Two Vacation Days (includes a review of Claire Wilcher’s show at Chef Joseph’s at the Connoisseur Room)

My storytelling went well, if I do say so myself.  Thank you, again, to all who participated in any part of the Basile Emerging Stories Festival earlier this month!  If you missed Matthew Roland’s lovely preview article about it in the Indianapolis Star, here is a link that should let you read it for free if you haven’t already read 30 free articles from the Star: http://www.indystar.com/article/20131101/THINGSTODO/311010017.   Its headline is “Storytelling is slow entertainment in fast-paced age.” Slow entertainment like slow food.  I feel more relaxed just thinking about it.

After that very full weekend and the anxiety leading up to it, I successfully completed a very full week at my day job.  Then I finally went on vacation and…I RESTED.  No Facebook, no Twitter, no work email, no clocks, no appointments, no promises, no plans, no expectations, no lists, no goals, no answering questions of any kind from anyone, no public sharing, no promoting, no entertaining, no coaching, no managing, no work, NO COMMITMENTS for a whole week.

Well, okay, I had two commitments.  And of course they were theatre-related.

Saturday

That first Saturday morning, my 5-year-old goddaughter and her mom took me and my goddaughter’s 4-year-old friend to see “Winnie the Pooh”* at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indianapolis.

We all had a wonderful time. The girls were entranced by the show and loved getting the characters’ autographs in the lobby afterwards. (The program had a large blank space just for that purpose.) My friend loved that the show included their favorite parts of the classic Pooh books that she and her daughter had been reading together at home.  I loved getting to see several of my favorite actors inhabit beloved characters in endearing ways. 

Afterwards, my friend dropped me off at home and it felt weird not to tweet even one tweet about the show. But I fell into bed for a nap instead and that felt great.

When I woke up around 5 o’clock, I felt refreshed and in the mood to see another show. After much deliberating, I went to see the Actors’ Theatre of Indiana’s production of “The Odd Couple” by Neil Simon** at the Studio Theatre in Carmel.

This show, too, included several destination actors doing a great job of bringing familiar characters to life in fresh, funny ways…and for an added treat, the same actor that I’d seen playing Pooh Bear that morning was now playing the cop at the poker table! I hope Darrin Murrell had even half as much fun doing all that work in one day as I had watching it.

Again it felt weird during intermission and afterwards not to tweet even one little tweet about how much I had enjoyed the show. But I stuck to my resolve to be truly on vacation.

What I did for the next five days after I got home from “The Odd Couple” is nobody’s business but my own.

Friday

But on the following Friday (November 15, 2013) I had plans with my friend, Mike, to meet some of his other friends in downtown Indianapolis to hear Claire Wilcher sing at Chef Joseph’s at the Connoisseur Room

I love Claire’s work, whether she is doing improv comedy with the other players at ComedySportz (where she is also the Assistant Artistic Director), doing sketch comedy with her fellow Three Dollar Bill Comedy Troupe members at the Indy Fringe Theatre, playing a serious and/or comedic role in a musical theatre piece at any number of theatres around town, or singing with The Meatballs bar band or the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus.  When I first heard the expression “talent crush” I thought, “Ah, that is what I feel for Claire Wilcher.”

Tonight she would be singing a whole program of solos.

It was a thrill to walk up to the door of Chef Joseph’s and see “Tonight: Claire Wilcher” along with the drink specials on the chalk board out front.

Chef Joseph’s at the Connoisseur Room

I had never been to Chef Joseph’s at the Connoisseur Room before.  It is smack downtown – on Ohio between Delaware and Pennsylvania – on the first floor of a five-story building that used to have a gazillionaire arts lover living upstairs.  I read in the Indianapolis Business Journal this summer that the home is now for sale for just under $5 million.  I don’t think I would actually want to live there – for one thing, the ceilings are too busy for my taste – but it is fun to imagine it. 

(Here a link to the IBJ article: http://www.ibj.com/property-lines-2013-06-06-for-sale-finest-piece-of-downtown-real-estate/PARAMS/post/41775. And here is a link to the real estate listing with photos, in case you want to imagine living there yourself: http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/121-E-Ohio-St-Indianapolis-IN-46204/2113400483_zpid/.)

