Saturday, December 31, 2005

Fictional History

So somehow, in the last week, I managed to read two books. One of said books is for a review I'm writing for CityBeat (250 words is all I get). The other was a nifty book that popped up on my reserve list at the library. I don't know if your public libraries have this cool service, where you can select from about 50 different mainstream authors currently publishing, and as soon as a new book by one of your authors is published, the library automatically adds it to your list of requests. Pretty freakin' cool, IMO.

The first book is The Constant Princess by Phillipa Gregory. Historical, romantic fiction in the vein of Diana Gabaldon but not nearly as dense or epic in scale. The story revolved around Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife. It told the tale of her childhood in Spain, growing up under Ferdinand and Isabella, learning about battle from the frontlines, etc. and then moved on to her betrothal and eventual marriage to Arthur, Henry VIII older brother who died at 15. If you have any interest at all in Tudor or English history, Arthur's death is not a spoiler, so nyeah.

It was fascinating to see Gregory's vision of Henry VIII's indulgent childhood, and to view the contrasts between the English and Spanish courts at the time of the early 16th century. Allegedly, Catalina (her name in Spain before she became Queen of England) kept quite the secret in order to put herself on the throne. But she doesn't necessarily come off as conniving. That role is reserved for Anne Boleyn, HVIII's second wife. The book ends before much of the history beyond Katherine's reign is revealed or discussed. Instead, the political hoo-hah between the courts and the papacy, between Scotland and England, England and France, Spain and just about everyone else--these "paper battles" as they've come to be in history books come alive. The characters are more than just names. If I could have read this in high school when I was studying World History, I would have enjoyed my class so much more.

Apparently, Gregory has written other tomes as well, also in an historical vein. While this was not a quick read, it was satisfying. If I ever find myself with oodles of free time (ha!!), I will look up her other works.

The second book I read in one day, because I'm that much of a geek and it was that quick of a read. Scott Turow's latest is Ordinary Heroes. I've been a fan of his work for a long time; I've always enjoyed reading his stories rather than watching them on the big screen. For me, he is up with Nelson DeMille and James Patterson on the "brain-candy" front.

Ordinary Heroes is about Stewart Dubinsky, a 56 year old writer, newly retired from his newspaper beat, who sets about to write a novel. When his father dies, he returns to the house of his childhood and is commanded by his mother to go through his dad's personal effects. Of course he finds letters, and of course those letters reveal a side of his father he never knew. It's a little trite, but stay with me.

Stewart decides to write his father's story, which he has to cull from multiple sources, as his dad's escapades in WWII (as a lawyer cum officer, of course--Turow is a lawyer by trade) are classified by the CIA. He finds out that his dad was court-martialed--a fact he never knew and on which his mother refuses to elaborate. So he tracks down his dad's D.A. (or whatever the equivalent office is in the land of US Army justice)--a 96 year old dude who is living in a retirement home but still has all of his faculties, and of course, has a manuscript written by Stewart's father explaining everything.

Turow jumps back and forth between past and present, and ultimately parks Stewart's father, David Dubin (he Americanized his surname in pre-war years) between two Army officers (not sure of their ranks, as they change throughout the story)--Teedle and Martin. David's tale is a fascinating one, taking him from a small town in the Midwest to Europe--England, France, and Germany, and eventually Luxembourg--and routing him from behind the desk to parachuting from a plane, crawling on his belly in a battle skirmish against the Nazis, lying motionless for nine hours in the snow, playing dead to avoid being shot down, and commanding a group of backwoods American Joes who don't like that their commanding officer is a) Jewish and b) green in terms of battle experience, all the while chasing the elusive, possible double agent Robert Martin and his "girl," Gita Lodz, for the magnanimous Teedle.

As I said, it's a very fast read. The only thing I didn't like was the heavy-handed commentary about war in David's mind near the end of the story. However, never having faced combat or anything close, I can't speak to the truth of his thoughts. It just felt a little too much like Turow commenting on the current situation in Iraq; especially when we learn that Stewart and his friends found ways out of serving in Vietnam, much to David's liking.

