Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Wizard of Oz - New Twists on an Old Classic

Most people who are three years or older have seen the classic Wizard of Oz movie starring Judy Garland.

When I was a kid, it would be broadcast once a year, and I remember how excited I was to sit down in front of our black-and-white Zenith TV, anticipation building as I watched the prelude and opening credits set against the backdrop of the pre-tornado clouds.

If you're like me, you've seen the movie many times, and the songs, script, and performances by the actors are deeply embedded in your mind.  Famous lines are part of everyday language:  "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" and "There's no place like home."

So, how do you take a classic movie and make it a memorable stage play?  How do you stay true to the delights that people remember, yet create something new?  In attending Andrew Lloyd Webber's production at the Ordway this past weekend, I found out.

New and Excellent 

I was extremely pleased that the play script followed the movie lines very closely, and most of the original songs were used, but there were also some new songs, embellishments to the lines, and of course, all the special effects that can only be seen on a live stage.  Whenever anything new was added, it was done in such a way to either justify it or make it entertaining and excellent.

New Music

Along with some of the old favorites such as "Over the Rainbow"and "We're Off to See the Wizard," one of the new songs sung by Danielle Wade (playing Dorothy) was "Nobody Understands Me" which emphasizes Dorothy's stronger motivation for running away.  (Not just about saving Toto from Miss Gulch.) 

Another new solo was the prelude to "Over the Rainbow." We're so used to Judy Garland launching right into the familiar song, but the prelude (which was part of the original recording) adds a lot more dimension to the story.  Wade delivered it beautifully, her voice blending with the violins in the orchestra:
photo courtesy of Ordway

When all the world is a hopeless jumble
And the raindrops tumble, all around
Heaven opens a magic lane

When all the clouds darken up the sky way
There's a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your window pane
To a place behind the sun
Just a step beyond the rain

Another song, "Wonders of the World," was sung by Professor Marvel (played by Jay Brazeau).  His wagon transforms into a contraption that presents a slideshow of his world travels as he sings the song to Dorothy.  As the Wizard, Brazeau also sings "Bring me the Broomstick."

Humor:  "If I Only Had a Plan" was a nice touch for comic relief after the lowest point in the story when Dorothy is captured by the Witch. The other three characters decide to rescue Dorothy as they're putting the Scarecrow back together and using his amputated arm as a prop while he's trying to get it back. 

Story/Character Development

Kansas Farm life:  Just a few added lines early on - Dorothy says to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, "You're not my real parents!" and this deepens the conflict between them.  I also liked that Dorothy was involved in the farm work, initially showing up in pants, rather than "causing trouble" in that blue checked dress. (She wore the blue dress later.)

What I missed:  Dorothy making her artful tumble into the pig trough which established Dorothy's relationship with Hickory, Zeke and Hunk - not just ranch hands, but friends.

photo courtesy of Ordway
Each of the Oz scenes with the main characters included something extra and slightly different from the movie version.  During the Scarecrow's famous "If I Only Had a Brain" song, it was fun to see the laughing crow puppets that popped out of the corn field who also sang with him.  I suspect that the crows were added as a distraction because, although Jamie McKnight did well as the Scarecrow, no one can top Ray Bolger's performance and stunt work.

I also liked that Mike Jackson (the Tin Man) actually did a tap dance, whereas Jack Haley in the movie did more of a comical soft shoe which didn't last very long.    

In the play, the Cowardly Lion had a longer solo; however, his longer production of "If I were King of the Forest"was dropped.  It was a memorable feature of the film, but the play was fine without it.

Of course, Toto's appearances always stole the show, especially when the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion walked on, disguised as the Witch's soldiers, and Toto followed wearing his cute little miniature soldier outfit.

Glinda and the Wicked Witch sang beautifully and also had a few extra scenes which further developed the sparring between them as two cousins.  "Red Shoe Blues" revealed the Wicked Witch's twisted point-of-view and gave more dimension to the good vs. evil theme.
Jacquelyn Piro Donovan as the Wicked Witch
photo courtesy of Ordway
The Scarecrow had some added lines that made him seem forgetful and lacking in the brain department. It was great humor, but in the end, when the Wizard reveals that the characters already have what they want (a brain, a heart, a home, or courage), and have even proven themselves by defeating the Wicked Witch, then the power of this theme becomes slightly diminished.  (In the movie, the Scarecrow was always the smart one!)

