Wonder of Storytelling: Once on this Island

The award-winning Broadway musical Once on this Island is currently at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida. I was so excited to see that this show was coming to a nearby stage! I had seen clips of the show performed during the Tony Awards and I believe during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and thought it looked like it was full of characters to fall in love with. But the last time I was in NYC and ready to buy tickets, the show had already closed. Luckily Once on this Island is now on a North American tour! I was offered 2 tickets by Tampa Bay Bloggers through their partnership with the Straz Center in exchange for this post with my honest opinion about the show.

There is an island where rivers run deep
Where the sea sparkling in the sun earns it
The name “Jewel of the Antilles.”

Once On This Island is a one-act musical with a book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty (the duo behind Ragtime and Anastasia). Based on the novel My Love, My Love or The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy, it was nominated for nine 2018 Tony Awards, winning for Best Revival of a Musical. (Revival because it originally opened in 1990.)

Once on this island tampa, florida

In the show, a storm is raging against an island and a child is scared. To keep her entertained, and to learn from the experience, villagers tell a story from the points of view of Erzulie, Asaka, Papa Ge, and Agwe – the Gods of love, earth, death (played by Tamyra Gray) and water.

The tale is of Ti Moune (pronounced ‘tea moon’), a Caribbean island peasant girl who falls in love with an upper class guy. She has to choose her own path while the Gods look down on her and follow her behavior. The songs are about love, life, prayer, family, racial struggles and more. In some ways her story has been compared to The Little Mermaid. There have been connections made to Romeo and Juliet as well.

This show is solidified by buoyant island music and infectious dancing. The vocals are brilliant. I laughed, cried and danced to the wonderful storytelling during the show.

The performance includes a small section of on-stage seating, inviting a select group of audience members to put their feet in the sand of the island. Tickets are on sale now and the show only runs through November 24. It is a 90-minute one-act show with no intermissions. Get a taste on the show’s Instagram account, here. There is also a video clip on the Straz Center website.

Spymonkey’s “Hysteria” at the Straz

Last night I was treated to an evening of British surreal and slapstick humor at the Straz Center’s Jaeb Theatre.

spymonkey hysteria comedy tampa florida

The Jaeb is a laid-back theatre with tables and chairs instead of traditional theatre seating. I had a great center seat about three rows back, and came ready for an evening of laughter. I received two free tickets from The Straz Center in exchange for my honest review as a member of the Tampa Bay Bloggers.

Hysteria” has a bit of mystery, a dash of song and dance, a spooky mansion, a lot of slapstick comedy and a touch of nudity. It has been running for nearly 20 years in the UK under the name “Cooped,” and the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida, is hosting its American premiere.

I thought I knew British humor from the likes of Mr. Bean and Monty Python, but this show was a bit more like the seventh grade hallway my office happens to be located in.

In “Hysteria,” Laura du Lay arrives at a remote mansion in Northumberlandshirehampton and uncovers murder, love and mistaken identity. Is the handsome Forbes Murdston insane? Is his mysterious manservant Klaus who he says he is? Are Laura’s terrible dreams a warning of further tragedy?

The crowd around me often roared with laughter during this show. You can expect crazy costumes, stupid injuries, physical comedy, fart jokes, incongruity, absurd situations and the like.

If you want a tiny bit of a spoiler, there is a promo video here.

“Hysteria” is showing at the Straz Center through November 3, 2019. If you go, I hope you enjoy Aitor Basauri’s coy smiles for the audience as much as I did!

Cooking Class in Barcelona, Spain

Raffi spain cooking class
Ready to cook!

My husband and I have enjoyed cooking classes while traveling, so when we went to Spain this summer we decided to add another under our belts. Our schedule gave us a full week in Barcelona, so we began looking at cooking classes online there. Two things made me finally settle on Cook & Taste’s classes – first the promise that the class would not solely focus on paella, like some others did – and second, a recommendation from a cousin.

Most experts agree that Paella was developed in Valencia, which is down the coast from Barcelona. You can eat paella all around the country, at most times of day, in many restaurants, but traditionally it is a long, slow, shared afternoon meal served family style – and it made sense to us to try it in a coastal city with fresh seafood that was right near where it was invented.

Barcelona boqueria market shopping
Boqueria market behind me

An add-on to the Cook & Taste Barcelona cooking class was going with the chef to the market before the class to buy the ingredients. We did this in Florence, Italy, with a chef, and really enjoyed it. In Spain, I enjoyed it even more! Chef took us to La Boqueria, the famous market at the end of La Rambla – the popular shopping district. He told us a little history about the market, and as we stopped at different stands to make purchases he knew the owners and some stories behind their businesses as well. He was talking about the woman at the fish market going to 5am auctions of seafood that was right out of the water, and bringing it to her booth by 7am. She chopped and readied our seafood for the paella as he was talking.