Normally, I avoid books on war as too graphic for my taste--which is odd, since I don't mind reading forensic thrillers like Patterson writes, or espionage type books that DeMille has penned. Hard core war stuff doesn't usually hold my interest. But I think the frame within the story--Stewart's ultimate search for his father's truth and by extension, his own truth, held me rapt.

Definintely a good read.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy Birthday to Legion

Bwahahaha! Today is Legion's Birthday. He is an OLD OLD MAHON :)

Be sure to stop by and wish him all the best.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Our Growing A**es

I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. Somehow, I don't think wider cars and SUVs is the answer.

How about fewer trans fats, less hydrogenated oils, smaller portions and healthier options at our tables and our restaurants?

Non-Americans already think we are balloons, not people. This isn't going to help matters.

Want to "weigh in" with your thoughts? (ho ho ho, snicker, snicker)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Freakin' Ho Ho Ho

I hate the holidays. Just hate 'em. Can't exactly put my finger on why. I've given up the whole Norman Rockwell-esque dream of cozy family dinners and opening homemade presents created with care and love. It just doesn't happen in my existence. And I have yet to meet anyone who has an "ideal" holiday at home. I am getting dangerously close to boycotting the entire holiday season entirely.

Not that that would be unheard of for a Jew. We, after all, don't celebrate Christmas. For us, it's just another day on the calendar. Hanukkah, which usually happens to fall near Christmas, is a minor, minor, minor Jewish holiday compared with the other biggies on the Hebrew calendar--namely Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Purim and... well, I'm sure I'd think of others if hard-pressed. But growing up in the U.S., and raising my kids here, well, it might be cruel and unusual punishment to deny them the glory of the commercial season. I don't know, though. The rabbi at our synagogue marks the passing of Hanukkah with his family by doing acts of charity. I think, rather than gifts, his family donates money that they would have spend on gifts to the needy. That sounds like a good idea to me. I mean, in my family, do we really need another book, sweater, gadget or toy? Need is the opportune word.

Not that I'm not grateful for the gifts I receive. I do enjoy presents as much as the next person. I just hate the annual stress of having to decide how much to spend per person and figuring out what to get everyone. The most difficult people to buy for--my dad and my husband--don't make lists. Everyone else in the family fills out a wishlist on Amazon or on My Gift List. Because of their lists, shopping was a fairly easy assignment for me this year.

And no matter how much I try to have no expectations whatsoever for the holiday season--and I do mean none, zilch, zero--I always come away feeling depressed and somewhat empty. This year, I realized that subconsciously, it might have something to do with my mother. Now there's a sentence Freud would have a picnic with.

My mom's birthday was Dec. 23. So is my brother's. I don't know how he gets through the season. I thought I was over all of this. I thought that I did my mourning in July, on the anniversary of her death (called a Yahrtzeit in Hebrew or Yiddish, I'm not sure which). But apparently my subconscious has other ideas.

On the morning of the 23rd, I burst into tears after dd threw her bowl of cereal on the floor. Normally, her mess would not be enough to reduce me to tears. But the slop of milk on the side of the garbage can, the television droning in the background, the mess throughout the house and the fact that my mother would have been 60 that day--together they added up to one big meltdown. I removed myself from the room before I could say or do something I really regretted, and tried to cope as best I could.

Underscoring all of this is her absence, I guess. The holidays have never been the same without her. Try as I might, I just feel her lack of presence underscoring everything I do. Would she take me to task for spending too much on my kids? Would she have recipes to pass down? What traditions would she have wanted? Would we be throwing her a big party for her big day? Or would she have wanted a low-key celebration--dinner with my dad at the now defunct Maisonette (where they went every New Year's Eve in my memory).

I try to tell myself that I'm over it. That she's been gone for nearly 16 years and soon, she will have been absent for more of my life than what she was actually present for. How could she possibly have had so much influence in such a short amount of time? She was my mother. I guess that's it.

