Sunday, November 27, 2016

Holiday Express Train - The Sugar Cane Train on the Island of Maui



A beloved attraction on the west side of the island of Maui has returned!  The Sugar Cane Train in its first incarnation was open from 1969 to 2014.  Using both steam and diesel engines to transport tourists and locals from the Kaanapali area to Lahaina Town, the train was a gentle ride originally taking guests through the sugarcane fields.  Times change, the sugarcane fields have vanished, new housing and resorts have sprung up in their place and the Sugar Cane Train became less and less popular.

New owners vowed to bring the beloved Sugar Cane Train back from the mists of history. The special Holiday Express Train launches that effort.  Guests board the Holiday Express at the Puukolii Station.  The train sparkles with lights and decorations. Friendly elves hand out booklets that contain a special Sugar Cane Train Christmas Carol set to the tune of Winter Wonderland.  The conductor punches your commemorative ticket and the diesel engine heads to North Pole Maui, better known as the Kaanapali Station. There Santa Claus joins the train. The elves serve milk and nut-free chocolate chip cookies. Santa gives all the children a special present. Santa and the elves lead everyone in singing carols as the train continues its journey through the starlit night.

While the train cannot yet traverse the entire original track due to maintenance and right-of-way issues, the Holiday Express provides a jolly way to celebrate the holiday season. Tickets are $30 per person. Children 2 and under sitting on an adult's lap ride for free. Trains run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through December 25, 2016. There are two trains per night at 6:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. with check-in recommended for 30 minutes before your train to get a good parking space at Puukolii Station.

For tickets please visit http://www.sugarcanetrain.com/

Friday, November 25, 2016

Festival of Holidays at the Disneyland Resort



I know, I know, it's not December.

The Accidental Thespian ran the Avengers Superheroes Half Marathon on November 13th. That weekend was also the beginning of all things Christmas and winter holidays at the Disneyland Resort. No one does Christmas quite like the Disney theme parks and resorts. If you have ever attended the Christmas season at Walt Disney World which begins one week after Halloween you know what I mean. At Walt Disney World you can attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party a hard ticket special event at the Magic Kingdom that includes hot cocoa and cookies, special character meet and greets and have a chance to view both the Once Upon A Time Christmas Parade and the Holiday Wishes fireworks without the massive Christmas week crowds. Walt Disney World decorates the resort hotels to the hilt featuring massive Christmas trees and in the Contemporary Resort and Beach Club Resort spectacular gingerbread creations.

The Disneyland Resort starts its Christmas season with the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay that overlaps both the Halloween and Christmas seasons. Much more than adding a few decorations here and there the decorations completely transforms the Haunted Mansion into Jack Skellington's playground, or as the Ghost Host says showing what happens "when two holidays collide." The highlight each year is the monstrous gingerbread house displayed in the mansion's ballroom. New this year a winsome Sally animatronic in the graveyard.

Disneyland also features It's A Small World Holiday a celebration of world-wide holiday celebrations that will make you rue the day that Disney mashed up that classic earworm It's A Small World After All with Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls.  Make sure to ride after sunset when the facade lights up and a projection show is performed on the facade several times each night.

Wanna visit Santa in the Magic Kingdom? He meets guests daily at Pooh's Thotful Spot in Critter Country.

The Magic Kingdom's last magical holiday ride transformation is the Jingle Cruise. While both Walt Disney World and Disneyland include this attraction the Disneyland version goes ho-ho hog saturating the ride with decorations throughout the ride to match the Jingle Cruise skippers holiday puns (don't miss that classic holiday Piranhanukah -- the eight day festival of bites).

Of course the Magic Kingdom has its own Believe..in Holiday Magic fireworks, but for a real night-time spectacle head to Disney California Adventure.  Do not miss the amazing brand new World of Color - Season of Light.  A beautiful mix of Christmas tunes, Disney characters, the dancing fountains sour to the heavens and a new special effect, bubble hearts fill the sky during a performance of Let There Be Peace on Earth.

Disney California Adventure is the host for Disney Festival of Holidays. The entire park is decorated with period appropriate decorations on Buena Vista Street, Seasons Speeding decorations in Cars Land and Viva Navidad in the Paradise Gardens area of Paradise Pier.  The Three Caballeros host a street party featuring folklorico and samba dancers, musicians and Mickey and Minnie several times a day. When they aren't hosting the party the Caballeros meet guests in rotation with Goofy. New Disney tv star Princess Elena of Avalor has a musical grand arrival and also meets guests throughout the day. 

The Festival includes special food kiosks, visits with Santa Claus at the Redwood Creek Challenge trail, and special performances.  Mostly Kosher regales guests with jazzy Hanukkah music. Blue 13 Dance Company celebrates the Hindu festival of lights Diwali. There are Holiday Toy Drummers at the Boudin Bakery and Mariachi Divas in Pacific Wharf. Raise brings gospel joy to Paradise Pier.