Costumes/Special Effects:

Not like a big sound stage, but I really liked the transitions between scenes.  E.g. the farm buildings moved off stage as Dorothy went to see professor Marvel.  Also, the section of the yellow brick road rotated as the characters traveled to each new location.  It gave the feeling of movement without entrances and exits.

I also liked the black lighting used in the jungle, the HUGE green doors of Emerald City (great eye candy!) and the surprise flashes of white light when there was magic, a storm or an explosion.   

Amazing costume - Glinda came down from the fly space, and her glittering dress filled the whole stage.  
Robin Evan Willis as Glinda
photo courtesy of Ordway
One of the added special features that, IMHO, did not track very well was how the cyclone brought Dorothy's house to Oz.  In the movie, it was a scary, natural phenomenon.  In the play, it was more like an outer space trip to "planet" Oz.  In my mind this switched the story from fantasy (where anything is possible) to science fiction (which needs to be grounded in some credibility).  Also, the Wizard's trip from Oz back to Kansas was in a hot air balloon which would be quite impractical for space travel.  

The winged monkeys were fabulously ugly.  They looked more like gargoyles than the bouncing circus-like animals from the movie (which were also scary in their own way!).  I wanted to see the gargoyles in more detail, but they were always in the shadows.  And when one of them captured Dorothy in a tight winged hold, she was standing in front of him, blocking his face the whole time. Why aren't the monkeys lit very well? Why can't we see their faces?  Then, I realized, oh, of course, they're so well done and so ugly, they'd frighten the small children!

Cabaret Munchkins
photo courtesy of Ordway

The Munchkins were not short, but lithe, versatile dancers of the Ensemble.  As Munchkins they appeared in purple, twirling green, tree-like parasols.  Later they showed up as citizens of Emerald City wearing green and doing Chorus line and Charleston moves.  Then, they became soldiers guarding the Witch's castle, donned in long coats, helmets, and dark glasses, and dancing to a song that sounded like a Russian polka.  Shortly after, they danced as the Witch's minions in red-and-black suspenders, bowler hats, garter belts, fishnets - reminiscent of the movie Cabaret.  In the reprise of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" ("Hail Hail the Witch is Dead"), they sang and danced using wooden sticks in the air and on the floor.

Tying Up Loose Ends

I really liked that new scripting reflected the sudden change in the soldiers after Dorothy liquidated the Witch.  The soldiers had been slaves under the Witch's power.  When she was killed they were freed and became the "good guys."    

One major discovery:  I never noticed the huge plot hole in the movie when Dorothy returns home, and there's no further mention of Miss Gulch taking Toto away.  In the play, Miss Gulch drops the charges when she finds out that Dorothy was hurt.  So, it still, logically ends happily ever after.

Ending Touches:

As Dorothy's leaving Oz, she tells the Scarecrow, "I'll miss you the most." The Tin Man and Lion reply, "Why him?  What about us?"  Dorothy explains that she met the Scarecrow first, but she loves all of them and this prompts a group hug moment.  

There's also a nice touch at the end after Dorothy's home and everyone has stopped by to check up on her.  Of course, they all believe her adventures were a dream. After they leave, she opens a small glowing compartment and reveals that she still has the ruby slippers.

All in all, the Ordway's Wizard of Oz was a real treat, and a great feel-good classic for the whole family.  For information about the Ordway Theatre or the 2014 Flint Hills International Children's Festival go to www.ordway.org or call  651-224-4222.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Maiden Rock Inn - Art, Architecture and Stories

Thinking of the Maiden Rock Inn makes me smile.  Imagine staying in an old schoolhouse built in 1906 and renovated by artists. The building is 16,000 square feet and each room is large (classroom sized) with high ceilings, and every area is decorated with great thought and detail.
photo courtesy of the Maiden Rock Inn
But before I go on, I'd like to say that the best part of the Inn are the people that run it.  Gary and Jennifer Peterson have a knack for making you feel like you've known them all your life.  We felt like we were staying with friends.  Their creativity, hard work, and hospitality are reflected in every room in that building.
Jennifer and Gary Peterson
Quite a team, these two.  Jennifer is a designer, painter, and decorator, and Gary is master craftsman and woodworker who specializes in curved staircases.  They like to dream big and share their lives with others; and just talking to them can give you a new perspective on your own life and life stories.