I am starting to sound dangerously close to my aunt, who regularly gets teary over the loss of her parents. In my family, it's the whole "stiff upper lip," "never let them see you sweat," "that part of your life is over, so move on," philosophy. I've never been very good at that. It's too easy to give into my emotions. It's always been too easy to do that.

I hate this time of year. It dredges up way too much that I try to keep below the surface the other 11 months of the calendar. It rears it's head and I am left spinning, feeling out of control, turning to food to try to soothe the pain (which is another issue entirely).

I guess it's a lie to say that I don't have any expectations for this season. Each year, I expect to be able to get through the holidays without feeling the loss and the emptiness. Each year, I'm disappointed--in myself and my lack of mastery over my emotions.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Piss and Vinegar

It's snowing, it's already been a bad clothes morning, I'm cold and I'm in a pissy mood.

Thought I'd get that out of the way first.

The snow is beautiful to look at; I'm just dreading driving in it later this morning when I go to meet a friend for lunch and do a delivery. I hate driving in the snow; not that I'm incapable of driving when there is white stuff in the air, but it seems as though EVERYONE ELSE on the road is. Snow in the air does not automatically give you license to go 20 mph under the speed limit, especially if said limit is 25 mph. Seriously.

I'm inhaling a caffeinated beverage in hopes of changing the pissiness of my mood. So far, it's not working. And I know I will have a headache later as a result. Sigh heigh ho for a headache (or toothache, or whatever Beatrice says in Much Ado... it's escaped me now. I'm sure Legion will let me know).

So the bad clothes morning part. Women, you will understand this. Men, you will probably think I've lost my mind completely. Most men's clothes are in the vein of garanimals--those with the matching tags Sears carried when I was growing up. You match the tags or the animals on the front and "boom" you have an outfit. Perhaps they don't have matching tags now--although that would probably give my husband a boost-he is forever asking me if this shirt can be worn with these pants, and whether he should wear brown or black shoes and belt with said outfit. He only recently became paranoid about these things when his boss, who happens to be a single gay man, pointed out that he was wearing brown shoes and a black belt, or the reverse, or something else that "What Not to Wear" or "Queer Eye" would have a fit about. I was unaware of this rule, but then again, I wore overalls up until the age of 10 (and then again in college--not something I'm proud of, but there you go) and wore nothing but white socks (regardless of shoe color) until I moved to France for a year, where everyone hemmed and ironed their jearns and wore flirty little scarves around their necks in hopes of warding off "la grippe" and other maladies that strickened at every turn.


Normal shower this morning, and I got out to get dressed. Reached into the drawer for a bra. Pulled out one of my most recent purchases--I had to buy all new bras after pregnancy number two because everything was stretched out and weird. My body, not the bras. I put the bra on and feel a tell-tale poking in my side. Yes, sure enough, the underwire--well, underplastic, to be truthful, as wire seems to have been banished to the dress collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, along with whalebone... not that I'm complaining--had gotten free of its casing and was jabbing me in the side. When this happens, to those who do not wear underplastic bras, the bra is beyond repair. I've tried to repair and it just doesn't work.

I've had the bra maybe a month. I bought it at a department store during a bra sale after a bra fitting, no less. Let me tell you how many things are wrong with the above sentence. One, I very rarely ever shop at a department store. They're just too expensive and too far from my house. When I need things, I head to Target or Kohls. Now that you know my shopping habits, feel proud. Or buy me gift certificates to said stores.

Two, I never shop bra sales because they are usually a rip off. Who died and decided that it was okay to charge women at least $30 for a decent bra? How is this fair? Men can buy undershirts in packs of three of less than $10, but women have to pay through the nose for an undergarment that won't outlast said tshirts, won't survive a decent washer, and will eventually cause them pain. My guess is that this idiocy was dreamed up by the same folks who decided that tampons should cost upwards of $5 a box and that women should be the lucky sex who bear children.


You would think that I would like bra sales. Not so. No, they usually involve having to gather a bunch of paperwork like tags and skn numbers and mail a check for postage to some address in Idaho where the underplastic factory is--all to get your second bra "free." Honey, if I gotta pay for postage, it ain't free.