Chef Joseph’s feels fancy but it is not intimidating, at least to an audience member/diner. The man at the entrance podium welcomed me warmly and Lauren, our server, took good care of us all night.  One of the men in our group treated us to three kinds of appetizers so I got to sample the lamb meatballs, the asparagus tempura, and the homemade potato chips; I chose the open-face brisket sandwich with slaw for the main part of my meal; and Mike let me have a bite of his pumpkin-cranberry cheesecake for dessert.  All of the food was tasty and artistic.  If I were a wine drinker, I would also be interested in the floor-to-high-ceiling wine rack that is enclosed in a glass closet with its own silver ladder inside and a golden padlock on the door.  All in all, I look forward to eating at Chef Joseph’s again some time. 

I look forward to hearing Claire (and others) sing there again, too, but I think Chef Joseph’s must be a little rough on a performer.  Not only is there no stage, there is no way for people to get to and from the bar or the exit or the restroom without walking within a few feet of your microphone stand.  And people are eating and drinking all through your show.  There is never a time when everyone agrees to stop talking to each other, put their forks down, and give your performance art their undivided attention.  It must feel like an uphill battle to establish and maintain a connection with your audience, even when the audience is filled with your fans as it was for Claire on Friday night.

On the other hand, at Chef Joseph’s no one has paid $100 just to hear you sing, so maybe there is less pressure than if you were, say, doing a solo show at Clowes Hall or the Palladium.  And since people are always dividing their attention three ways – between you, each other, and the food – if you forget a lyric or make some other mistake, maybe no one will even notice it.

Maybe on a scale that has “Noise!” at the White Rabbit Cabaret at one end (i.e. – no charge, drinks only, open microphone, late at night, everyone’s a star and no one’s a star, etc.) and “The Cabaret” at the Columbia Club at the other end (i.e. – expensive ticket to get in plus pay to eat, much more structured in terms of eating vs. listening, and stars flown in like red carpet diamonds from around the world just for a night or two, etc.), singing at Chef Joseph’s is somewhere in the middle?

Three Interesting Sets, Three Fun Guests

Whether it was hard for her to sing at Chef Joseph’s or not, Claire made it look easy. She gave us a bounty of listening treats to go with our meal.

Greg Sanders, Artistic Director of the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus, accompanied her adroitly on the piano.  Each of her three sets included a variety of musical theatre numbers and others that had significance for her and her audience in one way or another.

For example, she sang the Lady of the Lake’s funny “Whatever Happened to My Part?” song from “Spamalot” and I remembered how much I had loved both performances that I saw of that BobDirex show this past summer.  I loved that whole production, and Claire was so great in that role!  Charles (Chuck) Goad was sitting behind me at Chef Joseph’s – he was so great as King Arthur! – and music director Trevor Fanning came over to say hi to me during a break, and I thought I glimpsed director Bob Harbin across the room.  

Bob Harbin directed Claire as a perhaps unconventional but totally believable and exquisitely nuanced Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” too.  When she sang the title song at Chef Joseph’s I remembered with a shiver how much I had admired that BobDirex production, too.

But at Chef Joseph’s Claire didn’t just sing numbers that she had sung in shows. She also sang numbers that she just liked and would probably never (although never say “never” with Claire!) be cast to sing in shows.  She sang one of the men’s songs from “Les Miserables,” for example, and “Dance, Ten, Looks, Three” from “A Chorus Line” while wearing a dress that emphasized the fact that her breasts were her own.  And more.

She beautifully sang beautiful songs from “Into the Woods,” “Chess,” “Wicked,” “Ragtime,” and more. I know that I’m using the word “beautiful” too much but it is the right word for all of it.

The songs that she included that were not from musical theatre made excellent icing on an already delicious cake.

For example, she began her second set with a totally improvised and goofy but successful song as a hat tip to her improv background.  She also included “Up to the Mountain,” an inspiring song by Patty Griffin that was completely new to me.  It felt like gospel but was more slow-paced, like a ballad.  Claire, of course, sang it beautifully.

And hoo-whee, when she sang “‘Saving All My Love For You…”  I guess it’s a sad song for the singer, now that I’m listening to Whitney Houston singing it on YouTube as I write this, because it’s a woman in love with a married (or otherwise unavailable) man but when Claire sang it I just thought, “Lucky man, whoever she is singing to.  I wish I could sing to my lover like that!”