The Maiden Rock Inn is their "retirement" project.  The old schoolhouse had seen its last students in 1980 and then was used for various local businesses before it had been closed up.  They made a bid on the building in 1995, and their bid was accepted and they went to work!  The building was in good shape, but they needed to repair the roof, insulation, and heating among other things.

Being that we like old historic buildings, of course we asked for for the grand tour.  (I'll do my best, but I'm sure I'll miss a few things.)  When you first walk into the building and climb the initial set of steps, you'll see a large, industrial sized kitchen.  As you can imagine, lots of activity happens here.  You'll also most likely be greeted by MoBedda, their friendly pooch. 

To the right of the kitchen is a large room with a deli counter, freezers and a few tables.  They had once used it as a deli, but they decided to put that on hold for a while.

To the left is their dining and entertainment area - a large spacious room with amazing woodwork and built-ins.  There's a wet bar, tables, chairs, couches and an entertainment center with a collection of albums.   They've often held musical events and invited musicians such as Michael Johnson and Danny O'Keefe.

BTW - the breakfasts were great, but don't expect the traditional pancake-sausage-egg fare.  One day we had huge portabella mushrooms stuffed with quinoa; another day we had sushi wraps and chicken.  They were easily able to accommodate my food allergies because they eat this way all the time.

If you go down to the basement, they have rec area with a pool table, DVDs and then a wine cellar. And then just when you think you've come to the end of the basement, another door opens, and of course, there's a huge former gymnasium (you can still see the hoops and floor markings) where they've held large events and dances.  Gary's workbench and shop are in the former stage area.

Also, and I can't remember quite how to get to it, but they have a triangular outdoor seating area out one of the back doors for smaller events like graduation parties and picnic dinner gatherings.

Going back upstairs, past the kitchen, another set of stairs leads to the second floor where there are four guest rooms (two with jacuzzis), and you can see that each of these former classrooms was like a creative canvas for the innkeepers.

upstairs hallway area

You can easily spend several days at the Inn and not see all of the fine details or be aware of all the work that has gone into each room.  Jennifer says that when she walks into a room she gets ideas, and Gary can tell you about all of the planning, construction, upgrades to woodwork, floors, ceilings, and heating, plumbing and electrical systems, also all the different places where he found or salvaged the materials. 

We stayed in the Aubergene (Eggplant) Room.  

My camera could not capture the magnitude of the rooms nor all of the details.

If you looked at a chair, it wasn't just a chair; it was a piece of art.  The original metal ceilings had great detail.  The curtains on the high windows let in just enough light.  In the bathroom (not pictured) there was a night light, a bronze silhouette of a woman stepping into the waves.

The other rooms were Red Clay, Grotto and Sunshower.

Red Clay Room

Grotto bathroom

Grotto Room

Sunshower Room
charming details
Sunshower windows


After seeing the rooms, we were still far from being finished with our tour.  Down the second floor back hallway (lined with Oriental rugs) there is also a sauna, a cozy fireplace room (ideal for book clubs and other group meetings), Jennifer's art studio which is, itself a work in progress, and then there's a beautiful circular staircase that goes up to the rooftop deck.  Really?

It was a great place to do morning stretches.



Oh, did I mention that the Petersons were great innkeepers?  It seemed like they were available 24/7, ready to share their personal journeys, help us toast our wedding anniversary, giving tips on the best places to eat, and letting us in on their ongoing dreams for their property.  We were greatly inspired.   

We will definitely go back and visit again soon.  If you go, tell them we said hi. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Three-Legged Trip: Part 3 - Maiden Rock

Maiden Rock

Saving the best for last, the third leg of our trip landed us in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin.  Maiden Rock is located along the Mississippi River between Red Wing and Lake City.

The area is very scenic, filled with rolling hills and rocky bluffs, and when I was a kid we often traveled through there on our family houseboat.  I'd always had a fascination for Maiden Rock, the tiny little town (pop. 119) with the famous Indian legend.

As the story goes, (and there are several variations) Princess Wenonah (Winona), the daughter of Chief Red Wing, had a lover who was killed by Dakota Indian warriors, a rival tribe of her father's.  She was supposed to marry some other guy, but instead, she jumped off the cliff of Maiden Rock and killed herself.  Very sad story for this nice little town.  (And I've never quite figured out if the young woman actually landed in the river because the supposed rock seems pretty far inland.)

