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'Camelot': A Dazzling Musical From Yesterday With Hope For Tomorrow

June 13, 2018

I was 13 years old when I first saw Camelot on Broadway with Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet. This musical with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe is a throwback to a different time yet ends with a beacon of hope for tomorrow.

Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC), recently said “In many ways, Camelot and Arthur’s Round Table were Lerner and Loewe’s version of the American dream, of a world where everyone participates in the creation of a more perfect union.” It made its debut on Broadway in 1960 when we were electing John F. Kennedy who at his inauguration would say, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” 

Alexandra Silber (Guenevere) (Photo by: Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre Company) Alexandra Silber (Guenevere)

After his death, Jacqueline Kennedy would suggest his time as president was Camelot. It was reported she called Theodore White to Hyannis to make sure when he wrote about Jack he would write how he loved a song from a Broadway musical, “The lines he loved to hear,” Jackie revealed, were, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” That is how she wanted him to be remembered and it stuck. 

Award-winning director Alan Paul has shortened the original running time of the musical and in many ways improved it. Camelot is the story of a love triangle between King Arthur, Queen Guenevere and the knight Lancelot. Paul says about the musical “It’s about the birth of enlightened government, love, honor and the ideals of chivalry. I’m excited to introduce this musical to a new generation nearly sixty years after it was written.” King Arthur sees his knights of the roundtable as a move civilized future and eventually his son, Mordred, the one he fathered out of wedlock, returns and brings an end to the civilized world Arthur created. The final scene when a child comes to Arthur and says she will fight with him to save his roundtable and he suggests she hide, stay safe then go home and grow up to be the future makes one easily think of Mordred as Trump and the child as the resistance. 

Two of the most beautiful songs from the production are "If Ever I Would Leave You" sung hauntingly by Nick Fitzer (Lancelot du Lac) and "I Loved You Once in Silence" sung by the beautiful and incredibly talented Alexandra Silber (Guenevere).  Ken Clark (King Arthur) is brilliant and his voice seems to get stronger as the production moves on. Patrick Vaill (Mordred) who has been at the STC often is wonderful and the other STC regulars we all know  and love Ted van Griethuysen (Merlyn) and Floyd King (King Pellinore) are their usual wonderful selves adding immensely to this production. The entire cast with their great dancing and beautiful voices make this an evening to remember in the theater. 

Ken Clark (King Arthur) (Photo by: Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre) Ken Clark (King Arthur)

Paul has a great team working with him including Helen Hayes Award-winning Choreographer Michele Lynch. The innovative set has been created by Scenic Designer Walt Spangler, and the incredible costumes, and they are all dazzling, are by the very talented designer Ana Kuzmanic.  Lighting Design is by Robert Wierzel and sound design by Ken Travis. The ten member orchestra adds a beautiful richness to the show. 

For those of us who are older, this musical brings back memories of a better time; of fairness and decency. For the young it shows we can do better than we are today. In some ways it’s chilling to watch and listen to at a time when day after day we see the destruction of our democracy by the Trump administration.

Camelot has been extended until July 8th but I suggest you get your tickets now before they sell out.


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Cruising on the New Norwegian Bliss

May 14, 2018

Embarkation day was here and upon arriving at the Port of Miami to begin my cruise to Los Angeles which would take me through the Panama Canal I had my first glimpse of the newest ship built for Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) the Norwegian Bliss. It is an impressive ship. Having been told boarding would begin at Noon my idea was to get a head start arriving at 11:15 only to find many others had the same idea. Considering all the people who would board that day, not only passengers but hundreds of visitors who were invited to take a look at the new ship before she set sail, all went really fast. Credit has to go to NCL staff. Only forty-five minutes after stepping out of my Uber and being met by a porter from the ship who took my luggage I was in my stateroom.

(Photo by: Peter Rosenstein)

It was only on February 17th of this year that the Bliss was floated out from the covered building dock at the Meyer Werft. After a transatlantic cruise and a couple of days in the Caribbean those of us boarding in Miami were the third group to experience all this ship had to offer. 

