Are you a Fansie of Newsies?

I’m a pretty huge Disney fan. I’ll sit and watch “The Little Mermaid” for fun with a daughter (and, not coincidentally, both daughters are named for Disney characters), or see a newly released animated film while it is in theaters. For some reason, though, I’m not a Fansie.

IMG_4166What? Haven’t heard of Fansies? They’re the cult followers of Disney’s “Newsies”, a musical based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. This sleepy 1992 film was so requested as a musical, that Disney took it to Broadway. It seems many tweens on Tumblr followed – in overalls and snap caps – drooling. Now in its first national tour, Disney’s “Newsies” is CURRENTLY IN TAMPA at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

I was offered two free tickets to see Newsies in exchange for an honest review of the show. Here’s my opinion:

I enjoy a musical without too many extra bells and whistles. I like to focus on song, dance and story when sitting in a theatre. Emotion on an actor’s face and in his voice is enough to make me tear up. I don’t need techno tricks and LED boards. Newsies earns an A- in this area. The dancing is highly energetic and emphatic. I read there are over 37 backflips in each performance! These young men are acrobatic and adorable, and can capture your eye while pirouetting 6 times on a single piece of newspaper.

The amazing dancing you can expect to see in NEWSIES

The amazing dancing you can expect to see in NEWSIES

On the other hand, the songs are repetitive. Kinda cute and catchy, but repetitive both in the lyrics and in the way they reprise throughout the show. Maybe this is to help get the crowd singing the songs in their heads, or to leave singing “I’m the king of New York!” But my husband admits that trick didn’t work on him. He did not leave singing and had forgotten most lyrics aside from the phrase “I’m the king of New York!” by the next morning. As much as he was entertained by the spectacle, he’s truly not a fansie. Like the Orlando Weekly said, “Alan Menken’s score, which includes “King of New York,” “Santa Fe,” “The World Will Know” and “Once and For All” from the film, plus a few newly composed songs, really has less than a dozen tunes in total, with several reprised repeatedly.”

The set has a bit of digital background, but other than that it is old-school. The multiple levels of fire escapes spin, while losing and gaining staircases, creating clever use of space. The first time the set moves completely before your eyes, it’s quite captivating. The digital effect I liked the most was that the clouds in the “sky” moved across the moon throughout the show. It made me feel like the boys were really outside even though I was in a theatre.

I grew up with much love for the musical “Annie”. I wondered if “Newsies” would just be Annie for boys? In fact, the two shows have had a sing-off over which is the ultimate show about New York City. But despite the appearance of ragamuffin youngsters and a Roosevelt or two, the shows aren’t very similar. “Newsies” had a larger story about challenging a young generation to make change for the future. Perhaps boys selling newspapers working together to fight ‘the man’ could also help make life better for children in sweatshops, shoeshines and others trapped in child labor. Seriously, this is discussed in song in the show!

In a review of the show by Carter Gaddis for Tampa Bay Bloggers, he says, “Morgan Keene‘s performance as Katherine on Watch What Happens was my favorite number — as a longtime journalist, I could relate to the nerves associated with an intense desire to get the story JUST right.” In this somewhat-meta song she mentions the story in a story placed before her and the audience. There’s the David and Goliath story of the newsboys rising up against media giants, and there’s also the thought that she could cover the story and make news out of the little guys. I enjoyed the message of this song, but Keene’s performance here was not my favorite. My husband and I both thought she got a little screechy at times.

Something about the refrain she sang throughout the show made me hum a line from Beauty and the Beast’s ballad “Home”, “What I’d give to return to the life that I knew lately.” The musicality of the two were very similar to me.

To see a bit of the show for yourself, here’s a playlist of clips:

Follow @newsies or #newsiesontour online to find out more about the cast.

Disney’s “Newsies” is at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida, through Sunday. Click here for show times and tickets. I was provided with two tickets to the premier of “Newsies” for review purposes.

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Family trip to London

Thanks to a whole lot of travel points, we took a family trip to London in June. It’s a big year for us. The teens graduating high school, the parents turning 40… all in a span of 13 months! So we boldly went where none of us had gone before – and yet were still able to speak the language.