Anyway, by the time we got to the third leg of our trip we were pretty road weary.  We can't say much about Maiden Rock, the town itself, because we really didn't go exploring. The Main Street runs parallel to a railroad track and farther beyond is the river.  There were a few bars, another inn and a community center.  There were also a few art galleries, but they were only open on the weekends.  We were told there was a bike path and a swimming hole, but we didn't feel much like doing anything because it was about 94 degrees and humid.  Instead, we spent a lot of time exploring the Maiden Rock Inn where we were staying, and that deserves its own blog post.  More on this later.

Harbor View Café

Restaurants in this area are limited, but again, whatever is available turns out to be well-known and excellent.  Just 13 miles away is Pepin, WI which has the very popular Harbor View Café.  We had eaten here a few times before and remembered that they serve really great gourmet food, so of course we figured we should probably dress up a bit.  But no, we were quite overdressed as we sat in the bar area in one of the booths with wooden seats and blue checkered tablecloths.  Oh well.

Pork Loin with Sour Cherry Sauce
(not gluten or dairy free)
The staff was very good with food allergies and they had a whole white-board menu with several gluten free and vegan options.  I ordered a tasty seafood chowder with succulent scallops, shrimp and oysters, but I had to ask about the side of rice —it was so rich I thought it was made with butter.  No butter. They used homemade chicken broth.  Amazing.

Seafood Chowder with a side of rice
In the other direction from Maiden Rock about 6 1/2 miles away is Stockholm, known for its art fairs, culture, and unique shops.  Just a few streets hold a variety of galleries, coffee shops, antique stores, artist designed clothing boutiques, and a kitchen store.  Stockholm is a great place to hang out for half a day.  We picked up lunch at the Bogus Café and took it back to the B&B because it was too hot to eat outside and they had no AC.  Bogus Café serves coffee, ice cream, and salads and sandwiches, and I had an excellent curried chicken fruit salad.

Stockholm, WI

Sunset over Lake Pepin

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Three-Legged Trip: Part 2 - Galena

It's about time to get back to talking about our trip.  I've been limping along on just one leg for the past week. 

After a few days in Lanesboro, we took off and searched for the Highland Store & Cafe which, from their website, sounded like a great place for organic food and allergy free options.  Unfortunately after driving 30 miles, we found it was closed for that day.  If you go, call ahead to make sure they're open!  

The second destination of our trip was Galena, Illinois, but on the way there we decided to stop in Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin to tour Villa Louis, a Victorian mansion.  I had been on the tour before when I was in 7th grade when I took a trip downriver with my parents on their houseboat.  I didn't remember much about it except that I thought it was really neat. 

Villa Louis
Dousman Office Building

Just a brief history:  The Villa Louis estate was built in the late 1800s by the Dousman family.  It's been restored over the years.  The house is rich in detail from the elegant first floor receiving room, parlor and dining room, to the upstairs bedrooms, and then down the back stairs to the servants' quarters and kitchen. Out back there is also an office building and an ice house and preserve house for food prep, and the laundry building.

The tour gives a very accurate picture of their lives at that time in history.  Villa Louis is not so much about H. Louis Dousman, but about his wife Nina who lived there with their five children and took charge of the estate after he died at the age of 37.  You can read more about the history here. If you go, be sure to try the Artesian water from the well.
Onward to Galena, Illinois...

Galena's early claim to fame was that of a mining, smelting and steam boating center.  When the railroad went through and missed it, the industries dried up until it was preserved during the later part of the 20th century.  Now it's a great tourist area with historic buildings and specialty shops marching up and down Main Street.  It reminds me of Stillwater, Minnesota only ten times larger, plus it has flood gates at one end that they close when the river gets too high.

We had been to this historic area before while staying in Dubuque, Iowa, but this time we decided to stay at the Aldrich Guest House B&B across the river from the downtown area.

Aldrich Guest House
We stayed in the south-facing Jones room, which was bright and sunny with lilac and green-flowered wallpaper.  Innkeepers Fran and Brian get special kudos points for accommodating all my food allergies.  I don't know what everyone else ate for breakfast, but I had pancakes one day, a fruit plate, sausage and tomato the next, and on the last morning, Belgian waffles.

The biking trail was shorter and a lot more rugged than in Lanesboro, but in 90+ degree weather, a short trip is all we really wanted anyway.