While the stateroom is small it is well planned. As a writer the first thing I noticed was there was no chair at the desk where I would put my laptop, rather only a small hassock. My room steward Derrick came to welcome me on board, introduce himself, and ask if all was ok. Turned out he had a great suggestion which was to use one of the chairs on my small balcony and he offered to remove the hassock from the cabin as there was no place for it once the chair was inside. His ingenuity was greatly appreciated. Friends who are traveling with me boarded shortly after and we made our way to the Garden Café, one of the apparently dozens of places to eat onboard. It offered a huge buffet with endless displays of very appetizing, and many very fattening, food. It was soon apparent we weren’t the only ones hungry and again crew came to our rescue and suggested we take our full plates one deck down to the Observation Lounge to eat. The Observation Lounge is one of the most impressive rooms I have ever seen on a ship. I was to learn a little bit more about it from the Hotel Director Jovo Sekulovic who I would meet the following afternoon. 

The travel agent who booked my cruise, Scott Moster, was already on board. He had been recommended by the friends traveling with me. He is incredibly nice and professional. He is from Houston and has a one-person business called My Lux Cruise. From the moment we boarded he and his husband were working hard to make the cruise great. They have a large suite in what is called The Haven, the most elegant part of the ship. His stateroom has a big balcony at the bow of the ship on deck 18. He invited us to a sail-away party in his suite. It gave me the chance to see how the other half onboard live and they live well. Not that everyone on the Bliss won’t live well. Going into The Haven I was introduced to someone who said his name was Andy and who was holding the door open for a few of us. Seemed like a nice guy with a big smile and only later did I find out he was Andy Stuart, President and Chief Executive Officer, Norwegian Cruise Line. Would have been interesting to chat with him a moment. 

The Haven has its own sun decks, swimming pool, dining room and lounges for passengers lucky enough and rich enough to afford those staterooms. One of the reasons I am on this fifteen day cruise is that it will traverse the Panama Canal and Scott has promised to host another party the day we go through the canal. 

(Photo by: Peter Rosenstein)

After the party my friends and I headed to an event that had been listed on the information page in our staterooms. Like nearly all cruise lines these days NCL lists a daily event for members of the LGBTQ+ community. On the Bliss it was funny to see it listed as Friends of Dorothy, LGBT event. Friends of Dorothy was how these events were listed many years ago before anyone wanted to use the words gay or lesbian. A group of young guys on the ship had no idea what that phrase meant. Maybe it’s time to just list it as an LGBTQ+ happy hour. 

In future columns I will share more about all the various activities and amenities on the ship. But I was grateful that Hotel Director, Jovo Sekulovic, took a little time out of his first incredibly busy day at sea to sit down with me and chat about the ship and his work. He is the person whose job it is to ensure the 4200 guests onboard are happy and having a great time; and that the 1700 crew members are both happy and doing their jobs. He is a charming man with a tremendous amount of experience. He shared that he first worked at sea in 1991 as a young man and fell in love with it. Before he took this job on the new Bliss among other jobs he worked for a number of years on the Norwegian Escape. 

He also talked about the five years he managed a luxury resort hotel in Dubrovnik. He enjoyed it but kidded when he had the offer to go back to sea his wife told him all-in-all she and the family would see him more and get more of his attention if he was working for a cruise line than they did when he slept at home every night. As any manager of a resort hotel will tell you it is a twenty-four hour a day job without any real vacation. As Hotel Director on the ship he also has a 24 hour a day job but then with NCL he works four months and then is off for two. During those two he can totally focus on the family as he said it’s a pleasure not being attached to his phone and waiting for the constant calls requiring his attention. 