We left Tampa on the afternoon of my 40th birthday. I had enough time to celebrate in the morning with Wendy getting my free Denny’s birthday meal. We also split a tasty smoothie. I stopped by the office and my boss had a giant cupcake for me 🙂 She also found the perfect glittery Disney card. Last minute packing details got taken care of and we headed for TPA.

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We had a delay after our first flight, but it only added an hour of travel time. Then we were in London!

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I guess they knew it was my birthday!

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An elevator is a lift over there…

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The Marriott Regents Park where we stayed for a week.IMG_1984

The Marriott reads their tweets! They had birthday flowers and wine waiting for me!

Read about our zipline adventure in Kent over Leeds Castle here.

Read about our family dinner at Dishoom, Kings Cross here.

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Beauty and the Beast

When I was in college, I knew someone whose mom worked with Broadway costume designers. She offered us tickets to a special event. Disney was putting together Beauty and the Beast for Broadway, and there was going to be a reveal on stage of some costuming, a couple of songs, and other ideas for a V.I.P. crowd. Directors as well as cast would be on stage with a big projector screen to bring the ideas to life.

I already loved the story. When I was a senior in high school, the movie hit theatres and I saw it with my friend Cindy. I remember leaving wow‘ed by the attention to detail. During the big ballroom dance scene, you could see the reflection of the chandelier in Belle’s fingernails. Now THAT’S animation!

beauty_and_the_beastobjectsI don’t remember who I went to this Broadway preview with, but I remember seeing the jovial Lumiere with his hands in the air representing a candelabra, and an over-the-top yellow ballgown for Belle. “Disney might actually be able to pull off people playing people turning into inanimate objects,” was my parting thought.

When my daughters were little princess freaks, the movie was played on a huge IMAX screen near us, and we went as a family. I’m pretty sure we have it on VHS in the attic too. And we’ve seen the stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and enjoyed Enchanted Tales with Belle in the Magic Kingdom. Now you can even drink LeFou’s Brew (an apple soda with a marshmallow foam topping) in the Beast’s enchanted castle! 

beautybeastThen my daughters became older princess freaks, and their school performed Beauty and the Beast Junior. DD2 was in 7th grade and was in the chorus. She sang, danced, and swung a metal beer stein around. She wore a dumb flowered dress. And her best friend played a whisk! With shiny, wobbly things around her head she danced to Be Our Guest along with forks and plates.

When I first heard Beauty and the Beast was coming to the Straz Center, I felt like I had enough experience with the show and I really didn’t need to go see it. But princess moments are becoming fewer and further between as my daughter age out of the house, and DD1’s good friend played Belle in the school production, so I thought we’d have a fun girls night out at the show.

It ended up not being girls night out, because the show fell during AP Exam week. *shudder* (Be happy you’re not in high school anymore!) We managed to get a group of 4 excited viewers together for the show.

Most importantly: The touring Broadway musical is a lot like the movie come to life. I missed Mrs. Pott’s accent and didn’t care for the alterations made to Belle’s dress in the final scene of the show, but other than that it is exactly what someone who enjoys the movie would expect. There are many of the same jokes – LeFou and Gaston had us laughing out loud a lot – and some extra songs. Jillian Butterfield had me believing she was born to play the role of Belle! Her sweetness, chutzpah and smarts filled Straz Center’s Carol Morsani Hall almost as well as her beautiful singing voice did. Gaston had the giant biceps, Chip had the adorable innocence and the Beasts yak-like horns were creepy.

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Despite my prior experience with the story, I had a new perspective last night. The beast can certainly represent a rotten brat becoming loving, but suddenly I thought of the story being all about one character. What if Belle, the Beast, the inanimate objects of the castle, Gaston and all the others were parts of the psyche of the same person!? The moral there could be that the Beast is trapped in his current state – which might be low self esteem or depression – and until he can throw off the Gaston parts of himself and embrace the Belle parts of himself, he’ll never become the Prince he longs to be. If he lets life go by without learning to love himself, he remains a Beast (in nature) forever.

This is truly a magical musical – and a great first musical – for little ones who love fairy tales, ballgowns and princesses. Running time for Beauty and the Beast at the Straz Center is approximately 2 hours 30 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission. There were still plenty of little ones dressed in their yellow dresses and hugging blankies despite the late run time. Hurry – the show is only here through May 10!

Thank you Tampa Bay Bloggers and the Straz Center for 4 free tickets to the show. All opinions and my latest Beast epiphany are my own! #ad.

