Thursday, November 29, 2007

Running Away With the Circus: Theatre That's Making Me Happy Today, vol 16

Cirque du Soleil's Kooza under Le Grand Chapiteau

Call me crazy, but I generally have found the Cirque du Soleil shows I've seen to be underwhelming. Even O at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas is not, in my opinion, all it's cracked up to be. Make no mistake, I very much respect the skill and artistry every Cirque show features, but I just haven't found them all that exciting.

Until Kooza.

Kooza is running in San Francisco right now, and it is amazing. I probably like this show more than the other Cirque shows I've seen because it most resembles a traditional circus. Without the bearded ladies and abused animals, that is. Acrobats, contortionists, clowns, trapeze artists, tight-rope walkers, comedy... Kooza has it all. And the result is truly phenomenal. I'm not going to waste your time trying to give you a play by play because Kooza needs to be experienced.

Just go see it, if you can. I'm no acrobat, but sometimes I'd like to run away with the circus.

Prior to the show, Gretchen and I swung by Tony Nik's for a couple of cocktails. We used to go to Tony Nik's all the time before Gretchen had her baby and Tony Nik's was overrun by the many annoying people who hang out there now. But last night the bar wasn't crowded, and Devon very sweetly recreated for me a vanilla-apple cocktail I'd had at Palomino a couple of weeks ago. It was just like old times. "Old times" being 2003 through 2005, by the way.

Cocktails and the circus? That's one good Wednesday night.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fine and Dandy at the Napper Tandy

My work schedule has been a little bit different due to the holiday weekend, and that meant I had last night off. Saturday nights out are now at a premium in my life, so I wanted to make the most of it. To that end, after work Joey and I joined Valerie, Kevin, Tom, Andrey, Chris, Eric and some work friends of Kevin's at the Napper Tandy in the Mission. While the Napper Tandy is Valerie and Kevin's neighborhood bar, I had never been there; so I was excited to check it out. Especially since on Saturday nights they feature, you guessed it, karaoke!

Don't worry, my karaoke habit will play itself out one day soon, and you'll no longer have to read about it.

Anyway, that photo above was actually taken at the end of the evening (at least at the end of my evening; the party was still going strong when I left at 12:45) after we had all taken our turns at the microphone. Well, some of us, like me, had taken several turns. I sang "Somewhere Only We Know," "Downtown" and "Back On the Chain Gang," with my last selection featuring most of the Napper Tandy on background vocals. I realize that I've begun singing the same songs over and over again when I go out for karaoke. I need to expand my repertoire.

By the way: I know poor Chris is half cut out of that photo, but in the only other one I had of the group of us, Eric is hidden by my pony tail, and Valerie and Tom are making slightly weird faces. My apologies, Chris.

All of that said, the actual point of this post is not karaoke, believe it not, but more that I was reminded what fabulous and wonderful friends I have. I was out with only a handful of them last night, but I think it was a fair sample. The long and short of it is this: my friends rock and are super fun. Following are a few cases in point.

Kevin, whom I don't see very often, is incredibly clever and has stellar music taste. Before the karaoke began, he programmed 17 songs in the jukebox, including Buddy Holly and the Go-Go's. Does it get better than that? Valerie, Kevin's girlfriend and one of the very first people I met in San Francisco 11 years ago, continues her passionate pursuit of an acting career. She may not be gracing the cover of Entertainment Weekly, but she is one of the most driven and committed actors I know. Tom embraces his geeky interests, like video games, with such charm that he turns geekiness to an incredibly hip quality. Honestly. Chris is nothing less than a total rock star. He has it all: brains, talent, generosity, charisma. I could go on and on. Andrey has a way of making me feel very loved and very cute when we go out, and he does so without being at all slimy. Plus, he may be the best karaoke buddy ever. He sings very well and seems to know all the words to every pop song ever written. Andrey is from Moscow and says he and his friends learned English by listening to American pop music, hence his vast knowledge of lyrics. Very impressive. And speaking (again) of karaoke, I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Eric knows how to work a karaoke mic like no body's business. Not to mention that he and Chris taught me how to play Texas Hold 'Em a few years ago.

