Rene Scott and Brian Stokes Mitchell?!  There’s no decision here.  www.lct.org

Driving Miss Daisy.  Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.  Enough said.  www.daisyonbroadway.com

The Pee-Wee Herman Show.  Paul Reubens is back and as goofy as ever.  And thank God, because he still influences my everyday dialogue.  “Why don’t you marry it?”  www.pewee.com/broadway

Elling.  Although my love for this actor can’t get me to watch him in True Blood, Denis O’Hare will make me run screaming to the theater to see him paired with Brendan Fraser.  They’re two men released from a mental institution living together.  Add in the quirky fabulous Jennifer Coolidge, and I’m not sure how this can go wrong.  www.ellingonbroadway.com

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.  Say what you will, but I live with a guy obsessed with super heroes.  And I’m obsessed with director Julie Taymor.  Let’s hope the most expensive production in Broadway history is either spectacularly terrific or outrageously tragic.  I’d hate for them to have spent a fortune to crank out this year’s mediocrity (sorry, Addams Family).  www.spidermanonbroadway.com

Other Desert Cities.  A new work by writer Jon Robin Baitz—whom I used to read magazine articles about while in Texas and fantasize I would have his life one day.  Story is about a novelist who returns home after six years and announces she’s working on a memoir about a controversial time in the family’s history.  Hmm, sound familiar?  www.lct.org

Out of Town Tryouts—Leap of Faith.  It often takes one for me to travel to LA.  But in case we need to escape an freak early snowfall, I’d consider a trip to Hollywood in October to see this musical.  Stars one of my Broadway boyfriends Raúl Esparza and eye-brow-licious Brooke Shields.  Based on the Steve Martin movie.  www.centertheatregroup.org

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Tex and the City: Falling Just Short

Today on Alphabet City: Tex and the City squeezes in some questionable religious training with Broadway’s Next Fall

My brushes with formal religious education have been fleeting.  As a kid, my family attended a non-denominational Congregationalist church mostly because it was expected of my climbing-the-law-firm-ladder father.  Later, as a 12 year-old, I very reluctantly suffered through confirmation classes at tony Highland Park Methodist at the insistence of my mother who was husband hunting in the over-40s single group.  Then in my teen years filled with personal upheaval, Judaism enamored me during high school at semi-Semitic Greenhill mostly because wholesome families like the Levy’s, Strelitz’s and Frankel’s adopted me into their flocks making sure I was well-fed and loved.

As an adult, I’ve tended not to be interested much in religious dogma, often holding it at arms’ length.  Even Chef’s Catholic upbringing doesn’t seem to pose many issues in our relationship—he left behind any self-loathing baggage back in Mexico.  So when Next Fall by first-time playwright Geoffrey Nauffts opened Off-Broadway last season to resoundingly wonderful reviews, I resisted the allure of a gay treatise on faith, even if Gay Hall of Flamers Elton John and partner David Furnish produced it.  But like a true show queen, a Tony nomination for Best Play after a transfer to the Great White trumps any personal trepidations.  In short order, a one-night NYC opening in my Alphabet City book tour schedule cemented the play on my squeezed itinerary.

My expectation that the show would take a Tony Kushner-like heavy handed and heady approach to questions of religious belief’s impact on the lives of a gay couple was happily dashed.  Instead, the fast-paced play is served up as a frothy living room (cum hospital waiting room) comedy with a steady mix of punch lines sure to please the hardiest Will & Grace fans.

The tightly wound hypochondriac Adam (Patrick Breen) is the latest and gayest incarnation of a familiar curmudgeon previously known as Woody Allen/Jerry Seinfeld/Larry David.  A devout agnostic, the 40 year-old worldly Adam takes every opportunity to poke fun and lay bare the inherent contradictions in the fundamentalist beliefs of his much younger aspiring actor boyfriend Luke (Patrick Heusinger).  The story reveals itself by jumping backwards and forwards in time as a collection of characters gathers in a NYC hospital after an accident.  I don’t want to give away too much here because I think the movement in the story is expertly crafted, as is the cleverly packed-in set design by Wilson Chin.  Suffice it to say there’s a motley storytelling and wise-cracking crew assembled: self-professed fag hag Holly (Maddie Corman), Luke’s Southern divorced parents Arlene (Connie Ray) and Butch (Cotter Smith), and Luke’s fellow fundamentalist friend Brandon (Sean Dugan).