"Official" Galena Bike Trail
3 1/2 miles one way, 1 1/2 miles the other

 Of course there are other places worth mentioning:

The Market House Restaurant
A second floor restaurant above Main Street.  A great place for pizza, pasta and sandwiches. They also had a gluten free, dairy free, egg free bread. 

Otto's Place
A few blocks from our B&B.  We picked up an Asian Chicken Spinach salad for lunch one day and took it back and ate on the porch where we were staying. 

One Eleven Main
Highly recommended by several people.  Locally-sourced ingredients.  Very busy on Saturday night, though the waitstaff and management were very helpful.  Great food and gluten free menu.  Very succulent walleye.

Herb-broiled Walleye
Roasted Tomatoes and Sweet Peas
Almond Rice Pilaf
 Fried Green Tomatoes
Also highly recommended.  They were a little more confused about the gluten free thing, but they made it work with their very unique cuisine.

Espresso-Encrusted Filet Mignon
and Roasted Potatoes

Tuscan Mac 'N' Cheese
Pasta w/ Italian sausage, roasted peppers, gouda and gorgonzola
bread sticks w/ olive oil
(not gluten or dairy free)
Pasta Perfetta
Huge variety of pasta of all colors and shapes.  Flavors such as spinach, tomato, wine, basil, mushroom, chocolate!  They also have a few gluten free and vegan choices.

Kaladi's Coffee Bar
Ok.  We went here three times.  Great coffee.  You can also get breakfast items and sandwiches (not gluten free) and gelato (not dairy free) or sorbet.

And of course you can visit the other shops for wine, clothing, a store that sells hundreds of different hot sauces, boutiques, art galleries and bars.  There are also museums and historic ghost story tours.  As we were taking a walk one day through the upper streets of downtown, I told myself that I'd probably forget most of the details when I got home from my trip - the brick buildings, the lit up store fronts at night, the historic charm hovering about in the nooks and crannies. 

All the more reason that we'll probably go back again soon.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Deck Garden Update

Ok, excuse me, but I don't know why my Deck Garden entry from July 5th decided to spontaneously republish itself... three times in a row, but since we're here, I thought I'd do an update of my humble deck garden in light of the warm Indian summer weather we've been having.

So, here are the before and after pictures.  Before is from July 5th and after is from today.

Shamrock plant - before

Shamrock - looking good!

my lop-sided citronella plant...

...turned into a bush!
I had to put it in a bigger pot.
Not sure where I'm going to put it when
I bring it in for the winter.


Anaheim Peppers - Still going strong
Anaheim Peppers - before

Parsley - before
Parsley - I made pesto one time and
it never really grew back.

My basil is doing really well.  I had to re-pot one of them, and when I did, it really flourished.

Basil - before
Basil - before

Basil - after

I've been using my wet-weather loving mint all summer for making tea and mint lemonade, or I just chew on a few leaves while I'm out watering the other plants.  At one point I forgot to water the mint and it got all dry and crusty, so I trimmed off all the leaves and stored in a bag.  The whole plant promptly grew back, full but more conservative-looking.
Mint - before
Mint - after

Thyme - before

Thyme - after

I had to double check these two photos.  They look the same.

And of course, the two tomato plants - ratty looking, and I blame the squirrels for this.  Unfortunately, I didn't get too many red tomatoes because the squirrels seemed to have acquired a taste for the cayenne.  Either that or they just didn't care.  One time I found a half of a long-awaited prized red tomato lying in the front yard.  Chomped!

So, now I'm fighting for the new crop of green ones, but I've even found some of those half-eaten on the deck.  I also found broken stalks, meaning, they had CLIMBED the plant to get to the tomatoes.  BOLD squirrels!  I wonder if the cayenne makes them crazy.  Sometimes they run along the deck railing, even when the cat is out on the deck.  My spouse chased one with a broom and trapped him in the corner away from his regular tree.  "Super Squirrel" took a flying leap, made a grab, slide, grab, slide, for another tree, much farther away.  We went down to check at the base of the tree just to make sure there wasn't a dead squirrel at the bottom.  All clear.

Tomato - before
Tomato - before
Tomato - after

tomato - after
And finally, the palm plant.  It still hasn't grown much in 3 months.  It might be time to put it to rest.

palm - before

palm - after
Ok, and while I'm at it, I'll mention that I haven't seen any more ducks in our yard.  But I have seen a goose.  No water, middle of the city, dogs and cats everywhere — what is the appeal?

resident goose