These people are really a mere drop in the bucket of my entire pool of luvvies. I could write volumes about the fabulousness embodied by all the people I have the privilege of calling my friends. I mentioned in my Thanksgiving Eve post that I'm thankful for all the love I have in my life and all the people who love me. And that gratitude continues. Believe me when I tell you that I am one lucky girl.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Urban Chic Thanksgiving

A few years ago, I would gather with a lucky chosen few at my friend Daniel's 10th floor apartment high atop Russian Hill for Thanksgiving dinner. Daniel and I dubbed it the Urban Chic Thanksgiving, and for the two (or was it three?) years it lasted, it was quite the wonderful tradition. But times change, and for the last couple of years, I have spent Thanksgiving at my Aunt Mary and Uncle David's place in Los Altos.

Well, this year, Mary, David and my cousin Anna decided to come to the City for Thanksgiving. My sister Fabulous Patti, brother Michael, sister-in-law Maki and nephew Mikey Jet also made the trek up to San Francisco from Los Angeles. Add another uncle and cousin to the downtown party, and the Urban Chic Thanksgiving was reborn. My own apartment is way too small to host a Thanksgiving affair; so the ten of us piled into First Crush at about 4:30 for dinner. This is me and Anna rocking our sunglasses like the rock stars we both know we are. I'd wanted to snap a photo of all of us at the table, but the restaurant was full and the waiter overwhelmed. Plus, the lovable Mikey Jet had already demonstrated his vocal ability by screaming bloody murder every time Mike and Maki tried to put him in the high chair to eat. So the last thing I wanted to do was bother anyone further.

I certainly hope we gave that waiter a really good tip.

Anyway, instead of the big table photo, I corralled a stranger into snapping this lovely shot of Mike, Fabulous Patti, myself, Maki and Mikey Jet outside the restaurant once we were all pleasantly full. Do we not look happy? I'd actually never eaten out for Thanksgiving before, and it was a very nice experience. For one thing, I didn't overeat. Well, not at the restaurant, anyway, but we'll get to that later. Even though the meal was probably packed with calories, you can't help yourself to seconds and thirds at a restaurant. So portion control was handled for me, and I definitely appreciated that.

Of course, it wouldn't be a true Urban Chic Thanksgiving without Daniel. Lucky for me, he and Mark had invited me to their newly renovated home for dinner. Obviously, I had other dinner plans, but Fabulous Patti and I swung by after dinner for dessert and champagne with Daniel, Mark, their friend Scott and Mark's father Mel. Mel sweetly snapped this photo of FP, Daniel, Mark and myself. Just as proof we were all there.

It would be at Daniel and Mark's that the overeating occurred. Even though I'd already had dessert, I couldn't resist the very large slice of pumpkin pie offered me. I mean, refusal would be rude, wouldn't it? Well, polite or not, the pie was delicious, and even though I had no room for a second dessert, I ate it anyway. Yummy. After dessert, the champagne flowed, and we all engaged in urban chic conversation which was both stimulating and well worthy of the glamorous affair.

Needless to say, I found myself at the gym before work Friday morning. I probably would have gone to the gym anyway, but it was extra necessary that morning. Whether it helped or not, at least I feel less guilty about all I ate on Thursday.

Next stop: my birthday and Christmas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Eve!

When I was in junior high and high school, the day before Thanksgiving was my very favorite day of the year. Well, except my birthday, but if you know me at all, you know that goes without saying. Anyway, the day before Thanksgiving was my (almost) favorite day of the year because all the fun and goodness of the holiday season was right in front of me. The day before Thanksgiving is the beginning of the best six weeks on the calendar.

And it doesn't hurt that my birthday is also in December.

Anyway, I was thinking about that today, as I enjoyed a day of lounging, baking a pumpkin pie, buying champagne and exercising. And today also got me thinking about some things in my life for which I'm thankful. I think I wrote about things to be thankful for on this space at this time last year, but every Thanksgiving inspires me to think about how fortunate I am.