Surprisingly, rather than being turned off by the accept-Jesus-as-your-savior-or-burn-in-Hell beliefs of the Luke, I was actually rather charmed by his deep hope that Adam would convert so they could meet in the afterlife.  Heusinger’s quirky laugh and shoulder shaking body movements as he tries to explain his faith makes what he’s saying palatable and cute.  Adam’s comic reaction to meeting up in the afterlife is what does it really matter—they evidently aren’t allowed to be gay in Heaven.

And herein lies my main problem with the show—while the play teases out Luke’s thoughts, hopes, dreams and background—Adam is presented solely as stand-up comedian.  And no doubt, as played by Patrick Breen, he’s charming in that nebbishy way that I found so attractive in NYC guys when I first moved here.  But there are almost no references to Adam’s background—how he turned into this rather cynical character that we all know from TV, and the real streets of New York.  What’s that about his father dying and feeling bitter that Luke didn’t hold him that night?  What’s that about Adam wanting to be a writer but leaving behind those dreams to be a teacher?  Never mind, we’re onto the next set-up.

Adam was almost too funny all the time, so that when he has some heart breaking moments, it’s hard for us to understand his depth of emotion.  It actually reminded me of the early drafts of Alphabet City that included no background about my previously dashed dreams of living in NYC or complicated relationship with my parents.  My friend, writer and artist Aaron counseled me that in order for readers to root for me to succeed, they need to know something of my background.  In Alphabet City, I can’t just start as a sitcom character with no explanation.  Aaron was right then, and his advice applies here.  I needed to know much more about Adam than just accept him as a gay archetype—especially since we delve so deeply into Luke.

Oddly, most of the other supporting characters are given more of an opportunity to break out of stereotypes than Adam.  Maddie Corman endears her Holly with a terrific blend of pathos and comic timing so I audibly gasped when Adam meanly critiques her new age efforts to find love.  “At least I’m trying,” she replies.  We have to wait deep into Act 2 to get a similar sense from the mysterious Brandon, which Sean Dugan plays expertly with a proverbial bug up his butt.

Connie Ray’s turn as Luke’s on again/off again mother is mesmerizing.  She lights up the stage from her entrance, and gets the richest dialogue—becoming the emotional core of the show.  Unfortunately, that makes Butch, the stiff as a board father, come across as well, stiff as a board.  He doesn’t get to have as nearly as interesting journey as the other characters.

But for a first time Broadway outing by the playwright Nauffts and director Sheryl Kaller, this is a tremendous beginning.  Inspiring, really.  I’m excited to continue to watch and experience their various journies—you made complicated issues of faith palatable to an avowed agnostic like myself.

Luke’s greatest role on stage, as recounted by his mother and Holly, was the Stage Manager in Our Town.  Holly gives a delicious recounting of the plot, reminding us to cherish life and not take others for granted.  To me, those words, from one of America’s greatest stage triumphs, are truly my religion.

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Tex and the City: Little Night Virus

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul heads out as Tex and the City to see if Catherine Zeta can Send in the Clowns

I’ve had an odd fascination with Catherine Zeta-Jones pelvis since Susan and I were forced to sit front row at a premiere of the hokey Sean Connery romantic thriller Entrapment.  We could barely keep from guffawing as we had a front row view of CZJ’s crotch as she slithered through infrared lights of a robber detection system.  So I made sure the tickets for A Little Night Music were a little further from the stage for fear of embarrassing myself.

Evidently, there’s a virus going around on Broadway—and it’s not the one affecting CZJ’s ability to perform in A Little Night Music.  It’s a series of show stealing performances by supporting cast—from Kate Finneran’s Act 2 tour-de-force in Promises, Promises to Robin De Jesus’ comic genius in La Cage aux Folles.  Now add to the list Leigh Ann Larkin in A Little Night Music.  While CZJ and the indomitable Angela Lansbury are getting all the buzz, this cracker jack blonde is reason enough to sit through a sometimes dowdy revival of one of Sondheim’s least toe-tapping shows.

While in Act I Larkin hints at her engaging sensibility, in Act 2 she lets loose in the 11 o’clock number The Miller’s Song, effectively erasing any previous memories of CZJ’s Send in the who?  In Larkin’s previous turn on Broadway she played Dainty June opposite Patti LuPone’s Gypsy, and I remember telling Chef then that she was hands down the most interesting Dainty June I had ever seen—layering her with a rich complexity way beyond what’s written in the show’s book.  She’s no one-hit wonder: Larkin does it again here, vamping about the stage with a sense of wild abandon that had me believing she literally might chew the scenery.