Third, getting fitted for a bra involves letting another women wrap a tape measure around my chest twice, and then allowing this woman to be in the fitting room with me while I try on bras. That's almost as bad as letting someone in the room with you when you try on bathing suits, but not quite. Not a comfortable place to be in. And it's always, always cold--kind of like in the ob/gyn's office. You're cold, you're vulnerable and there's nowhere to hide.

I should have twigged that something was amiss when the woman who was doing the fitting went out and brought back a handful of bras that were all way too big for me. Her excuse was that my running bra was a "minimizer" and that she had no way of knowing my true size. I'm sorry--didn't you just measure me? She also told me all the things that were wrong with my bra. Well, duh, it doesn't do much to shape me, but at that moment, it was the only non-maternity/nursing bra I owned that fit.

She went out again and brought back the same bras in smaller sizes. After much pulling and poking and adjusting, I found one that fit decently. Not great, but she said it would adjust to me and stretch. "Besides, that's the last one we have," she said.

I'm sorry--aren't there like a million bras out there, I thought to myself. And then I realized... she didn't actually work at the department store. She was a rep from Bali's who was doing the fittings and the bra event. So if I didn't fit into one of her bras, there was no way she was going to bring me one from another line. Note to self: bra events rarely have the best interest of the customer at heart.

I decided to buy two bras--one in nude and one in black--as it was buy one, get one half price and there was no paperwork to complete to get the discount. How nice, I thought. I don't have to pay for a stamp or for shipping to get a discounted bra.

Then the problems began. One week later, after I had worn and washed my black bra one time, the stitching on the strap fell apart. I returned the bra to the store, where the clerk gave me my money back--but really only half of my money back, since I bought the bra for half price. And we know that $15 does not get you a bra in a department store. So I was left with one bra.

This morning, I put on that bra and got poked with the freakin' underplastic.


Because I've already made you read too much, and because my son is in his swing and will probably start demanding my attention at any moment, I will try to be brief about the other things that made this morning a bad clothes morning.

I went to find a pair of jeans in the closet, and the one pair I have that fits me well was two flights down on a drying rack. Nice. I am in the that obnoxious "between sizes" phase of post-pregnancy where nothing really fits well. I bought two pair of jeans (Kohls and Old Navy--a place I used to shop before gravity took control of my lower half. I can no longer fit into any of their jeans or pants, be they normal waist, just below waist, low waist or ultra low waist.) a couple of weeks ago and they are too big now (hooray South Beach!). The pair at Old Navy are "boyfriend jeans," which I guess is their way of saying boy-cut or boxy or low rise with wide legs or whatever. Perhaps they are only intended for those females young enough to only have boyfriends, not spouses. At any rate, they fall down and give me the worst case of plumber's butt I've ever seen. Seriously. In a competition between me and actual plumbers, I would win every time. My husband can vouch for this, because he comments on the butt thing every time I wear the jeans, which shouldn't be often but ends up being so because my one other pair that fits is always in the wash or on the drying rack. Oh, and I have two pair of pre-pregnancy jeans that I'm still working on getting into. I can put them on and they zip, but they are older and thus have no stretch, and so are not comfortable for more than an hour or so. I think stretch is the clothier's invention to cope with America's expanding midsection. We don't want to buy bigger sizes, so they're putting stretch in our clothes to make us feel better about ourselves and perpetuate the lie that we actually are the same size we were five years ago. That wouldn't fly in France. There would be no stretch in French jeans. It's too American.

So I put on the boyfriend jeans to get downstairs to see if the others were dry. It is now two hours later and I have yet to make it down to the basement to see if they are. I got sidetracked by work, the phone, feeding the baby and watching "The Apprentice" on DVR (while I was feeding the baby. I know, I'm a sorry person). So my jeans are still halfway down my butt and I have to yank them up everytime I bend over. Sucks to be me.