Disneyland's holiday events run through January 8, 2017. For more information on events please visit




The Accidental Thespian Returns First Up All Things Christmas and Other Holidays

So it's been almost a two year break. I have been researching, writing, running half marathons, traveling and seeing a lot of terrific theater in the past two years. (Yes, Hamilton is worth the hype)
I've decided to resume writing The Accidental Thespian blog. I will not write as many reviews as I did in its first incarnation. I want to reclaim some of the fun of blogging that started me on this quirky project back in the fall of 2010.

To that end I am about to embark on a rather silly project. The Accidental Thespian will see just how much Christmas and other winter holiday events she can tolerate in the month of December. As I write this I sit on the island of Maui and will be boarding the Holiday Express Sugar Cane Train tonight. A beloved Maui attraction that is also being resurrected after ending its original run from 1969-2014.

So for my few followers on social media I sincerely hope you will be entertained.

Mahalo

Diane

Mele Kalikimaka

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Accidental Thespian Takes A Bow ....For Now

With the publishing of my latest review, I have decided to take a break from writing The Accidental Thespian.   I began this blog in the fall of 2010 as part of my recovery process from a bad episode of depression.  Writing about the theater that I love to perform, create and attend kept my foot in the career that I love and adore.  

Now it is time for me to move on to the next phase of my writing life. I have another large project and another blog marchionessofexeter.blogspot.com.  Gertrude Blount Courtenay, Marchioness of Exeter was the first historical person I portrayed at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. She is one of the most fascinating members of the courts of King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Mary I that you have probably never heard of. I decided that I would like to research her life and that of her husband, Henry Courtenay, first cousin to King Henry VIII, with the aim of writing a biography of her. That project needs to become my number one priority in 2015.

Well that and a little project I am doing for the 2015 Popular Cultural Association/American Cultural Association's national conference in New Orleans, LA in April. I am delivering my third paper in the Festival and Faires division this one about another of the historical women I have portrayed.  Entitled "That Bawd Lady Rochford, or How Popular Culture Turned Me into a Bitch." I will be examining how the wife of George Boleyn became one of the most hated women of the 16th century and the role popular culture depictions of her shaped that opinion.

I hope that I will one day return to The Accidental Thespian. I've enjoyed writing my reviews for my tiny audience of friends and acquaintances. I've learned a lot during the process.  Mostly I think my father, Russell Holcomb, who once upon a time actually encouraged me to consider writing theater criticism, would have enjoyed this little exercise of mine.

Until then, I will continue to see a lot of theater. (Five Guys Named Moe at Arena - fun, Fiddler On The Roof at Arena - compelling, A Delicate Balance on Broadway - Albee.  Need I say more?)  I hope to get back on stage myself one day or at least turn into a producer of things I believe in.

Please continue to support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for the marvelous work that they do to support those who live with HIV/AIDS and other medical needs.  Please support live theater whether its buying a ticket or donating to the theater company of your choice.

This is Diane Holcomb Wilshere, The Accidental Thespian signing off.

The Elephant Man at the Booth Theatre


The life of Joseph Merrick attracted a lot of attention in the late 1970's, first with the publication of Ashley Montagu's book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity and the renewed interest in Dr. Frederick Treves' memoir The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences.  This led to the 1979 Tony winning play The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance receiving a top notch revival production at the Booth Theatre. While this is an excellent production featuring compelling performances by the small cast and steady, thoughtful direction by Scott Ellis, audiences who pay attention to the text may leave the theatre questioning the circumstances of Joseph Merrick's life, particularly after his decision to live and be studied medically by Dr. Treves at the London Hospital for the last four years of his life.

Joseph Merrick? Does the reviewer not mean John Merrick as he is referred to in Pomerance's play? No. The actual man was named Joseph Merrick and following the popularity of both the play and the David Lynch film another biography by Michael Howell and Peter Ford The True History of the Elephant Man was published which proved among other things that the young man's name was Joseph and that a lot of what Dr. Treves published about Mr. Merrick's early years was false. Yet, despite these errors being given voice in the play, Mr. Pomerance's play is filled with a respect for humanity especially beneath the surface of one hideously deformed by a medical condition unable to be treated by 19th century medicine. Come for the freak show, or more likely to see Academy Award nominated actor Bradley Cooper in the title role. Leave the theater questioning whether Mr. Merrick simply traded up to a more comfortable exhibit hall.

The play begins with Dr. Treves meeting his new employer Carr Gromm at the London Hospital. Learning of a freak show curiousity near the hospital he pays his admission and sees John Merrick for the first time. Insisting on examining Mr. Merrick Dr. Treves takes him back to the hospital where he gives a lecture on his deformities. During the lecture photographs of the actual Merrick are shown while the very beautiful Mr. Cooper contorts his body to approximate Merrick's disability.