The design of the show is classic Trevor Nunn and London’s Menier Chocolate Factory from where this show as imported—cleverly minimalist with sets that shine through with surprises.  But I am starting to wonder if all this sleekly small design transfers all that well to the Broadway stage.  I felt the same sense of flatness with the technical wizardry in Sunday in the Park with George.  And frankly was underwhelmed by the shanty look of this season’s La Cage.  Little Night holds up a little better, especially Act 2’s transformation into a slightly less bleak Swedish country estate where the sun doesn’t set.

Thankfully, the sun doesn’t seem to set on CZJ either—as the spotlight is trained on her every move on stage.  The role seems tailor-made for CZJ—an aging actress in the twilight of her career longing to reconnect with a lost love.  The emotional depth that CZJ brings to the role makes her version of Send in the Clowns more real that and touching than the breakout ballad popularized by Streisand.  But what I really found engaging in CZJ’s performance was her comic timing and understated facial expressions that turn You Must Meet My Wife duet into a true delight.

Only an actress of Angela Lansbury legend and magnitude could carry off an acting job requiring her to set up a weird plot based on some made-up Ingmar Bergman prophecy in a wheel chair.  Of course, she does it with gusto and charm, which also must allow her to overlook the fact that CZJ’s bio in the Playbill is inexplicably twice as long as her award-winning resume.  5 Tonys vs. a list of leading men CZJ has played against?  Really?

I’m still wondering exactly what is the message of this rather odd duck of a story.  Follow your dreams?  Not really, CZJ’s character Desiree does that and almost misses life and love.  And the man she loves, Fredrick tries to follow his passion and marries the very young virgin daughter of his best friend—today that storyline is downright creepy.  To me, it’s one mixed up collection of straight people once again trying to figure out the meaning of sex in their passion-less lives.

I left hoping my next Weekend in the Country doesn’t end up like this unhappy brood.  Though if CZJ showed up to rest her voice, and pelvis, I wouldn’t necessarily mind.

Update: although CZJ and Lansbury end their run on June 20 the show is extending with Bernadette Peters & Elaine Stritch in the roles…now that should be something.

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Tex and the City: Fresh Meat

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s new Aussie friend turns the talk show table on him; a special Tex and the City.

When I first moved to Manhattan, folks told me that you may start calling yourself a “true New Yorker” only after living here 10 years.  It was always said with such conviction that I never questioned it.  As a newbie, I just assumed it was a given fact that everyone understood.  I imagined that upon my 10th Anniversary there might be some ceremony in Tompkins Square Park where the local homeless guy/artiste awarded me a special accomplishment badge from the Girl Scouts (now Foursquare).  That’s when I would have enough Big Apple experience under my belt to share common ground with my fellow citizens.  But recently, I’m not so sure I buy the decade argument after all.

Any time I meet a recent immigrant come to set-up shop near the Great White Way, I’m reminded that it’s that energy, enthusiasm and passion for this city that makes it buzz with excitement.  It’s that shared sense of awe for all that is possible in New York that bonds us.

Last night’s New York fresh meat was Jono from Australia, whom I e-met through our dear mutual friend Katie.  He moved here to open Hyatt’s new property Andaz on 5th Avenue, and since I have an instant crush on anyone with an accent from Down Under (I have the Sydney Opera House tattooed on my arm, after all), it wasn’t a hard sell to arrange for get-to-know-you drinks.

you've never seen Manhattan quite like this, unless you live in NJ

The rooftop bar at Kimpton’s new ink48 property on 11th Avenue and 48th street was the perfect place to exchange observations on Manhattan.  Sometimes, I worry about spots overlooking the Hudson River because once the sun sets, you’re stuck looking at, well, New Jersey.  But ink48’s locale, a tad bit off the beaten path, gives it a spectacular new perspective on the city—the bar looks back fondly with unobstructed views over the Midtown Manhattan skyline.  Unless you own an apartment on the West Side highway, you probably haven’t seen this view.  There’s indoor and outdoor seating, and floor-to-ceiling windows letting you take it all in.  Just know the hotel strictly controls the number allowed up to the 16th floor, but you can always wait in the groovy lobby lounge.

Poor Jono, when I meet someone new, I have a habit of behaving as if I have my own talk show.  I think at first he was a little overwhelmed by the amount of questions I peppered him with about life in New York and at the hotel.

“Has your family come to visit?” is one of my favorite questions, the answer revealing a multitude of sins—everything from how the subject gets along with their parents to what they showcase to visiting relatives.

And then quickly the tables turned.

“What do you love about New York?  What keeps you passionate about this city?” Jono asked.