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Pro-Princess

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10155237_10152280778595923_1189989691_nFor one of her college scholarship applications, my daughter has to pick something she is passionate about and make a project centered around it. Anything under the sun. And what does my daughter love more than most (except maybe her boyfriend, books and great food?) – Princesses!

My daughter longs to be a princess and always has. This anti-Cinderella culture saying girls are negatively affected by princess role models is getting her down. So she’s doing her project about why princesses are awesome. That’s all I can tell you until it is complete… but *spoiler* thank goodness we live so close to Disney!!

Just a couple weeks after she started pouring herself into this project, we were notified that the Straz Center had tickets available for members of Tampa Bay Bloggers to view the opening night and blog about the touring Broadway production of Cinderella.

cinderella_posterI knew a bit about this show already. I saw a stage production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella when I was little with my Grandmother and Mother at the Muny in Forest Park, St. Louis. (You know, where they hang out in Meet Me In St. Louis…) My grandmother had season tickets to the Muny for years, and I was often her date to age-appropriate shows. I love wigs, costumes, singing, dancing – everything that makes a great musical. I would share little mother-of-pearl opera glasses to see details up close, and can still hear the vendors calling, “Ice Cold Lemonade HERE!” Giant, noisy fans would come on during intermission to keep mosquitos away. And we’d always dress up fancy schmancy.

But this was NOT a touring Broadway Cinderella. Know how I know? Because 2013 was the first time the show actually appeared on Broadway. The songs were written for a 1957 TV movie starring Julie Andrews. In 1965 it was remade with Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella, and my mom must have seen one or the other because I remember her singing “Impossible” to me when I was little.

Then, when my daughters were little – back when we still had an operable VCR, we had the VHS of the 1997 Walt Disney telefilm of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s Cinderella starring Brandy, Whitney Houston, Paolo Montalban, Bernadette Peters, Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garber and Jason Alexander. Phew! What a cast! That’s when the songs really got played in my head over and over. The version my daughters grew up with:

Many of the songs in this production are the same, but they’ve added more songs to add length to the show. Apparently they were written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, but yanked from other shows of theirs, like The King and I.

In summer 2013, my daughter was interning for the Ray’s Baseball marketing dept, and was asked to review the Carly Rae Jepsen concert following a baseball game. It was the first time she enjoyed Carly Rae Jepsen and thought of her as a true performer. Most people, however, remember the night for her horrible first pitch. Right after that it was announced that she would be Cinderella on Broadway opposite Fran Drescher as the wicked stepmother. After CRJ, Keke Palmer was the first African-American woman to play Cinderella on Broadway and the youngest actress to portray the part on Broadway – plus she was another actress my girls watched on TV growing up. She’s still playing the role now, if you plan to be NYC any time soon!

When I first heard about the CRJ Cinderella, they said it was modernized and had plot twists. And it was NOT just as you’d expect, but just like no one told ME what was going to happen, I certainly won’t tell you why everyone gasped at the end of Act One!!

The version from last night’s performance:

This lush production features an incredible orchestra, jaw-dropping super-fast makeover transformations and all the moments you love—the pumpkin, the glass slipper, the masked ball and more; plus some surprising new plot twists – like the prince learning about democratic elections. See, pumkins…elections… it’s great timing to see this show!

Paige Faure was the dreaming and fiesty princess, and Andy Jones was Prince Topher. For me, he ALMOST stole the show. The only thing better was watching Cinderella’s dresses change right before your eyes in an instant, and the comedy of the new book (script). The audience laughed out loud quite a few times! (“You’d be surprised how many beautiful gowns have crazy women in them!”) You can get a good glimpse of the stars of the Straz performance here:

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One thing that threw me off in the show… I knew the prince would sing, “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?” But it seems so out of place in this new script. Cinderella is not about beauty this time around. She’s just helped him get through some political decision making, and coming back around to her dress and hair suddenly seems out of place. I want him to instead sing about being partners and how she has helped him grow into a man. But, alas, that is not what the great R+H wrote.

As a throw-back to seeing the show with my grandma, I borrowed opera glasses from the Straz for the production. Did you know they do that? They just ask for tips and hold your I.D. as collateral during the show. 