Jeans settled for the time being, I reached for a shirt to put on with them. Jeans, you'd think, a shirt would be easy. Not in my closet! I pulled on a white short sleeved vneck and realized that I had nothing to go over it that would fit under my coat. Nice. All of my sweaters are either too bulky to wear with a coat (genius in buying them, I know) or really thin knits that show unsightly post-pregnancy bulges. I can't win today. I truly can't.

I bagged the short sleeve idea and went for a long sleeved tshirt instead. I have exactly three long sleeved tshirts that fit well at the moment (none of which are Old Navy because despite the labels of "tiny fit," "perfect fit" and "easy fit," I find that none of the shirts there are perfect or easy for me, only tiny)--black, white and light blue. I opted for light blue. Put it on and was happy, chose socks to match (that aren't white, if you're keeping score. or even still reading), and went downstairs to start work.

I went to the bathroom and caught a glimpse in the mirror, only to find a stain about the size of a pencil eraser smack dab in the middle of the shirt. I think I've worn this one twice since buying it and it already has a stain right smack dab in the middle of the shirt. How is this possible? Oh yes, children and spit up and the uncoordination that pregnancy leaves you with while the hormones are taking their time leaving your body.

And I don't have anything to put over the shirt (see above for sweater discussion).

So here I am, in my boyfriend jeans that keep sliding down, in a stained tshirt and a bra I managed to salvage from God knows where.

As I said, it's been a bad clothes day. Some people have bad hair days. I've given up on good or bad hair days. There are just days where hair is concerned. My issue is bad clothes days.

Strangely enough, I feel better now, having spewed it all out. My caffeinated beverage has done the trick.

Now downstairs to see about those jeans....

Thursday, December 15, 2005

This is why I don't like...

Being associated with parts of the Jewish community.

A short post today, as one child is prematurely up from a nap and the other will soon be up.

Sam is going through separation anxiety at the moment and screams if I leave the room--or really, his field of vision. Syd was not at all like this and it is a little hard to take. He was doing so well sleeping on his own and sleeping through the night, and now he freaks out and screams at the littlest thing. Patience, patience... this too shall pass.

So I've been trying to pin down a simple press release or something for an article I proposed on It's a "Christmas Eve" alternative event for those who don't celebrate the holiday (mostly us Jews, I suppose) put on jointly by two Jewish or mostly Jewish organizations, which I'll call "A" and "B" because I have connections to the community and I don't want to burn any bridges.

Anyway, the only thing I've seen published on this event is a flyer with a piddly paragraph, a photo of the guy who is going to be at the event, and two numbers to call for more information.

Being the quasi-intelligent reporter I believe myself to be, I called one of the numbers and got voice mail, saying "I'll be out of the office Nov. something to Nov. something else and will return your call when I come back..." etc. I left a message and gave the person the benefit of the doubt, thinking that perhaps she hasn't had a chance to change her voicemail. my first mistake.

When several days went by and I didn't get a response, I called a friend of mine who works in a different part of organization A and explained what I was trying to do. He told me that the person for whom I left a message was "no longer with the organization" and that he didn't know who was taking on her programs in her absence. Great. He said he would ask around and have someone call me back.

No one did.

I called my friend again and asked if I should just try the contact from organization B. He said I could, but didn't think I would get anywhere. He said that he would call someone again, and have them call me, as he didn't have the person's cell number handy.

I never heard anything.

Monday, I called organization A again and asked to speak with the person he mentioned. I was told she was out of the office, but that I could speak with a marketing/p.r. person instead. I said fine, and was transferred. I got someone else, as the person to whom I was transferred was out of the office as well. This "assistant" marketing person said she didn't have a release, didn't think that one was forthcoming anytime soon, but she would contact the person at organization B to see what they had and get back to me later on that day or the next morning.


Today, Thursday, I finally get an email from the assistant marketing person at organization A with a photo of the guest attached, and a brief explanation that someone from organization B will be contacting me.