According to the play, Joseph Merrick was born and developed hideous skin growths that severely deformed most of his body. Abandoned by his mother to a workhouse he grew up there until he reached maturity. The only source of income possible was to join a side show as a curiosity. Mr. Merrick is shown being beaten by his so-called owner and manager Ross and eventually abandoned while in Belgium.  Returning to London Mr. Merrick is admitted to London Hospital where Dr. Treves gets several life lessons about the nature of humanity and man's relationship to God by caring for Mr. Merrick. It is Merrick's introduction to the famous actress Mrs. Kendall that broadens his social interactions while turning the London Hospital into a popular site for the aristocratic patrons the hospital desperately needs for funds. Over the course of his stay at the hospital one can only wonder did Dr. Treves benefit more from his paternalistic care of the man or did Merrick deepen Dr. Treves humanity.

The primary players in this revival give emotional performances. Alessandro Nivola is a reticent Dr. Treves whose relationship with Merrick slowly unleashes buried emotions. Patricia Clarkson as Mrs. Kendall has a regal bearing. She is "acting" when she is first asked to visit Merrick using her performer's mask to hide her natural revulsion. The two characters are deeply affected by how Merrick affects them deeply and it shows in their heartfelt performances.

Bradley Cooper shows by his role choices how good an actor he is, not for nothing has he rightly earned two Academy Award nominations. Mr. Cooper has stated in numerous interviews that it was the 1980 David Lynch film of The Elephant Man (not related to the play) that made him want to become an actor. Merrick is a challenging and showy role requiring great physical and vocal stamina. Look beyond the theatrics and Mr. Cooper is giving one of the most compelling performances of the fall Broadway season.  One hopes that he is not lost at Tony nomination time by the distant memories of the Tony committee after the closing of the limited run of this production.

The play is colored by a Victorian empire notion that those with money and means know best how to care for the poor and afflicted. Merrick's life story as portrayed feels at times like he has traded a street exhibition for a more gilded one. The audience should be uncomfortable by the all-knowing Victorian sensibilities of Dr. Treves towards his patient (and the hospital's cash cow). This same audience should also walk away from Mr. Cooper's performance in the title role delighted to have made Mr. Merrick's acquaintance.

The Elephant Man is being produced at The Booth Theatre on Broadway in a limited run through February 15, 2015. For tickets and other performance information please visit elephantmanbroadway.com.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The River at Circle In The Square


Hugh Jackman is back on Broadway. Let the box office numbers rejoice. (Not to mention the uptick in donations to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for the Gypsy of the Year campaign). This time Mr. Jackman headlines The River, the 2012 play by Jez Butterworth.  Mr. Butterworth's last work on Broadway was the 2011 Tony-nominated Jerusalem for which its star Mark Rylance won the Tony for Lead Actor in a Play. Whether Mr. Butterworth or Mr. Jackman can repeat that critical success is unknown. The River is a box office success and a limited extension of its planned performance run has already been announced.

Circle In The Square is in a three-quarter thrust stage for this production. Designer Ultz has created a weather-worn cabin which creates a perfect atmosphere for this very mysterious play in harmony with the lighting design of Charles Balfour and particularly the amazing sound design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph. The River would be a front runner for the sound design Tony award if it had not been discontinued as a category by the Tony nominating committee. So what mysterious story has Mr. Butterworth created for this marvelously designed scene?

Well, truth be told The River is a bit of a murky, muddy mess. We are at the cabin of The Man (Hugh Jackman) who has brought his new girlfriend The Woman (Cush Jumbo) to his family cabin to share his love of fishing for sea trout. The Woman, winsomely portrayed by Ms. Jumbo is a very literary person who is more interested in the beautiful sunset and the setting than she is in fishing. The next scene The Man is frantic as he tries to reach help on his cell phone as a woman has gone missing while they were out fishing. Turns out said woman is The Other Woman (Laura Donnelly), another girlfriend who he also has brought to experience the sea trout fishing experience. Ms. Donnelly's Other Woman is more earthy and adventuresome, eager to embrace the strange experiences she had while lost on the darkened riverbank or eat the spoils of her catch. Without giving up too much of the twists and turns in this plot, suffice it to say that Mr. Butterworth has the audience experience The Man's evening with both women in mostly alternating scenes.

In the end the audience may get the deeper meaning of what Mr. Butterworth is trying to achieve. Or the audience could end up wondering why there is so much emphasis on the poetry of Ted Hughes and W.B. Yeats. The River is a very philosophical work.  Mr. Butterworth has added a lot of pondering and pontificating monologues, particularly on the joys of fishing for sea trout on a moonless night when the fish run.  Or, as this reviewer witnessed, some audience members may simply wander down 8th Avenue questioning whether The Man is a serial killer.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the performances or the direction by Ian Rickson. Perhaps the play suffers in being in a larger theater than the sub-100 seat theater it played in London thereby losing true intimacy with the audience.