Honestly. So here are some things I'm thankful for this year.

1. My health. I know this one is totally overdone, but today I saw a wheelchair-bound woman being helped into a van by a nurse. Not to assume that the wheelchair woman isn't perfectly healthy other than her inability to walk, but I am genuinely thankful that everything in my body functions properly. And it all functions properly in a pretty cute package, if I do say so myself.

2. The bunches and bunches of love in my life. I'll admit that I'm not working a whole lot of the romantic-type love with the perfect guy right now, but I'm still surrounded by affection. And it's affection from a ton of super-smart, super-interesting and super-creative people. Gotta love that.

3. A job that I enjoy. They call it work... as opposed to say, nap... for a reason, and I can't say my job is perfect. But for fifteen years I've had a rather successful career that is still going strong. I try to remember that even when I get frustrated with work.

4. My current work schedule. Wednesday and Thursday are my regular days off, which means that I have Thanksgiving off, as I did last year and the year before. That may not seem like much to you, but in my position, working holidays, even major holidays, is expected. So I'm happy to have one holiday off every year. Until and unless my schedule changes.

5. A super cute apartment in a nice neighborhood in a fabulous city. Yes, I admit I would rather live in Hawaii, and I'm still enamored with Los Feliz in L.A., but San Francisco isn't too shabby. A lot of people would love to live here, and I actually do. Yay!

6. Music. This actually should be number one because I'm a music fanatic, and as I've said before: music never lets you down. But I think I am more thankful for my health. Imagine how sucky it would be if I suddenly lost my hearing and couldn't listen to music anymore. Let's not even talk about that.

7. A comfortable lifestyle. I'm far from rich, and frankly, I've spent large portions of my life happily making ends meet on a much smaller salary than I command right now. However, I really do appreciate having the ability to go to the spa once a month or so; to visit Diva Mommy in Hawaii a couple of times a year; to go to all the live music shows I want; to keep my membership at the Fancy Gym; and to buy shoes when I want them.

8. The open mic circuit, karaoke and my singing lessons. Whoever would have thought that singing would become my primary hobby? And that I could actually do it without shattering glass or causing dogs to whimper? Not me.

9. Naps. I think this one needs no explanation.

10. Lee Pace. He's the star of the new television show "Pushing Daisies," and he's become my new tv boyfriend. Talented, charming and very hot. That's all we really want from our tv boyfriends, and Lee doesn't disappoint. (For the record, I'm not throwing over my other tv boyfriend, Peter Krause, for Lee. They can share my affections.)

Okay, that's all I can think of right now. But I bet I'll be able to come up with about 1000 more. I'm a lucky girl, and it's good to remember that. Frequently. Not just once a year.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Easy Lounge...

... on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland may be my new favorite bar. For one thing, it's called the Easy Lounge; do bar names get any better than that? For another thing, it seems to be open during the day... at least on Saturdays. And to a person like me, who likes to get her drink on but still go to bed at a decent hour, daytime drinking hours are a huge bonus. If all of that isn't enough, the proprietors of the Easy Lounge buy fresh fruit from the local farmers market and use their haul to make fresh, satisfying cocktails.


I discovered the Easy Lounge yesterday when Mindi had her birthday party there. The special cocktails of the day included a fruity concoction made with fresh muddled strawberries, a raspberry margarita and this Frangelico thing. The Frangelico thing had no fruit in it, but it did feature Frangelico, cream, Kaluha and lord knows what else. It probably packed about 1000 calories per sip, but it was worth it. I could have thrown back six or so seven of those little rich numbers. In fact, here are Mindi and myself enjoying our cocktails in honor of her birthday. We are ever so slightly out of focus (and I'm a little shiny; how about some powder, Sassy?), but you get the idea.