There were little girls in attendance in their dress-ups, and Alice got quite a hug from a total stranger – a 6 year old boy who thought she was cute, and there were adorable puppets, and just plain old good theatre. It was also so fun to sit with other Tampa Bay Bloggers! (Lora, Brad, Kellie, Xiomara and Denise not pictured.)

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You too can be a Fairy Godmother! The Straz Center, Belle of the Ball Project and the company of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella are accepting donations of formal gowns, shoes and accessories (new or gently used) at the Straz Center during the performances of the Tony-award winning production. The partnership benefits Belle of the Ball Project, a nonprofit organization that provides homecoming and prom dresses to young women in need.

Alice brought her freshman homecoming dress to donate:

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I wish they did that with a few of the tickets too… I hope radio stations have some giveaway contests for some little girls who might not otherwise be able to see something this lovely in the theatre.

Parents and Teachers: To help you with some talking points about the show, there is a teacher’s guide hereElla may have been given new dresses, but her newfound self confidence is the real makeover this story hits home with! Kindness is also a theme throughout the show.

*** SPOILER – you can read but don’t click ***

and if you’ve read this far, I have a surprise for you. The ball gown quick-change of Cinderella’s is so amazing, so crazy-fast, that I can’t ruin it by posting a video here. But if you have 7 seconds, watch this!! If you blink, you’ll miss it! (Here’s how it looks on stage!)

Cinderella is playing at the Straz Center through October 26. Performances are Wednesday – Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7:30pm. Regularly priced tickets are $56-$95 and may be purchased by calling 813-229-STAR or 800-955-1045, in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office or online at the Straz Center. Handling fees will apply.

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Push Away the Screen – My birthday

Things are about to shift in our household. I start a full time out-of-the-house job on June 30. That means I have to take vacation time when I want time away for the first time in about 10 yrs. My older daughter starts senior year of high school so she will be working on essays, scholarships, standardized tests, etc. And my younger daughter is learning to drive.

No matter how big she gets, she's still mini-me!

No matter how big she gets, she’s still mini-me!

Brian decided it was time for a family vacation before any of that kicks in – and within 2 days of mentioning it to us at dinner he had the whole thing planned. One night we were talking about where we might want to have dinner near Disney, and the next day he had an itinerary ready, down to a Fast Pass for the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride.

We decided to go back to the Caribe Royale, where we stayed last Sept. We liked their pool with slide and waterfall, food, poolside cabana and room amenities (the pool bar even has the same friendly bartender). We also learned that they now have “dive in movies” – family-friendly movies out by the pool at night (“Madagascar 3” and the new-to-DVD “Frozen” while we were there) and they have their own award-winning pastry chef who makes all the sinful goodies on property.

Smoothies by the pool after getting wisdom teeth out - PERFECT!

Smoothies by the pool after getting wisdom teeth out – PERFECT!

Here’s how you can take advantage of this Hot Spot all summer:

Summer Splash Package

  • Valid for travel June 1 – September 30, 2014
  • Rates start at $129 per night, plus tax for one bedroom suites
  • Breakfast buffet for two people daily in Tropicale
  • Daily high-speed internet
  • Guaranteed 1pm late check out
  • DOUBLE Stash Points (must be a Stash Rewards member)
  • 25% off every 3rd night
  • Terms: Package and rates are subject to availability. Blackout dates may apply. Package is available for suites and villas, but villas may be sold out over certain dates. In order to receive Stash points you must be a Stash member.

We had a 2-room suite this time. The room we walked in to from the hall had a pull-out sofa bed, desk, fridge, microwave, mini-bar, tables and chairs. The 2nd room had the bathroom with sink outside (which we like so 2 can do hair and makeup while the 3rd showers), and 2 queen size beds.

Once they learned it was my birthday, we came back to our room to find a decorate-your-own-cookies platter with chocolate chip cookies, frosting and mini M&Ms. 🙂

Milk & Cookies for all!

Milk & Cookies for all!

For the first time, we ate at Sanaa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Village. It’s not at the theme park or the main lodge, but if you bus to the main lodge you can stroll the path to get there. It is Indian and African food at its best, and most of the meals are you-pick-two so you can try a variety of flavors. For the 4 of us with 4 desserts (we never do that!) and drinks for Brian, it was about $130, which is our typical expenditure for 4 “adults” at a Disney restaurant, only this one was over-the-top delicious! 

