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Broadway June 4, 2010

Posted by Fritz in Travel, Yachts and other things that float.
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One of the perks of my escorting school kids to various cities is getting to see Broadway or Broadway quality shows if they are on the school’s itinerary. That was the case this past month. While in New York with a group from Ohio, I got to see Wicked. Now, as most of those who know me would attest, I am not a huge theater fan. I’ve seen my fair share but I sure don’t consider it that important in my life to see the latest rage on stage.

I hadn’t heard much about the play even though it has been running for over seven years. Wicked premiered at the Curran Theater in San Francisco in May 2003 and premiered on Broadway at the Gershwin Theater in October of that year. That’s where I saw it last month. The production is a financial smash and continues to pack them in. The night we were there it was a mid-week sellout.

Wicked tells the story of Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, and her relationship with Galinda, later Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Their friendship struggles through their opposing personalities and viewpoints, rivalry over the same love-interest, their reactions to the Wizard’s corrupt government, and, ultimately, Elphaba’s public fall from grace. The plot is set before and during Dorothy’s arrival from Kansas and includes several references to well-known scenes and dialogue in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz as a backstory. The play has great songs, hysterical moments and is suitable for families.

A little backstory on our tour—We actually had two different schools in New York at the same time. One had Wicked tickets and my group was going to see West Side Story. Dave Matthews, Prime Tours president, was escorting the other group and asked me if I had a preference in plays. I had seen West Side Story both on stage and the movie so I picked Wicked.

The shows were just four blocks from each other and they both started at 8pm. I had enough time to get my group to their theater, tell them where I would meet them after the show and then hoof it to the Gershwin to make Wicked. I was feeling a bit guilty about bailing on my group to see a different play but that was about to change.

Dave had purchased tickets for both schools many months in advance so the kids actually got decent seats in the middle orchestra section. I was sure we’d be sitting amongst them so I was happy to not be buried in the balcony behind some behemoth with bad breath. I followed the sellout throng as we made our way to the inner doors of the theater. Through them, I was directed by the usher to continue down the right side. Upon arriving at the second phalanx of ushers I was waved forward still. I continued to the last usher, a pimply faced 20 something who, after glancing at my ticket, walked me forward, past row after row, until we stood at the end aisle of row one. Holy crap! I had front row seats.

I was having trouble processing that the empty seat down that first row was mine. I looked back at the usher, fully expecting to hear him say “just kidding pal, you’re up there,” while pointing to the lofty balcony that seemed half a mile away from where I stood. But he had already disappeared back to his station when I heard “Down in front.” I recognized Dave’s voice and looked over to see him grinning broadly sitting in row two directly behind my empty seat. I snapped out of my stunned state and grinned back an appreciative smile. As I made my way to my seat I used the stage to steady myself. Too cool.

Glinda

The play was great, made more so because the actors were so close. Even though everyone was miked, I could actually hear their voices from the stage. I got to see the wig tape and the make up on the costumes and as the show progressed the sweat on their brows. The production was first class and the leads were outstanding.

Elphaba

This night’s performance starred Mandy Gonzalez as Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Katie Rose Clarke as Glinda (the Good Witch of the North). Both actors were superb. However, there was one incident that I have to relay.

As soon as the lights went down and the play started, a horrible odor began to waft around us. After the third blast of putrid air made it to my nose I turned around to Dave who gave me a WTF look. It was the unmistakable stench of feet. Someone had obviously taken their shoes off and was gassing everyone around them. I could tell the gal seated to my left was also mortified and disgusted. I was hoping she didn’t think it was me! This lasted through the first act. At the break, Dave immediately informed me and our immediate seat-mates that the guy four seats down from him had just put his sneakers back on during the applause of the first act.

Now, I can usually handle a lot but I got to tell you, this guy’s feet were the rankest I have ever smelled. From four seats away and a row infront he had tears coming to my eyes whenever I got a whiff. What was so amazing was he was with a date sitting at ground zero who didn’t tell him to put his shoes back on. She was either devoid of the sense of smell or an olfactory masochist who craved the smell of rotting flesh. As a matter of fact, nobody said anything to him until Dave finally broke the politically correct silence when he saw him take off his sneakers again under the cover of the beginning of the second act. Dave leaned forward and looked down the aisle and in a hushed but firm tone said what needed to be said, ‘Excuse me sir, but you need to put your shoes back on, your foot odor is disrupting the play.” I turned around briefly to make sure the guy wasn’t going to attack Dave and was pleased to see several of the folks around him smiling appreciatively. The gal next to Dave muttered an exasperated ‘thank you’ and I hoisted a small ‘thumbs-up’ from the first row.

I guess it just goes to show that low class is not reserved for the cheap seats.

Three weeks – Three cities May 24, 2010

Posted by Fritz in Travel.
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New York City

Part one of my travel escort marathon has ended—three cities, over 300 kids over 13 days. May is the big month for school trips and this month has us all over America. Seven different schools crammed into less than 30 days. New York, Washington and Chicago were on tap this year.

The Capital

I will admit that DC is becoming my least favorite city. With Obama’s big government agenda in full swing the city is exploding with the fruits of his insane deficit spending. Every politician and organization is there with their hand out wanting to get a piece of our pie. The city is physically grid locked and getting worse. Add the tens of thousands of school kids who visit each week during May and it quickly becomes tedious.

While standing in line to go through security (which is practically every building you go into now in DC) at the Reagan Center we were alerted to something big about to go on at the building.

