Night at the Thee-Ah-Taaah

Charity and I recently got around to reading Wicked.  I’d heard about the book from friends, and of course, one could not escape the mega-commercial, gratuitous onslaught of the Broadway musical.  First season Ugly Betty fans, you know what I’m talking about.

Since arriving in London, we could not help but notice the ads everywhere for it in the West End.  I remember being a bit remorseful about missing it when it breezed through Seattle, and since we liked the book so much, we decided to go for it.  So we’d been on the lookout for discount tickets at the tkts counter nearly everyday.  No love, no love.  Occasionally, we’d check online, and see a few 15 pound seats available waaaaay up in the nosebleeds, but they were out when we finally broke down and went straight to the box office on Monday.  Going on Tuesday was out because we had an early morning on Wednesday.  We got a lucky break for the Wednesday night show, so we decided to spend our last night in London at the “thee-ah-tah”.

OK, if you’ve never read the book but have seen the musical, you should go ahead and read the book.  It poses some interesting philosophical questions and themes that I enjoyed discussing with Charity.  On the other hand, if you’ve already read the book, I’m not sure you will enjoy the musical.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Unlike Charity, I am a musical fan.  Might be the dormant Drama Kid in me.  Who knows.  I just like musicals.  Love when TV shows have “the musical” episode (Scrubs, hello?).  That said, Wicked is a musical musical.  Seriously.  Not very much talking not-in-song anywhere in the program.  It was a little irritating at times, especially in the beginning.  It could also be that my irritation increased proportionally to how much they modified the story to fit the format.  Lots of chopping off storylines, characters morphed and merged, and of course, the storybook ending.  Gag.  OK, semi-gag.  I actually kinda liked it after all the tragedy upon tragedy upon “oh just give up on life already” tragedy of the book.  The book read like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Oh, and how could I forget about the Symphony of Sickness all around us.  I didn’t notice anything unusual other than Charity shrinking more and more into her seat as the play progressed.  At “half-time” (I know, I know that’s not what it’s called– I don’t care), Charity turned to me and said, “I feel like I’m in a sick ward.”  Apparently, she was getting coughed on from all directions, save mine (which reminds me:  time for more echinacea).  On my way back from the restroom, I had to run the Coughing Gauntlet– the tight space between the wall, the doors and the queue of women waiting to go.  Coughed all over me.  Good times.

So for the rest of the play, I was distracted with the full-on coughing from behind, the phleghmy, open-mouthed breathing of the guy next to Charity, and the symphony of coughing throughout the theatre.  A couple of times, I was shaking silently because the guy behind us was just obnoxiously coughing.  I wanted to hand him a Ricola and the other guy a tissue.  Probably should have.  Or maybe just wave my magic wand and make them go poof.  Charity kept catching the corner of my eye with her scarf over her face.  You’d think everyone had swine flu or something.  It was starting to make me paranoid.

All in all, it was a “wicked” night at the theatre.

OK, that last bit was Charity’s.  I take no credit.  What have you.

We’re Ready for Our Close-Up

We’ve been in the UK for about three weeks and managed to get hooked on three TV shows:
?    Strictly Come Dancing – the original _Dancing with the Stars_
?    Any random BBC documentary
?    The Wright Stuff

Now, we discovered The Wright Stuff pretty early on in our trip while getting ready for the day in Wells.  Yes, folks, we were watching morning programming and actually liked it.  Horrors!

The Wright Stuff is a national talk show with rotating guest panelists discussing current topics pulled straight from the morning papers with audience participation in the form of e-mails and tweets as well as the more traditional call-ins.  The topics are interesting, the discussion is usually lively and smart, and the host and guests are fun and entertaining.  We didn’t catch the show everyday but would switch on if we happened to be in our room between 9:15 and 10:45.

Thinking about our trip to London, I jokingly mentioned trying to get tickets to the show while in town.  Little did I know that Charity would go through with it and wrote to the show producers.

And goodness gracious, they actually enthusiastically replied!

Fast forward to yesterday, and it is the first really early morning we’ve had in ages.  The studio is in a mall about an hour by subway from our hotel, so we purposely avoided any night activities on Tuesday so that we could drag ourselves from bed before the crack of dawn.  We arrived to the mall at the appointed time and met the audience manager at Starbucks for paperwork and free coffee/tea.