However, there was no time for overindulging at the Easy Lounge because after about an hour at Mindi's party, Tom and I took off for Stephanie's wedding in Santa Clara. Tom had never met Stephanie before watching her get married, but he was still game for the party. We got a tiny bit lost on the way, but we made it. The reception was quite fun, especially since Tom and I were seated with Alexandra, a woman we both know and like but hardly ever see, and Stephanie's friend Isabel, who was super fun. We all decided we wanted to be the rowdy table, but we failed in that endeavor. For one thing, our table was only half full (by the way, who rsvp's "yes" for a wedding and then doesn't show up without letting the bride or groom know?), and for another, there was a much rowdier table than ours. Well, the best laid plans.

If an afternoon birthday party and evening wedding weren't enough, at about 11:00, Tom and I made our way back to the City for a party at Eric's place. The party was winding down as we arrived, but we livened it up a bit. At one point it became a sing along, with all eight or so of us lingering partiers singing songs like "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "Don't Stop Believin'" to Eric's acoustic guitar accompaniment. Yes, those songs are cheesy, but they're fun, and it was 1:00 in the morning. What else would you expect at that hour?

Needless to say, I had taken the day (or night, I should say) off work to accommodate all this socializing. And I'd say it was totally worth it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Night The Mint Imploded

For those of you keeping score at home, I'll tell you that my karaoke habit continues to grow. It's a cheap (in more ways than one) and easy way for me to feed my singing urge. The thing about karaoke, however, is that it's only fun if you check your judgement at the door. Whether you can sing or not, the point to is work up the nerve to get up and belt out a tune. Karaoke is the great equalizer: one of the only forums where all things.. or singers... are truly equal. Good or bad.

That said, the Mint Karaoke Lounge, as I have mentioned before on this space, is known for attracting incredibly good singers. It actually can be quite intimidating as great voice after great voice takes to the microphone. And a lot of the same ringers frequent the Mint on a regular basis. In fact, a guy working at the sushi restaurant next door put it bluntly, telling my friend Sheela one evening: "The same people come here and sing the same songs night after night."

Huh. Night after night, except last Wednesday. Wherever all those ringers were that night, I'm certain their ears were bleeding.

My friend Katie and I decided to swing by the Mint to sing a song or ten on Wednesday night, and frankly, we were horrified by what we saw. Or heard, I should say. Yes, I know I'm breaking the cardinal karaoke rule by being judgmental, but oh, dear Lord. Screech after screech, horribly off-key song after horribly off-key song, squeal after squeal... the scene at the Mint on Wednesday was like nothing I'd ever seen there. Not to mention that most of the "singers" chose to punctuate their performances with really bad undulating that I guess was supposed to pass for dance moves. I'm all for "selling it" when you do karaoke, but really, now. It was bad news. Plus, to add insult to injury, it was really crowded, meaning lots and lots of... interesting, let's say... performances.

Now, in all fairness, some of the brave people who got up to sing were really fun, regardless of talent level. For example, the guy who sang the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" was quite awesome in his cheesiness. But the woman who sang some song that referenced Taco Bell in its lyrics was not.

Katie, who has perfect pitch, was easily the best singer of the night. At least while we were there. I took second place. Katie sang a Lisa Stansfield song, while I picked Petula Clark's "Downtown" from my ever-expanding karaoke repertoire. I was also going to sing "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane, but it was so crowded, it took too long for my second song to come up. So I left. As I was making my exit, I noticed a couple of the regular ringers had trickled in. I can only imagine what they thought of the spectacle.

After recovering from this week's karaoke adventure, I met Kate (not to be confused with Katie, who is a totally different friend) on Thursday night at Solstice for snacks and conversation. After swapping stories, mostly about boys, over brussels sprouts, mac and cheese and french fries, we decided that in a lot of ways, our lives are just like they were two and half years ago when we first became friends.

Welcome to 2005, I suppose.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Totally Yay!

Lots to talk about in this post; so let's get to it. First of all, I'm a geek. I know this already.

About a week ago, I hopped onto and bought myself a copy of Totally Go-Go's. "What in Heaven's name is that?" you may ask. Well, it's a concert video recorded at Palos Verdes High School in December, 1981, and released in 1982. Yes, I said 1982. Which means this video is long since out of print, but luckily, Amazon sells used stuff, too. I taped the audio of Totally Go-Go's off KROQ at some point back in '82 and listened to it over and over, but with the exception of a few clips here and there, I had never seen it.