Hillary arriving at Reagan Center

Big black SUV’s with strange antennas protruding from their roofs and a string of DC bicycle cops roared up to the side entrance where we were queued up waiting to enter for lunch. Out jump a small army of obvious secret service agents followed by K-9 police. They establish a perimeter from the cars to the adjoining entrance doors. About 2 minutes later a heavily blacked-out Escalade pulls up almost onto the curb. The door opens and out pops Hillary Clinton and an entourage. I was blocked by some of my students to get off a picture but Dave Matthews, Prime Tour president, managed to squeeze off proof the former first lady was just 20 feet from us.

Hillary ducking in the side door

I have to admit it was exciting to see someone so famous, so close. I was torn with wanting an autograph and slapping the crap out of the liberal witch.

Anyway it made for an exciting extra the kids will never forget.

Hillary

Lady Liberty

New York and Chicago were much less stressful and a lot more fun. The groups were smaller so it was easier to manage. Plus I got to see Wicked at the Gershwin in New York.  Front row seats thank you very much! (I’ll blog more on this a bit later).

Some in our New York group were lucky enough to have a few star sightings. While waiting for our bus to pick us up at the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, Betty White emerged from the building after rehearsing for her hosting of Saturday Night Live last week.

Rockefeller Center

I missed her because I was searching for a missing kid but most of the group got to see her. Earlier in the day while we were waiting in line for the NBC studio tour, a producer for Oprah Winfry tapped one of our teachers on the shoulder and asked if she and three friends would like to attend a taping of an anniversary special in 20 minutes. I have never seen adults get so excited so fast. Those four teachers bailed on us before we could find out what time to pick them up across the street. Oprah usually tapes in Chicago but dumb luck put us in the right place at the right time. I of course took all the credit.

Chicago didn’t produce any stars but it was great to get back to the city I spent two wonderful years in back in the mid 80’s. The city is a vibrant as ever.  New buildings, parks and attractions make the city a really fun place to visit. The weather was perfect too. My group saw Billy Elliott at the Oriental Theater one night. It was a nicely produced musical with a fine cast of very talented children. A young lad by the name of Giuseppe Bausilio starred in the role as Billy on my night. The Playbill listed three other actors who play the role.

Chicago

I can see why they would need backups. The role is very demanding both vocally and dance-wise. I can’t imagine one 12 year-old performing the role five or six times a week for the run of the show. One word of caution—lots of profanity including the f-bomb. Even though it’s said with a British accent it may not be suitable for younger ears.

All in all it’s good to be home, even if for just a week. I have another group back to Chicago next week. Pretty much the same itinerary; Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, Hancock Observatory, Lincoln Park Zoo. This next group will see The Blue Man Group and dine with their hands at Medieval Times.

If you have a group of students or adults who would like to tour one of our great cities, call Prime Tours today. We’ll put together an unforgettable trip at the lowest price possible.  Prime Tours  954-931-4358 . We also do Europe! We’re Italy and Ireland specialists.

Diary of an Escort April 8, 2009

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I recently escorted a high school group to New York City.  Spoto High School in Riverview, FL has a vocational track called the Academy of Textiles and Design. Fifteen selected students and four faculty members visited the city focusing  on the textile and fashion design industry.

Lady Liberty

Lady Liberty

A great tour was put together through Prime Tours of Columbus, OH; a leader in educational school trips.  My previous escort jobs with Prime had been to Washington, DC so this NYC trip focusing on the fashion world was very enlightening.

The focus of the four-day trip was on the educational and Prime Tours, along with the Academy’s director, put together a jam packed tour with something for everyone.  Highlights included a behind-the-scenes private tour of Macy’s, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and The Tenement Museum in the heart of the old garment district (more on that later). The students toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art focusing on the costume and fashion exhibits. They also saw the felt display at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum; former personal residence of Andrew Carnegie.

Viewers of the popular Bravo show Project Runway will be familiar with Mood Fabrics at 225 W. 37th. The students toured the warehouse where millions of yards of fabric are housed; row upon row, floor to ceiling.   Fabric bolts in every conceivable color and texture.  nyc1

The entire trip was very enjoyable for me personally but I was most taken by The Tenement Museum. This museum tells the stories of the immigrant families who lived at 97 Orchard Street, a tenement built in 1863 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The founders of the museum had been searching for a suitable building with which to  build their vision.  Years of fruitless searching finally paid off when they discovered the ‘time capsule’ that is 97 Orchard St.

In 1935, New York City decreed that all apartments must have private indoor toilets.  In 1901, the building had been retrofitted with two indoor community water closets on each floor; just 10 toilets serving 20 families! The current owner decided the 1935 decree  too costly an upgrade and shuttered the 20 apartments above the first floor retail space. The empty apartments remained frozen in time until discovered in 1988 by the founders of the museum.  The museum has painstakingly recreated the various eras in several of the apartments, researching the actual tenants so as to replicate as closely as possible the exact look.

Here’s a great link to more fascinating info on this building. www.tenement.org/Encyclopedia/orchard.htm

The remainder of the 4 days were spent touring the most popular sights; The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Rockefeller Center and NBC’s Today Show, Times Square, Central Park, Southside Seaport, Battery Park, Ground Zero, The Dakota building (John Lennon’s residence) to name just a few.

Manhattan is a great place to visit.  I urge everyone to see America’s largest city in all her glory.

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