Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Metropolitan Opera Free Recital Series!

The Metropolitan Opera Takes the Stage at Central Park's Summerstage
If you enjoy opera and open air, you may be interested in the Metropolitan Opera's Summer Recital Series, taking place in NYC parks through August 9.  These FREE shows are the perfect way to introduce this timeless art to your "opera-curious" friends who aren't yet ready to (or just can't afford to) shell out the big bucks for the Met's classic full-length performances.  Even if you've been an opera lover for years, the series is a great way to kick back, picnic, and enjoy music samples from your favorite shows, as well as some you probably don't know.  Currently, three evenings remain in this six night series, which began on July 25 at Central Park's Summerstage, and continues on August 2 in Clove Lakes Park (Staten Island), August 7 in Jackie Robinson Park (Upper Manhattan), and August 9 in Socrates Sculpture Park (Long Island City/Queens).

WGINY caught the Central Park performance, a beautiful, romantic theatrical display, hosted by Danielle de Niese, who was also the evening's featured soprano.  I was immediately dazzled and amazed by the professionalism of the "rising" stars singing the likes of Puccini, Verdi, and Rossini, for free, on the stage before me.  De Niese, as the only female singer, had the luxury of a few fancy costume changes, from one black-tie gown to another, while the men (tenor, Dimitri Pittas, and bass-baritone, John Del Carlo) donned tuxes and dark suits.  Although this was in theory a concert, with a set list of approximately 17 individual and duet songs from more than 10 different multilingual operas, accompanied by pianist, Dan Saunders, the performers kept true to the character(s) they represented with each number.

The most enchanting moment was when, after a brief intermission, all three singers performed, and acted out, four selections from Donizetti's opera (Italian), "L'Elisir d'Amore," which de Niese explained translates to "Elixir of Love," and is a show that modern patrons would likely refer to as a romantic comedy.  The Shakespearean-style tale of love, magic potions, and the confusion they bestow, is intended to be lighthearted, and yet, I was utterly captivated by the story behind the music.

The show began at 8pm, just as dusk was settling in, but, due to park rules, was required to end by 10pm.  The time went quickly for the audience and performers alike, as De Niese realized as the night went on that there would not be enough time for the entire set to be followed as noted in the program given out at the start of the recital.  We were then treated to some "spontaneous" encore songs before the proverbial curtain closed (it's a park; there were no curtains...) and the lights in the house came on (okay, the lampposts surrounding the Summerstage area).  The event was so packed and popular that many were turned away from the actual Summerstage area (where the food trucks and wine are!) and had to spread out among the surrounding green to listen to the show, and perhaps hope to get a glimpse through the fence.

The performers and operatic selections on the remaining nights differ from what was presented in Central Park, but if the latter shows pack even a portion of the talent and wonder I was exposed to at that first recital, they will be a force to be reckoned with.  Prepare for Rossini's "Il Bariere di Siviglia," Gounoud's "Faust," Mozart's "Don Giovanni," and even some surprises from more "modern" theater, such as Rogers & Hammerstein's "Carousel."  Featured performers will be soprano, Deanna Breiwick, tenor, Alexander Lewis, and baritone, Edward Parks, accompanied by pianist, Vlad Iftinca.  All shows begin at 7pm and are rain or shine.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Booze Carriage Brings the Booze to You!

There's a new delivery guy in town... You can find him online, and he'll be at your door in 30-60 minutes.  He won't bring you Chinese food, or even pizza, but what he's got is something even more prized -- booze!

Booze Carriage is a new website for 21 and over Manhattanites living from 96th Street to Battery Park area on the east side, or 91st Street to Battery Park area on the west side (so, essentially, pretty much anyone living anywhere downtown, midtown, and much of uptown), looking for a quick way to access beer and spirits online.

The best part of Booze Carriage is that, unlike many other merchants that deliver alcohol (e.g. wine.com), the website works with local vendors to get your booze to you fast.  Forget worrying about whether you should order "express" or "overnight"... this booze travels to you instantly, promising to arrive at your door within 30-60 minutes of your order time.  Booze Carriage is premised on the idea that New Yorkers don't really like to wait... for anything. (Though, if you do need your order delivered at a specific time/date in the future, Booze Carriage can accommodate special delivery requests).