Mr Jackman embraces the complexity of The Man. He is at heart a man searching for true love, only to find disappointment again and again through the choices he makes. On the other hand Mr. Jackman has become clearly expert at gutting and prepping a sea trout dinner on stage. Prepapre with Fennel, leeks (washed under the faucet not soaked), lemon, salt, maybe pepper in case you were wondering.

And there in lies the problem with The River. There is nothing wrong with a play being deeply philosophical, lyrical and non-linear. However there is a problem when a play is so densely written that it is a true challenge to figure out what are the intentions of the playwright. Suffice it to say, no The Man is not a serial killer. To draw your own conclusions about what The River means you will have to try to get one of the hottest tickets on Broadway this fall and come to your own conclusions over The River's scant 85 minute running time.

The River is being performed at Circle In The Square on Broadway through February 8, 2015. For tickets and other performance information please visit theriveronbroadway.com

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Last Ship at the Neil Simon Theatre


Someone needs to propose writing a dissertation on the recent trend of depicting the end of industrial Britain in musical theater. There certainly are more and more candidates for analysis. The latest is Sting's love letter to his home town, Wallsend, a former shipyard town most famous for building the Carpathia, the ship that responded to the sinking of the Titanic. What is good about The Last Ship is the haunting score by Sting, some terrific performances by the acting ensemble, and the atmospheric direction by Joe Mantello. What hurts The Last Ship and ultimately makes it not quite a satisfying evening of theater is that its subject invites comparison to the death of industrial Britain musicals that have come before it. Many of the themes in The Last Ship will lead a veteran theatergoer inevitably to start making comparisons, not in favor of the well meaning The Last Ship.

Gideon Fletcher is a young teenager with a girl he loves and a father with whom he has a difficult relationship. When Dad is permanently injured he pressures young Gideon into entering the family business. Instead Gideon runs away taking to a life at sea. Fifteen years later he returns after learning of his father's death. The town's shipyard has closed and the ghosts of the past haunt Gideon in the present day. When the Catholic priest Father O'Brien proposes that the workers occupy the shipyard and build one last ship to show the world what skills are being lost forever in the name of progress and cheap overseas labor, Gideon ends up becoming a reluctant leader.

A large problem with The Last Ship lies in its book which is co-written by John Logan and Brian Yorkey. Mr. Yorkey left this project to bring If/Then to Broadway. The plot has holes in it and suffers from having too melancholic a tone throughout the piece. As an example, Father O'Brien puts up the church building fund to build the ship. For an economically depressed area that must have been quite the fund. There is no clue what will happen to the ship once it is completed beyond its maiden voyage. The script would have been served by simply adding perhaps publicity for the project (bring in journalists or television coverage) and an actual goal for the ship rather than what seems like a metaphorical ending.

The tale is also not served by having characters and plot points that are almost cliches. The hero has conflicts with his father (see Billy Elliot, Kinky Boots). The good hearted Catholic priest, played with the tough love and blue humor that is needed by the always capable Fred Applegate is saddled with an unnecessary plot devise that will bring to mind the fate of a similar character in the film The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain. Naturally the girl left behind had Gideon's son. (this is really not a spoiler as said teenage son appears very quickly in the first act). Collin Kelly Sordelet makes an impressive Broadway debut as both Young Gideon and Gideon's son Tom. Both characters are distinctive and the script fortunately does not contain any true melodrama about the son not knowing who is his real father.

Rachel Tucker is tough as nails as Meg, the girl left behind. A love triangle is created by adding the character of Arthur, a shipyard worker turned executive who has been steadily in both Meg and Tom's life. Aaron Lazar helps make Arthur a genuine good sensible man and father figure so that there is fortunately no detour into, once again, melodrama land when it comes to reuniting Meg and Gideon after all those years.

Michael Esper has the perfect voice for the wayward Gideon Fletcher. In many ways he sounds like composer Sting, although that may be the nature of how Sting wrote the music. Mr. Esper has a challenge in that his character is part prodigal part absolute jerk, yet by the end of the evening the character reaches a satisfactory redemption.

Sting has written a beautiful score. It ranges from the haunting themes "Island of Souls" and "Ghost Story" to the rousing "If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor" and "Mrs. Dees' Rant."  The score is served well by the earthy character driven choreography of Steven Hoggett who did a similar style for the musical Once. The scenic elements of David Zimm and the lighting of Christopher Akerlind are atmospheric and suit well the piece.

One wishes that only one writer had shaped the book of The Last Ship as tightening the plot holes would have made it a more seaworthy evening of theater.

The Last Ship is being performed at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway. For tickets and other performance information please visit thelastship.com or ticketmaster.com