We bought saffron to season the paella, and he explained why it was so expensive. Each flower only blooms three of the tasty saffron threads, and they have to be pulled off the flower by hand, so the process is slow and limited. Either way, it is certainly more expensive in the USA than it was in Spain, because it is grown there. One of our dishes needed a specific vine-ripened tomato, and we bought those, and chef showed us his favorite place to buy a wide variety of olives (which I don’t eat, so sorry, no details there.)

tomatoes at boqueria market

Once we had our ingredients, we strolled back to the Cook & Taste kitchens. On the way we passed the Churreria (churro pastry shop) that chef said was “the best in Barcelona.”
Segue: We did go back a couple days later to get churros for breakfast at the recommended Xurreria Manuel San Román. The churros were OK. The chocolate dipping sauce was perfection. The place has no chairs so enjoying them was a lot more difficult than going to Petritxol Xocoa and getting a cute table for two, with drinks, surrounded by delicious confections, fun music – and even wifi available. I’d go to Petritxol.

Churros and Chocolate in Barcelona, spain
Petritxol xurros y xocolata with fresh tigernut orxata

Cook & Taste appeared to have a main storefront, where we checked in, and then for our class we went into the space next door. We walked into the large kitchen area, then there was a dining space for a full class to sit and enjoy their food, and then bathrooms, storage, etc. in the back. The space was old but updated – like much of Barcelona. Brick and stone, but with modern necessities.

Waiting for all the attendees were recipe booklets, pencils, aprons to put on, wine and water. Chef presented us with some Iberian ham and cheese to munch on, and explained why Iberian ham was so prevalent in the area and how it was sourced. Black Iberian pigs are bred in Portugal and Spain, raised free range while eating a diet heavy in acorns. The meat curing process takes about 12 months. The exercise and diet have a significant effect on the flavor and quality of the meat. It’s not cheap, but the fats are supposed to be akin to those in salmon – full of omegas and oleic acid. The other item on the plate was traditional tomato bread. Often eaten for breakfast, this is a hearty bread with a vine ripened tomato half rubbed all over it.

Chef rubbed a clove of garlic against the bread in just a single horizontal line before rubbing on the tomato

Chef had some items started for us in the kitchen. He wanted us to make flatbread from scratch with roasted veggies and goat cheese. He roasted the veggies before we came in the oven. We peeled them, pulled them into strips, and baked it up to enjoy.

raffi peeling roasted vegetables

We were also making Crema Catalana for dessert – but cooking it first so it could set in the fridge for a while. Crema Catalana is like crème brûlée, but with lemon and cinnamon added. Chef gave us a great tip to know when the batter is thick enough. He drew a line on the wooden spoon with his finger and the line stayed in place, the batter didn’t drip or run to fill the empty spot.

spoon from crema catalana
cooking class in barcelona spain

Once the flatbread was in the oven, and the wine was flowing and people were comfortable, we started making gazpacho, a cold soup made of raw, blended fruits and vegetables. I am allergic to cucumbers, which are often used to thicken and flavor gazpacho – so ours was flavored with beets and watermelon! And of course olive oil was drizzled on top – because copious amounts of olive oil goes on everything in Spain.

Brian and Raffi at cooking class
Enjoying a fresh cooked meal with my husband

Our group made two kinds of paella. Seafood paella was made in a large pan for the group to share. But one woman was a vegetarian, so hers was made with butter beans and asparagus.

vegetarian paella
The vegetarian paella
seafood paella cooking class barcelona
Seafood paella

We were able to sit and enjoy our flatbread, gazpacho, paella – and one by one we called to brown the sugar on the top of an individual dessert with a torch before enjoying it with wine and great conversation.

crema catalana torch sugar

This was a fabulous day in Barcelona, learning the WHY and HOW behind the food cuisine! Chef was so friendly and knowledgable, and kept everything running smoothly – what a pro! A cooking class is a great way to gain perspective on a new location when it is done properly. Our class had a wide variety of ages and dietary needs, and everyone had a great time. Thank you, Cook & Taste, for a fun day in Barcelona and a discount on my class fee in exchange for this honest blog post.

Have you ever taken a cooking class? What dish have you always wanted to learn how to cook?

Read More by Topic