The restaurant opens at 5pm, and our reservation was for 5:30, but we arrived at 4:30 so we could watch animals out back and shop without feeling rushed. Grazing zebras, giraffes, and other fuzzy friends were just a few feet away, and tortoises were visible through a window by the restaurant as well.

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Seen in gift shop - a book made from Poop.

Seen in gift shop – a book made from Poop.

At 5pm, a short drumming show announced the start of meal time, and at 5:20 we put our names in with the hostess. We were seated quickly, and our server, Ken, was funny and gave great recommendations.

We started our meal with 3 flavors of Naan bread and 3 dips to spread on top. Alice, who had just had her wisdom teeth out and only wanted mushy foods, ordered Potato and Pea Samosas and Chana Tikki – chickpea patties. I think she had soup too. Brian had Butter Chicken and Spicy Durban Shrimp with basmati rice, and Wendy had lamb and the kids dessert of Peanut Butter Mousse and Eggless Chocolate Cake. I had Paneer Tikka, Chana Masala and basmati rice. Everything was superb!

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My birthday dessert

My birthday dessert

After Sanaa we went to La Nouba, the Cirque du Soleil show that is based at Downtown Disney. Brian and I had seen it years ago when it first opened, but we are Cirque freaks and really wanted the girls to see it. Although we were in the 2nd to last row of the audience to save some $$, there’s really not a bad seat in the house. We loved strolling the south hall and stairwell, looking at the wall of framed clown photos! What a way to spend a birthday!!

For the first time in 17 years we decided to return to the Living Seas restaurant at EPCOT. We thought the girls would get a kick out of the HUGE aquarium inside. The menu there, however, was unimaginative and none of us left feeling like it was anything special – for the same price tag as Sanaa without desserts. So not worth it.

That weekend at Disney was also Gay Days and Star Wars weekends. The lines were LONG, and we were thankful that Brian made our fast passes online in advance. We also spent mornings in poolside-cabanas reading and splashing, and hit the theme parks later in the day when younger children might have already melted and gone home.

A friend let us know that The Studios might be too full on Sunday to enjoy, so we went on Saturday. For the first time, Alice and Wendy were old enough to volunteer for the show before the Backlot Tour ride. They starred in the 1pm showing of “Harbor Attack”, and we got plenty of photos and videos. It was another throwback to our honeymoon, when Brian and I were in the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.

Harbor Attack Extras

Harbor Attack Extras

We also took a little break in the A/C in the back of the studios where you can take a drawing class, and we all drew Winnie the Pooh. Then Alice beat me at Toy Story Mania.

Pooh bear drawing class

Pooh bear drawing class

blogtoystorymaniaWe rode Tower of Terror and Rockin’ Roller Coaster – thankful that Alice’s sore mouth wasn’t bothered during the fast-paced Aerosmith ride. We also saw Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Sand People and many other Star Wars characters wandering even though it was not our intention. Added bonus!

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I was teaching him to say “Selfie”

We also brought a game for the hotel room, so we could come back and shower, eat sugar, and play a family game before bed.

Once, while in line for The Pirates of the Caribbean, we were talking to the young man running the ride, and he said he had never seen any of the Johnny Depp Pirate movies! I was shocked!

Sunday was out last day in Orlando. We checked out of the Caribe Royale and headed back to EPCOT, where we met up with our friend Grayson to graise our way around the World Showcase countries and munch on whatever we wanted.

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Grayson has a Disney pass too, so we could play all day!

I split a delicious avocado margarita with Brain in Mexico, had an egg roll in China, got perfume samples and rode the Maelstrom in Norway, shopped in Germany and Japan (Kiki comics!), had apple pie in America, got slushies for the kids in Morocco, shared fish & chips in Great Britain, listened to Off Kilter in Canada, got photos with Pooh and Tigger and rode Test Track. I think we headed for home at 3:30pm.

blogpoohhug blogpoohfriendsWe’ve been to Disney a zillion times. It seems to me that there’s been a huge shift in the last 2 years where fast passes and restaurant reservations are much more of a requirement to avoid 90 minutes lines than ever before. But we have lots of tips and tricks if you are planning a vacation there. And if you don’t need to rely on Disney bus service the whole time, check out the Caribe Royale, especially if you have a large group or want a full kitchen and laundry. Their suite options are wonderful! Enjoy your stay!

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