The kicker? Here is the response from the person at organization B:

"I am sorry this is so vague, but we are walking that fine line of having a lot of people who are part of our target audience show up… especially when we get into mainstream promotions. I figure they can call or email if they want to know more. Please call me if you have any questions. Thanks for helping us spread the word. Hope you and your hubby can join us."

To me, that translates into "don't write about us in your 'mainstream' publication because we don't want too many people to come because we can't handle it." I don't understand that "thanks for helping us spread the word." she has given me nothing to spread.

i am now officially more than one week past deadline on this alleged "story" and I'm ready to bag the entire thing, including anything I would propose to cover for either of these organizations in the future.

I can't tell you how furious I am that I have wasted so much time and energy trying to track down this "story" for folk that truly don't seem to care and don't want to have the publicity.

Another kicker?

Earlier in the week, I got a letter from organization A asking for a fundraising campaign contribution.

You've got to be kidding me. Seriously.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Well, duh

so i just figured out how to moderate and post comments. i haven't been ignoring any of you--i've just been technically inept.

here are the poems i am "publishing" this evening at our final writing class of the semester. I have been saying I will post them for a while, but haven't yet done so.

Saying More Things

Universal language has no point to me
I love the phonemes of other tongues
Dripping from my own
Like honey from the apple at the head of the Jewish New Year.

I don’t know what an inclinometer is.
Nor am I inclined to find out.

It’s of no use in my sedated world of freedom in the pen and paper
Free mind
Free bird

Celery is tasteless and bland
And has no place in the chocolate cake decadence of
Our inner circle
Our container
Our happy place.

Chocolate not at the center,
But on the periphery,
Beckoning me away from goals
Away from jeans
Away from program

But it tastes so damned good.

Brown sugar is in my freezer
But not here.

I pulled it out the other day
Like the silk beneath my toes on the beach I left behind
To add to a chicken marinade that wasn’t very good.

I’d let it broil a bit too long
Distracted by the phone
The kids
The chocolate in the fridge
The incessant hum of the washing machine as it spins the clothes into oblivion
And they emerge
Smelling sweet like yesterday’s rain
Ready to take on

The family
Spit up
And pieces.

The tongue can get in the way of my voice as I coax it from my throat,
Listening for openness
And complexity
But not wanting to think too hard.

“A Zen grocery list”
I once called my experience of prepping for a note
Taking mental stock
Without putting too much stock in the taking.

My tongue comes back to chocolate and rests
On all it has to offer.
response to poem “Saying Things” by Marilyn Krysl

Cold Morning

You called for ‘Daddy’ at 6 a.m., bleating, half-awake
I went instead, grudgingly hoisting myself
from the warm nest of blankets that kept me snug
I armed myself for a fight, ready with words like “it’s not time yet”
And “A few minutes more.”

Smoothing your icy sheets, I decided to stay awhile.

Curled up next to you
Beneath the blanket that quickly warmed the cold side of your tiny space,
Nose to nose, inches apart.
I listened to your deep easy breath,
Watched your unfurrowed brow,
Inhaled the sweet smell of air escaping your lips.

Your eyes flickered open a moment or two
Your fingertip reached out to touch my cheek, my nose
You fingered my pajamas
Just like your ‘stars blankie’
Wordlessly stroking, a feather’s touch

A moment frozen next to icy feet
Warm breath
Small fingers

I breathed it in
And stole away
Back to my own cold bed
Grown up sheets
Mammoth of responsibilities
Before it could end.


Thanksgiving poems to follow, when i fear not.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Clunky but fun

So I just came back from seeing Phantom of the Opera. This is only the second time I've seen the show--the first being a trip to New York in high school in 1990 with my theatre group. Our seats were so high for that excursion, we were eye-level with the chandelier. Seriously.