I had the opportunity to try out Booze Carriage recently.  What is most appealing is that the prices for beer, wine and liquor, are the same as you would find in any local bodega, and there is no delivery fee (although there is a $20 order minimum).  Just like actual NYC stores, however, beer and wine/liquor must be purchased separately, likely due to antiquated local laws that do not allow the same establishment to sell both beer and liquor.

Nevertheless, the site is very streamlined and easy to us, and delivery is available around the clock-- anytime day or night.  Before you can access the site, you must enter your full birthdate, proving that you are of legal drinking age.  You may then choose whether you want to enter the beer shop or the liquor store, and you can begin browsing the highly varied selections.  For beer, choose from domestic or imported bottles and cans, ales, ambers, ciders, lagers and more, from 4-packs through 24-packs (depending on the brand), as well as craft premium and super premium bottle selections from 12 through 32 ounces.  If wine or liquor are your pleasure, Booze Carriage also offers a wide variety of gins, vodkas, rums, and any other "hard" liquor you may desire, as well as a full variety of white, red, rose or sparkling wines and champagne.  The site will soon be offering sake and even kosher wines as well, among other specialty drinks.  If you're having a party, make sure to throw in some ice, which you can also find at both of Booze Carriage's sites.  I order a few cases of beer recently, and they arrived fast and fresh, and ice cold! (Okay, well, it took slightly longer than an hour, but it was also during a torrential rainstorm...).

In addition, although not advertised, Booze Carriage can deliver kegs on request.  Having thrown a house-party or two in my time in NYC, I know how important a service like this can be.  In general, Booze Carriage eliminates the need for multiple trips to the liquor/beer store, taking along five of your friends just to carry everything, and/or the need to rent a car for larger purchases.  This carriage does all that work for you!

Final analysis: if you just want a few beers for yourself and a friend, you may be better off running to the corner shop.  However, if you're seeking a larger order, perhaps hosting a party, or having more than a couple of friends stop by, heading out on a long weekend trip, or any other excursion that may call for $20+ worth of booze, Booze Carriage is a convenient, reliable option.  You can even order on your mobile phone, a great option if you're on your way home and want your booze to greet you.

*Booze Carriage logo used with permission

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Limited Engagement of "A Streetcar Named Desire" Leaves WGINY Wanting More...Shows!

I am sitting in the second to last row of the orchestra, thinking to myself, "I don't remember Tennessee Williams being this funny."   I am at one of  the last runs of a limited engagement of "A Streetcar Named Desire" on Broadway.  Of course, overall, "A Streetcar Named Desire" is a strong drama, with pivotal, poignant moments that draw out the audience's antipathy for the male lead, "Stanley," played here by Blair Underwood.  A two-time Golden Globe nominee, according to Streetcar's website, Underwood (along with his perfect abs) makes his Broadway debut in this production at the Broadhurst Theatre.   

The play, which historically centers around Stanley, a Polish immigrant, his wife, Stella, (played by Daphne Rubin-Vega, who originated the role of Mimi in "Rent" on Broadway), and Stella's older sister, Blanche (Nicole Ari Parker), is re-imagined with a mostly black cast, and minute alterations in language and mannerisms of the characters brings the mid 1900s New Orleans' story in line with the times.  Originally written to take place in 1947, the scenes are, for an unexplained reason, portrayed as taking place in 1952.  Aside from some historical oddities (such as blacks and whites playing poker together and bowling on an integrated team), however, the characters remain believable, and the work-a-day, blue collar lifestyle in which Stanley and Stella are living appears, at first, to be in stark contrast to the luxurious plantation life that Blanche has been enjoying when she first drops in on the unsuspecting couple.  

Three's a crowd, and as Blanche becomes an indefinite houseguest in the small apartment in which Stanley and Stella reside, emotions quickly become tense.  Love, lust and lies intertwine, and Blanche begins to show she may not be as prim and proper as she presents.  Passion and desire begat slander, insults and rage.  

The story thrives on the interplay between Blanche's feigned naivete, Stella's real and innocent devotion to both Stanley and Blanche, and Stanley's poor temper, but it is Ms. Ari Parker's performance that literally brings the theater to a standstill.  In the final moments of the play, you could hear a pin drop as Blanche quite literally suffers her final fall from grace.  Ari Parker, as Blanche, succeeds in first winning the audience's envy, then currying its disfavor, and finally, its pity.  