Save for us, all the audience members seemed to be regulars to the show.  And what a motley crew they were– pensioners, oddballs, would-be starlets, celebrity chasers, and one rather tall transgendered woman wearing an interesting ensemble of fabulously long skirt, pantyhose, Keen’s closed-toed sandals, and wilderness survival t-shirt.  Sweet.  Definitely different from the three-hour wait we had when going to The Daily Show.  In fact, they seemed to have trouble with no-shows.

Since this is a live show, on the occasions when they do not have enough callers, e-mails, or tweets about certain topics, they question audience members for their opinions.  Of course, this is setup beforehand as part of the paperwork process.  We were to read the day’s topics and let the audience manager, Eric, know if we had anything to say about it.  Charity made it very clear from her first contact that she had no interest in participating.  So of course, Eric decided he was going to use her for topic #3, Manchester airport’s use of body scanners in the security area.  Hahaha!  He assured her that it would be a last resort sort of thing, but that didn’t stop her from sweating bullets and aiming the same at the back of his head when returning from commercial break to that topic.  I felt really bad for her, but made sure to give her a pep talk beforehand so she wouldn’t break down on the spot.

Luckily for her, opinions are like… well… `okole— everyone’s got one.  They had enough callers and tweets, so Charity was saved the pressure of speaking on British national television.  Whew.

The show was very well done, certainly running like a well-oiled machine.  Watching live was very close to watching on television.  Actually, I think the TV audience gets to see more since they discourage the studio audience from looking at the monitors in case the live shot switches to the handicam guy and everyone gets an awesome view of the boogers up your nose as you gawk up at the monitor.  There are a lot of cutaways to content you don’t see in studio (i.e. photos or videos of the subject matter).

Whenever they post our episode on YouTube, I’ll be sure to put up a clip.

Very, Very British

We were very excited to be in London – the capital of the United Kingdom and the center of it’s vast (or at least formerly vast) empire.   Being the unapologetic nerds that we are, we spent two afternoons at both the British Museum and the National Gallery.  We had a tremendous time and were very impressed with both the diversity of the collections and as well with the way they were presented.

Interior of the British Museum

Interior of the British Museum

The British Museum houses most of the archeological and cultural pieces from the empire and we were really impressed with how well it was all laid out.  Even though we spent two afternoons, we didn’t get to see everything we wanted to and had to cut out whole geographic areas.  One of the most impressive items we saw was the Rosetta stone – the stone that contained heiroglyphics, ancient Egyption script, and Greek writing and which was the key to unlocking and translating heiroglyhics.

IMG_9231

Of course, there were tons of Egyptian artifacts and mummies – makes you wonder what, if anything, is left in Egypt – especially when combined with our visit to New York’s museum.  I wonder if, like Greece, has recently begun to do with remnants from the Parthenon, if Egypt will begin to demand the return of their artifacts as well.

Statues from the Parthenon in Athens

Statues from the Parthenon in Athens

For being the British Museum, there was really not too much on early Britons or their culture, but what they did have was entirely fascinating – showing a rise from hunter/gatherer to farmer to Roman enclave to dominating empire (okay, they didn’t really explain how that happened but it was interesting nonetheless).

Another really great national treasure is the National Gallery where the best of pre-modern art is displayed (of course, no photos).  We quickly ran through the 1250-1500s – the baby Jesus – Jesus on a stick section as that can get old when you’ve seen it over and over and over again.  We did enjoy the works of the great masters and were especially impressed with some of the later pieces from Van Gogh and Picasso.  It’s really nice to see the locals appreciating their artifacts as well and dropping in on the artists sketching the paintings is  great fun!

Without a doubt, these two destinations are must-sees when visiting London, both centrally located and near an underground station and at the same time, free – sponsored by the UK government much like the Smithsonian museums in the US.

Hey, Kids– Big Ben, Parliament…

For those of you not familiar with National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Charity and I have been laughing about the following clip since we arrived in London, especially on yesterday’s Hop-on, Hop-off tour.  Little did we know… well, first the clip…

We had so little sleep yesterday, we decided to take it easy and sleep in today. The big plan for the day was to go to the British Museum and perhaps King’s Cross train station (Harry Potter geeks unite!) to play tourist.  No problem. The subway system here, or “The Tube” as the locals call it, is fast and efficient. With all of the experience we’ve had on other metro systems, this one proved to be quite easy to navigate for the last couple days, so we were confident we knew the best way to the museum when we left at about noon today. We got to the nearby “home” station in a few minutes, deciding to wait to eat breakfast somewhere near the museum.