It was a much better production than I remember. Or maybe I'm less jaded, or I understand better now. The tour is a little creaky, but much more intact than I expected it to be. The technical elements of the show are still impressive, if a bit creaky. The 9 second drop of the chandelier feels like an eternity. The prologue auction felt like it was in slo-mo. And I need to get a copy of Stilgoe and Webber's book of the musical and see if they have written into the show that "Meg Giry should be played in a robotic, monotone and completely unbeliveable way. And she should sing flat at every opportunity." That was the one similarity that struck me between the two productions I've seen--in both, Meg Giry had incredible pitch problems. The role can't be that hard to sing, can it? In this production, she was much more wooden and doll-like than she was in the first production I saw. Think a barn owl crossed with the ballerina on a music box and you'll get the idea.

I was most looking forward to hearing Kim Stengel sing the role of Carlotta, the diva soprano at the Paris Opera Populaire. According to her bio, Stengel has had lots of classical training and has sung on the concert stage as well as the musical theatre stage. She bills herself as a coloratura. In places, she was absolutely gorgeous--open clear to the top of her head, floating notes out, rising above the rest of the riffraff. Her acting was great as well. And hell, if she can move that well in a dress that weighs 35 lbs., power to her. There were parts where I thought she could have given more sound--like she was too light. And I was miffed that she had to be miked up. She could have held her own without a mic. In the septet, they miked her and then turned her volume way way down, which was a mistake. Overall, I enjoyed her performance and was not disappointed.

It was an absolute relief to hear Marie Danvers in the role of Christine Daae. I was so happy that she chose to interpret the role as her own, rather than rip off interpretations (or lack thereof) from Sarah Brightman's mediocre recording. Danvers was light when necessary, could rip the walls down in "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," and had chest to be reckoned with in the title song. Well done. I held my breath during "Think of Me," but Danvers didn't disappoint. She made the piece her own.

Gary Mauer did a nice job singing the Phantom as well. I was worried he would do it a la Michael Crawford, but he did so many things so much better than any other recording or performance I've heard of any of the pieces. He floated his falsetto beautifully; and during much of the show I wished that the sound designers would have let him sing without the stylistic reverb that indicates the halls of the opera house and the catacombs. He was intense without going over the top (except at the very end), and you believed him, which is so important. He had complete control over his dynamics and he used them admirably and inventively--I was literally hanging on words to hear what he would do next. In "Don Juan," he conveyed so much without any facial expressions (as he was hidden by his black robe and hood), and I think others (like John Whitney who sang Ubaldo Piangi) could learn from him. Mauer was well in his body and was a pleasure to listen to.

Unfortunately, Raoul is relegated to the boring, pretty boy in the book, and he doesn't have a lot to do. John Cudia's handling of "All I Ask of You" was good; his chemistry with Danvers was believable, and his acting was credible. It's just not a very exciting role to play.

I enjoyed Firmin and Andre's performances a lot; they played well off each other and it was obvious that David Cryer (yes, that Cryer. He's Jon Cryer--"Duckie"'s--Dad) and D.C. Anderson have shared the stage many a time. It was refreshing to hear the lyrics clearly for a change, but I know much of that is due to the register in which the music is written.

Whitney, on the other hand, as Carlotta's other half, was completely unintelligible. He did well with the physical comedy and sang well--I liked the scene in the rehearsal hall where the choirmaster is attempting to coach him to the right notes. So funny!

In general, the cast did a fine job. Vocally, high points were the "Notes" scenes and the opera within the musical scenes. "Masquerade," however, left a lot to be desired. It lacked punch, both in choreography and in vocal sound. It was a little muddy. I kept wondering if the stage was too small for the gigantic set, and if the actors were making adjustments as they went. It felt that tentative. Shame, since the costumes and sets in that scene are beautiful. Visually, it can be stunning. This time, it just felt cluttered. Maybe they should have dumped the mannequins!

All in all, believe it or not, I enjoyed the production immensely--much more so than I thought I would. I expected a shlocky, old-school, creaky Phantom. While the show is certainly showing its age (can we please update the synthesizer drum machine???), it is still an entertaining spectacle worth seeing and hearing.

Oh, and Caryn, the dude's name is Breckin Meyer and he was on "Inside Schwartz," which had to be a guy thing. The picture doesn't show the similarities, but I swear Cudia could be his older brother.