The only disappointing thing about this show is that the limited engagement, which ended July 22, was not extended.  It seems that, more and more, "limited" doesn't really mean anything in theater-lingo, as it is not uncommon for Broadway and off-Broadway productions to be continually extended beyond their first announced closing date.  I had hoped, apparently to no avail (as it is now July 25 and no extension announcements have been made), that this show would continue for a bit longer, even as it claimed to have an end date, much like Blanche's welcome on Stella's couch.... 

**Update: According to Streetcar's facebook page, the production is going on tour to London.  Perhaps it will grace the New York stage again someday sooner rather than later... 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hot Chip Throws a Crazy Dance Party at Prospect Park.

In the calm after last night's freak torrential rainstorm across the city, after most outdoor concerts had already been postponed, Celebrate Brooklyn! was officially opening its doors at the Prospect Park Bandshell, albeit over an hour later than planned, to welcome fans of British electro-pop band, Hot Chip, and local experimental musicians, Gang Gang Dance.

Although doors were originally slated to open at 6pm, with Gang Gang Dance beginning their set at 8pm, Celebrate Brooklyn! took to technology to keep up-to-the-minute updates on it website, as well as by twitter and text messages, to let fans know if/when the show would be on, with the final verdict coming around 7pm, that doors would open shortly and Gang Gang Dance would begin at 8pm, the crowd began to flow in.

Gang Gang Dance opens for Hot Chip at Celebrate Brooklyn!
During the first set, there were considerably less people than one would usually expect for a sold out show, but the rain likely delayed many.  Nevertheless, at precisely 8pm, Gang Gang Dance sauntered on stage to a Middle Eastern-sounding tune (some wearing headdresses...), including lead singer, adorable brunette, Lizzi Bougastos.  Today, their facebook page notes, "our rain dance worked!" And, boy, did it ever. These guys (and gal) set the synthesizers on fire, and the hardcore dance tunes quickly got the audience off of their picnic blankets and into the groove.

Hot Chip Rocks the Prospect Park Bandshell 
By the time Hot Chip was ready to go on, any spot even remotely close to the stage was sweaty, elbow to elbow, standing room only.  The sun had all but set as Hot Chip's bizarre beats, eccentric vocal harmony, and the raw, pure instrumental talent made for a thunderous stage entrance with "Boy From School".  With five percussionists and two guitarists (although at various times throughout the show, bandmembers swapped instruments) mixing together all manners of sounds, and colorful strobe-style stage lights pounding in sync with the music, Hot Chip had themselves a dance party worth of any NYC nightclub.  But for the dark, muggy sky above me, I almost forgot that I was at an outdoor venue, as the crowd erupted to the rhythm.

As an avid Hot Chip fan who knows many of their songs by heart, it was also simply cool to be able to match a face to each unique voice I'm used to hearing on their studio albums.  Hot Chip's set was streamed live on NPR last night, and you can listen to the concert here.

The Crowd Can't Get Enough of Hot Chip!
If you didn't get to experience the awesome electronic fun last night, you have two more chances this weekend before Hot Chip leaves the New York City area and, eventually, continues on its international tour, promoting their latest album, "In Our Heads".

Hot Chip will play Terminal 5 tomorrow night, Friday, July 20, and there are still tickets available.  Also, if you're willing to go just a bit out of the way, Hot Chip will move to Philadelphia's Electric Factory on Saturday night, July 21.  Both weekend shows will feature the Chromatics as the opening act.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cool Bar With a "Vu" Still Remains Hot.

In May 2011, I recommended Mé Bar, on the 14th Floor of the La Quinta Inn, in Koreatown, as a "cool, laid-back bar offer[ing] a chill vibe unlike any other rooftop bar I've been to in this city." (Yes, I just quoted myself...). While Mé Bar closed its proverbial doors "forever" on September 30, 2011, and opened up a supposedly chic gastrobar around the corner (which WGINY has yet to explore), on October 1, 2011, new management opened up "Vu Rooftop Bar" in Mé's place.