Most people on the ship may never meet Jovo formally, but without knowing it are seeing him constantly around the ship making sure everything is going well to ensure they enjoy their cruise. His office is behind the guest relations desk and I happened to chat with a couple a short time after my meeting Jovo who told me they had also met him when he personally helped them solve a small problem with their onboard ID cards. These cards serve as the key to everything including opening your stateroom door, ordering a drink, getting into the restaurants, and proof of who you are when getting on and off the ship for any excursion you might be taking at the stops the ship will make as we head to Los Angeles.  They were clearly impressed that Jovo took the time to personally help them and ensure their cruise got off to a great start. 

Walking around the ship investigating all its many nooks and crannies I took the opportunity to chat with many members of the crew.  They have all been very professional and always shared a smile. As on every cruise I have taken the crew is from many different countries and speak many different native languages. But I think it is a tribute to Jovo who has clearly managed to instill a great esprit de corps in his crew on this ship in the short time it has been in the water. As an aside the NCL public relations department could take a hint from Jovo and the crew on the Bliss as to what it means to be helpful.  

Hopefully you will continue to follow my blog as I share my experiences on the Bliss as we make our way to Los Angeles where we are scheduled to arrive the morning of May 25th. 

 


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Washington National Opera BravO Curtain UP! Bash

May 9, 2018

The Washington National Opera (WNO) is making a big effort to attract younger patrons to the opera. The effort is called BravO. It is an exciting program targeted to students and young professionals between the ages of 18 and 40. Supporters of BravO make the claim, and I think they are right, that “BravO is DC's premier young professional arts-lover program, welcoming those who are interested in opera to connect with each other, WNO, and the productions.” The have a Facebook page anyone can follow announcing a number of upcoming special events.

 

  Raquel Gonzalez, Chaz’men Williams-Ali (Photo by: Courtesy of BravO) Raquel Gonzalez, Chaz’men Williams-Ali

Scott Vincent Andrews, a cheerleader for the Washington National Opera and a member of the BravO executive board said “These are boom times for opera fans in our city, particularly young professionals. WNO offerings for our demographic are richer, more affordable, and more dynamic than ever before.”

 

BravO standard membership is open to everyone free of charge but there are some very reasonable membership categories including BravO Plus at $60 a year and BravO Prime at $120 which entitle you to participate in a wide range of exclusive events, activities, and performances that promote the art form and help develop the next generation of opera fans. But all members whether they pay or not gain access to steeply discounted tickets for opera performances all season long.

Rexford Tester, Jeffrey Mack (Photo by: Courtesy of BravO) Rexford Tester, Jeffrey Mack

There is a perception young people aren’t into opera yet BravO says their approximately 3,000-strong membership suggests otherwise. BravO first began in 2013 as an informal group of younger opera lovers committed to the future of the arts in our nation’s capital. Over a short time they have matured into a legally recognized arm of the Kennedy Center’s Washington National Opera (WNO), serving as an official WNO outlet for young professionals across the region and an advisory body to the WNO Board of Directors and Executive Director.

 

 In the past year alone, in addition to receiving complimentary champagne at select performances, BravO members have been welcomed at private recitals, exclusive backstage tours, invitation-only happy hours, and meet-and-greets with operatic superstars and rising stars alike.

Jim Flahive, Michael Sherman (Photo by: Courtesy of BravO) Jim Flahive, Michael Sherman

 

A great way to socialize and find about more about BravO would be to attend their June 2nd, annual black-tie bash called Curtain Up!  All opera fans 21 and over, there will be alcohol, are invited. Curtain Up! is a celebration of the upcoming 2018-19 opera season hosted at the historic Arts Club of Washington. Along with the open bar there will be performances by Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists, passed hors d’oeuvres and a full buffet prepared by the Arts Club’s in-house chef. General admission is $99 per person, but a limited number of early bird passes will be available for $89. More information about how to get your tickets to this amazing event can be found at WNOBravOBash.  Curtain Up! is distinct from the WNO Opera Gala, another mainstay of the Washington, DC cultural calendar, which is also open to all BravO members at special rates. 

If you haven’t seen opera before this is your chance and if you are a young opera buff becoming a member of BravO will be a great way to meet other young opera aficionados.


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