Until now, that is. It arrived yesterday, and after returning from a relatively early evening of cocktails (okay, club soda for me) with Phil and some of his friends, I popped that bad boy right into the vcr. Is it wrong that I spent 40 dollars on a 25-year old video tape and was watching it at midnight on a Friday night/Saturday morning?

Yeah, probably. But as I've said before and surely will say again: music never lets you down.

* * * * *

My actor/writer/director/producer friend Dan cast me in a staged reading this week and mentioned to me that he hoped he'd get a mention on this space. Well, here it is, and not just because I was in the reading, but because it was an enjoyable experience. The play by Beth Soloway was decent, and the whole thing was very fun. There was no audience; we were recording our reading specifically for the playwright's benefit. So we all stood in front of microphones, and it felt like an old-time radio play. Or at least what I imagine an old time radio play to be like.

Another actor in the reading was Shaun Landry, who must be one of the funniest people on earth. She's also a professional comedienne and improviser, so I suppose that makes sense. We all went to the Chieftain for drinks and snacks after the reading, and Shaun had me in stitches the entire evening. She regaled us with tales of everything... from her story about Mayor Gavin Newsom doing the cabbage patch to comparing her husband's looks to Benny Hill. Yes, Benny Hill.

* * * * *

Argonautika at Berkeley Rep is really good. It's a little on the long side, but it's based on a Greek myth, so of course it's long. They left nothing out of those suckers. There is this really cool call and response kind of song/chant which introduces all the Argonauts, and they reprise it for the curtain call using the actors' real names as each takes a bow. It was super neat.

* * * * *

Do you know what I'm doing tomorrow? Before work, I'm going over to Rosa's house in Berkeley, and we're going to sing! My work schedule of late has been keeping me away from open mic in Alameda, but I'm determined to make it after work this Tuesday. Since Rosa and I won't have time to practice right before, we're doing it tomorrow. I am so excited. As you have probably gathered, I love to sing.

* * * * *

Carolyn and I have hatched a top secret plan. Since it's top secret, I can't really tell you any details. But I will let you know if it works. Keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Slices of Life

Nothing terribly earth shattering has happened over the last couple of days, so I'll just share a few tidbits with you.

Last night, my friend Carolyn and I were discussing boys, theatre and other life-altering phenomenon at the bar at Enricos when our attention was captured suddenly by about ten cops tearing down Broadway toward Montgomery. Several police cars then sped after them, including one that was driving backwards. It was all very dramatic and a tiny bit scary. I hope they caught whomever they were chasing.

I have found heaven on Earth, and it is the steam room at my gym. I've always loved that steam room, but I was reminded of it's glory this morning.

Speaking of the gym, someone with good taste was in charge of the music pumping through the gym sound system this morning. "I'm the Man" by Joe Jackson played as I ambled toward the ab machines. Not bad at all for a gym.

Speaking of music, "Beat Surrender" by the Jam might just be one of the greatest songs ever. I've probably mentioned that on this space before, but it bears repeating. I wish I'd written that song.

Don't you love the way the topics in this stream of consciousness post lead from one to the other?

Tonight I'm going to opening night of Mary Zimmerman's Argonautika at Berkeley Rep. The last Mary Zimmerman play I saw was Metamorphoses back in 1999. My actor friends Jessica, Richard and Barry were all in Metamorphoses at one point or another as the show ran here, in Los Angeles and Seattle. However, none of them went with Metamorphoses to Broadway. Sad.

I had two cocktails at lunch today with a former co-worker of mine. Don't worry, today is my day off; so I was allowed. However, for a girl who only drinks two days of week now, cocktails at lunch is quite decadent. They were delicious, though... these vanilla apple cosmo things. Yummy. I just hope I can stay awake through the play tonight.