Even on a cloudy day, this "Vu" thrills.
Fast-forward to 2012.... Summertime, open-air rooftop bars are in full force, and I recently had the opportunity to return to this particular rooftop and scope out the "new" scene.  I am happy to report that, except for the name, it doesn't really seem like much as changed, and that's a good thing!

The drinks remained inexpensive yet powerful, and the drinkers remain classy yet low key.  I didn't see the seasoned bartender, Julian, or the free popcorn, but Vu does sell small munches (e.g. Pringles), and those tending bar are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable.  The bar still opens at 5:30pm, and heat lamps come out if the weather gets too cold (not like that's going to happen anytime soon).  Plus, Vu now offers live jazz on Sunday nights from 7:30pm to 10:30pm.  Did someone say date night?

"Like" Vu on facebook here.

An after-work crowd gathers on an early Friday evening at Vu Rooftop Bar.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Storm Large" Wreaks Havoc on Audiences, and They Enjoy Every Minute of It!

Guest Author for this post: Larry Rosenthal 
Edited by: Heather K. 

It's hard to explain the power, the beauty, the sensitivity, the anger -- all wrapped into one six-foot, sexy entertainment package known as Storm Large.  However, if you had caught her show last Monday night at Le Poisson Rouge, you would easily understand, enjoy and respect this artist's talents.  Don't make the mistake of missing her next time she comes to town.

Storm caught my attention almost ten years ago when I listened to her album, “Hanging With the Balls,” which she recorded with her band, “The Balls.”  It’s one of the most fun albums you’ll ever hear – she’ll sing one (or two) rock song(s) to the tune of another, such as in “Abba-Gadda-Davida”, where she mashes Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me” and “Dancing Queen” to the tune of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”  You may have seen her on television in 2006 when she powered her way to the final five contestants on the show "Rockstar: SuperNova," where the winner would front a band with Tommy Lee, Chris Navarro and other established rockers.  You can view Storm's complete discography here.

At the Le Poisson Rouge show, the “sexually omnivorous” Storm mixed it up with slow ballads, hard-rocking “love” songs and songs that touched both ends of the spectrum.  She played one of my favorites, “I Want You to Die,” which she explained is, perhaps ironically, about being in love –
I thought you needed me, turns out I needed you
Turns out the best thing to happen to you was losing me
Now you're doing fine, in fact you're doing great
I'm choking on my pride and on my hate,
Oh I can't wait for your demise 
I want you to die, because you’re alright
I want you to die, because you’re alright

Animated and personal, Storm told funny anecdotes in between songs. At one point, acknowledging that she was talking a little too much, she stopped in the middle of a story, admonished herself and leapt right into the next song.  One captivating story was about an after-show massage she received while on tour in Russia.  Let’s just say she got more than she expected, as her limited ability to speak Russian could not clarify or limit any awkwardness in the situation.

When Storm went into her vigantastic “8 Mile Wide” anthem, she brought 20+ friends up on stage to help her sing it, and then got the entire audience involved.  This song deserves to be played at the steps of Michigan’s State Capitol Building!

The Le Poisson Rouge show coincided with Storm’s birthday.  At the end of her set, a friend surprised Storm with a birthday cake and then insisted there be a spanking line.  Storm acceded and endured ten minutes of loving slaps on her buttocks, from friends, on stage.  With her cheeks reddening, I wondered if I was the only one who hasn’t yet read "Fifty Shades of Grey."  With my face lit up from the full moon, I noted that I had chosen my seat well.

Now let’s talk about the venue: Le Poisson Rouge is a multimedia arts cabaret in the Village that was founded by musicians, with a mission to “revive the symbiotic relationship between art and revelry; to establish a creative asylum for both artists and audiences.”  It succeeds by hosting artistic shows as well as popular touring acts.  For example, this past Thursday, Glen Hansard (one-half of The Swell Season, and brainchild behind the 2006 indie movie-turned-best-Broadway-musical of 2012, Once), performed following five artists--writers, comics, actors and musicians, telling stories they forever connect with songs from their past.  Le Poisson Rouge offers memberships at various levels offering free or discounted shows, VIP seating, member-only events and other perks.  It’s a good venue to support, and you’ll be exposed a wide variety of performances.  You may even find yourself invited to some chic event, like Macaulay Culkin's iPod Dinosaur Birthday Party.