Our first hint that something was amiss:  instead of seeing the Tower Hill stop, we see Liverpool Street.  A quick glance at the route map on the train wall showed us that we had actually gotten on the wrong train from the start.  Instead of being on the District Line like usual, we had actually jumped on the Hammersmith and City Line.  No problem– we would just ride it in to King’s Cross and do our Platform 9 3/4 thing first.

Well, long story short, that was sort of a bust.  There was some construction at the station from platforms 9 onward, and although they actually filmed between 4 and 5, most of that was coned off for some reason.  Oh well, we took some lame pics and made a beeline for the Tube again.  The museum stop we were aiming for is on the Northern Line which had a stop at King’s Cross, so that was going to work out beautifully.  We hopped on the southbound train and settled in for the ride.

Mistake number two: the Northern Line actually has two separate tracks which run paraellel to each other through different stations, and of course, we realized after two stops that were on the wrong one.  Ha!  No problem again.  We could 1) ride it out for five or six more stops, switch to our familiar District Line, and continue our morning’s original plan which would require one more Line change or 2) get off, go back three stops, and switch to the correct Northern Line track which would take us directly to the museum stop.  We opted for #2 as it seemed the easier route.  Right.

We got to the station where we supposed to change to the parallel Northern track but couldn’t find where to do that.  No problem, right?  We could switch to the Victoria Line, get off at the next stop, and switch back to the Northern again and be back on track.  Except there’s a lot of construction on many of the Lines over the weekend, and unbeknownst to us, that stop is closed for the day.  *sigh*

So by now, you should realize that this carried on for quite a while longer; we had one more Line switch to the Picadilly.  And we still hadn’t had breakfast since the whole trip was supposed to take no longer than 30 minutes.  By the time we finally made it to an alternative museum stop, it was nearly 2pm, and we had taken five different trains and lost our sense of humor somewhere in the Tube.  OK, maybe not completely– we kept laughing about the Griswolds’ “Big Ben, Parliament” moment as King’s Cross was constantly threatening to trap us again and again.

All in all, we had a great day and will likely go back to the British Museum again this week as we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore the place (good thing it’s free!).  And I definitely have a new-found respect for the Tube and will not underestimate it anymore.  Also, I’ll be paying attention to which Line we jump on tomorrow morning and make sure it’s the District Line.  For funsies, see if you can find some of the aforementioned lines in the following Tube map.  Also, the stations we visited (there and back– intentionally or not, successfully or not) today were King’s Cross, Bank, Euston, Warren Street, Green Park, Russell Square, Victoria, Embankment, Leicester Square, and Tottenham Court Road.  Our “home” station is Bow Road.  There will be a quiz later.

London Tube Map

London Tube Map

Ummm…I think that was the Changing of the Guard…?!

We arrived in London yesterday afternoon and, after a few snafus courtesy of the National Express bus service, we settled into our hotel just fine and quickly made our way out toward the town proper and more specifically, in search of “the theatre“.  We found it at the tkts booth in Leichester Square where they sell half-price tickets to same-day shows.  We were very excited to see that La Cage Aux Folles was available (the play upon which The Birdcage is based) and we snatched up two tickets — it was absolutely fabulous!!!  What a great way to start our trip to London!

On a cinema near Leichester Square - too funny!

On a cinema near Leichester Square - too funny!

The next day we were off to an early start on a Big Bus hop-on, hop-off tour of London scheduled to end at Buckingham Palace in time to see the changing of the guard.  Our experiences with the tour were very mixed and we barely arrived in time for the big show.  We knew that it would be busy there but OMG!!!  It was crazy – there had to be at least 5,000 tourists there.  Being so short and not incredibly pushy, we couldn’t even get close to the main event though we did catch just a glimpse of the band and retiring guards marching back to their barracks.  Overall, we felt like this “must-see” really isn’t that and the experience could be much better viewed online!!  Coincidentally, when I just searched to find a video online of the changing – all they had was images of the band going by — apparently no one else could get close enough either! 😉

Looking toward Victoria Monument at Buckingham Palace - the guard is going by (I think)

Looking toward Victoria Monument at Buckingham Palace - the guard is going by (I think)

Palace gates with throngs of people

Palace gates with throngs of people

Another "scale of the crowd" picture

Another "scale of the crowd" picture