Fred 62, my new favorite restaurant in L.A., got a mention in this week's Entertainment Weekly. I just hope it doesn't get too trendy. Well, it already is a little trendy, but I hope it retains its character.

Tomorrow, I'm going to re-awaken my actor self by doing a staged reading of a play by Beth Soloway. I'm also going to the spa earlier in the day for a vanilla fig sugar body scrub. Between the spa and the reading, tomorrow might just be the best day ever.

Today's been pretty good, though, too.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

... And Hilarity Ensued

Every time I go out with my friends Phil and Joey I laugh so hard I almost pee in my pants. And last night was no exception. Perhaps that doesn't sound like the classiest or most savory endorsement, but believe me, it's a very good thing.

Also, slices from the random hole-in-the-wall pizza joint on Geary near the Edinburgh Castle are actually quite delicious. Just so you know.

Friday, November 02, 2007

We Came, We Saw, We Sang Our Hearts Out

I arrived at Encore Karaoke to the sounds of Tom singing "Birdhouse In Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants, and I knew it was going to be a good night.

This post will be a mostly a visual tour through our evening of song singing. The photo above would be me during my rendition of Petula Clark's "Downtown." As I suspected it would be, that is my new favorite karaoke song. I'm just sad I sang it early in the evening. We began our singing marathon at 8 p.m., when there was hardly anyone in the place. So even though Encore did get crowded as the night went on, we still got to sing a lot.

I sang five songs: "Back on the Chain Gang," the aforementioned "Downtown," "Different Drum," "Stay (I Missed You)" and "Magic." Yes, I ended with Olivia Newton John. I didn't sing that one as well as the previous four, but who cares? It's karaoke, for cryin' out loud. You've got to bust out with some Olivia. Tom sang three songs, and I snapped this shot while he warbled through Radiohead's "Creep."

The cool things about Encore Karaoke is that they also have a pool table, giving you something else to do while you're waiting to sing. I beat Eric in one pool game (okay, so I didn't actually beat him; he scratched on the eight ball), and then Eric stepped in for me while I sang to best Chris in a game.

Speaking of Eric, I believe he sang four songs. Maybe five. He's super fun to go karaoke-ing (is that a word?) with because he a serious ham. If you can't tell from this photo. So whatever vocal talent he does or doesn't have, he knows how to sell it. He loves to sing, and his choices ran the gamut of genres.

Even Chris got up to sing, which is rare. Chris has really good pitch, but he doesn't think he can sing. So while he will come to a karaoke bar, he generally shuns the microphone. But he got up this time to sing "Rainbow Connection," and it was just so damn cute.

Most of the other people at Encore that night had more enthusiasm than talent, but there were a couple of really good singers. This one woman who sang "Get Here" by Oleta Adams sounded like she was better suited for "American Idol" than a karaoke lounge. She had a very good voice; far better than me and my friends.

At about 11:00, Sheela and her husband Ben joined us. Because of the late arrival, Sheela only got to sing two songs, and one of them was a song Tom had chosen but left before he could sing it. That song would be "Stand By Me," and this is Sheela stopping to smile as she stepped in for Tom. She also sang a totally cute Carpenters song, which got the whole place singing along with her.

The only "bad" part of the evening was the car wreck of a couple sitting near us. I call them a car wreck because we couldn't stop looking at them, even though we really didn't like what we saw. You see, the guy looked to be about 65, and his date/girlfriend/whatever looked about 40. And they made out, to put it mildly, the entire time they were there. They didn't even sing. They came in, sat down, lapped at each other for two hours and then left.


It's bad enough to be in the proximity of such a display, but I'm sorry, the obvious difference in their ages made it much, much worse. That said, I've made out in public before; a few times in fact. Although I always have been kissing someone my own age. But nonetheless, I now wonder how embarrassed I should be about my behavior. Even in hindsight. May I say again: ick.

As Tom and Chris were leaving, I got them to stop so I could pose for a photo with the boys. Look at how happy we all are. I'd say a wonderful time was had by all behind the karaoke microphones.

I'm not sure there is any more pure fun than singing songs.