I sat looking at him awed at his ability to take the upper hand in my interview.  Like a terrible guest, I was silent, stumped.  But like a good host, Jono vamped to fill in the gaps.

“You either love New York or you hate it.  And if you hate it, you get out.  For people who have stayed, like you, there must be a passion for it.  What’s yours?”

I smiled.  As a caring and helpful host, he had given me a wide opening to plug my book.

“Well, Jono, as I wrote in Alphabet City, New York is a place where anyone can move and follow a dream.  You can leave your baggage behind, and with ambition and talent, you can reinvent yourself.”

He nodded in agreement.  I smiled pleased to have hit my message point, and remembered one more.

“I like to think there’s a little bit of Mary Tyler Moore in all adopted New Yorkers.”

With that, we raised a glass to MTM, and toasted all the opportunities in the Big Apple.  And I decided that it’s not the amount of time you spend in New York that determines if you can call it home, it’s your attitude that earns you that right.

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Tex and the City: Love, Jackson Style

Viewer Programming Note: enjoy the “branded” debut of a new spin-off series ‘Tex and the City’—JP’s cultural reviews.

Today on Alphabet City: Tex and the City discovers his writing roots thanks to a maniac onstage at the Public Theatre.

Perfectly descriptive prose from an 11 year-old

Last Friday, I fell in love all over again with a man some are calling the American Hitler.  I first became infatuated with him when I was 11, while visiting his Tennessee home.  In fact, he could possibly be responsible for my eventual career as a travel writer—I recently unearthed a detailed diary of the trip to The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of these United States.

Describing his estate as “real pretty” and clearly impressed because “I got postcards of it,” I was obviously more struck by a town down the road of Gatlinburg that “had at least 15 hotels (underlined 6 times) & 10 (underlined 7 times) putt-putt golf courses.”  With observations like that, my writing path was clear.

But nothing on that trip prepared me for the explosion on stage at the Public Theater’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, now extended through May 30.  If anyone can make you swoon for a homicidal maniac, it’s Benjamin Walker who swaggers onstage like sex on a stick.  Boy was I hooked.  Walker’s mix of hunky attitude balanced every so often by boyish defeat is a winning combination that makes you root for Jackson.  Even though what you are rooting for is, ultimately, decimation of the Native Americans.  The play’s meditation on Jackson’s charm as channeled by Walker is a wonderful reminder that populism has deeper roots—and often disasterous consequences—for America than just the latest incarnation of the Tea Party or our current sometimes popular/ist Obama.

Maria Elena Ramirez is outstanding as Jackson’s bigamist wife Rachel, the only real female role in the President’s entourage.  Ramirez has a star turn in her duet with Walker where they lather blood on each other, an homage to the belief in the health benefits of bleeding.  It’s probably more gruesomely captivating than anything the Adams Family is serving up.  But I thought Ramirez deserved a better “second act” number to show off her talents, and give the show some more female power—how about a song of betrayal for Jackson’s decision to run for President after his first time was stolen from him by a dirty electoral scheme?  It sounds like the 2000 election for good reason—history in America tends to repeat itself.  It’s the citizens that forget.

As the fey Van Buren, Lucas Near-Vergrugghe (how’s that for a mouthful) nearly steals the show in a completely silent scene of Jackson’s censure after illegally removing Indians and Spaniards from Florida.  Lucas’ facial expressions, antics, and clever ability to simultaneously eat and not eat a twinkie, are like watching a classic Second City Improv sketch—I didn’t want it to end.

Packed into a small space, Donyale Werle does wonders with the scenic design.  The entire theater is transformed into a New Orleans-style bordello.  Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the tiny stage has a few tricks in store—recreating a famous tableau of the Indians’ trail of tears.  Danny Mefford’s choreography keeps things pumping along with modern moves straight from a Justin Timberlake concert.

Some might be bothered with writer/director Alex Timbers playing a little fast and loose with some historical facts, and a decidedly un-PC bent.  But hell, not me.  Shooting a wheel-chair bound narrator?  That’s genius.  Besides, I like that all the bad guys—Calhoun, Adams—are just jealous queens.  They’d fit right in at Fire Islands’ Pines.

Travel words to live by

This electricity charged brand of entertainment is just what theater—and history—needs to excite a new generation.  After all, not everyone can get their start as a pre-teen travel writer like me.

My early hotel review should have left no doubt of my future, “We stayed at the Holiday Inn 5 min. before checking in at the Hyatt.  Lesson: Don’t judge a hotel by how tired you are! Or You can’t judge a hotel by the lobby exept (sp) if the hotel has plastic flowers.”  Now come on, those are words to live by.


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