And it reminded me that what I love most about Claire’s work, I think, is that it can be funny, sexy, heart-stoppingly beautiful, roof-raisingly powerful, and more…but it always is authentically, generously, humbly (is that a word?) Claire’s.

Speaking of generosity, at some point in each set Claire made room for a talented friend to sing with her and to sing a solo or two on their own. 

When she and Scot Greenwell shared the “stage” I was especially moved by their repeat of a duet that they had sung together  in 2007 in Buck Creek Players’ production of “Parade.” 

(Talk about shows you regret missing!  Based on the way people still talk to me about that show, I still wish I had found a way to see it.  But that was my first year writing publicly about theatre and I didn’t know, yet, that Claire and Scot would become destination actors for me.)

I also enjoyed hearing Scot sing what I think of as the “I’m Ready” solo from “Company.”  It is officially known as “Marry Me a Little,” I think.

Another vocalist colleague was Rashida Walker Bonds. She and Claire referred to working together at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and their road trip sing-a-longs, and the fact that they wished they could both be cast in one of their favorite musicals, “The Color Purple,” which is based on (they implied) one of their favorite books by Alice Walker.  That is probably never going to happen so they welcomed the chance to sing one of their favorite duets from that show at Chef Joseph’s.  I welcomed the chance to hear them sing it.

A third special guest was a woman named KT Peterson.  Claire said, “Some of you may remember me talking about a show called ‘7:32’ that I went to New York to be in in 2010. Well, KT wrote that!”

(Here is an interview that another blogger, Hannah Marie Ellison, did with KT and the director of that show at the time: http://blogcritics.org/interview-director-katherine-m-carter-and/.)

At Chef Joseph’s, Claire and KT sang two songs from two shows that were new to me.  First they deepened their voices and sang the brothers’ “Riddle Song” duet from “Floyd Collins.”  I enjoyed that well enough but then KT sang “Summer In Ohio” from “The Last Five Years.”

That solo delighted me and made me laugh out loud. The singer was complaining about her daily life doing summer stock theatre in Ohio instead of being where she really wanted to be, which was New York.  Usually I find anti-Midwest attitudes tedious and ignorant but this was a perfect song for this point in the evening. 

Would people in a cabaret club in New York City be as rude and thoughtless as a few of the people had been to Claire here in Indiana earlier this night?  The rudeness wasn’t as uncomfortable for me to watch as it might have been because a) Claire made a joke of them as they were doing it and b) most of the people in the room did and do value Claire’s talent and the skill, training, and experience required of all good performance artists, but the group of three or four people that walked right past in front of her without even bowing their heads as she was impressively belting a long, final note of a song…They seriously couldn’t have waited one minute to leave?  Were they truly that clueless?  Truly that dismissive of the fact that it was a LIVE performance artist that they were walking past and that others were there in person to enjoy her sharing of her gifts?

KT’s funny song about the agonies of Midwestern summer stock life felt like appropriate, if not complete, vindication.

Claire ended her show by singing “Way Back to Then” from “[title of show],” which was also new to me.  (Wikipedia says that is how one is supposed to write it, with those brackets around the title.)

I still don’t know much about that show but Claire’s singing of the song, about a confident little girl that follows her dreams, loses her confidence a bit, but then finds it again, made me catch my breath and tear up as I flashed on to the idea of Claire, too, packing her bags and following her dreams to either New York City or L.A.  We would “lose” her for a while but be able to follow her success online and wish her all the best no matter what.

And in the meantime, this particular stanza was exactly right for this particular moment in time and space:

        “And there you are

        Right in the middle of what you love

        With the craziest of company

        You’re having a kick-ass time

        And being who you wanted to be in this world.”

Ah, I’m so glad I went to Claire’s first show at Chef Joseph’s.  If I can, I would like to go hear her sing there again on December 4.

Still No Tweeting From Me But…Two Journalists

I took some notes on my phone during the show in case I found time to blog about it, but I stuck to my resolve not to tweet again until the following week.

However, my friends were still into their social media as always. And why shouldn’t they be?  Social media can be a lot of fun.

Early on in Claire’s show, my friend Mike nudged me and said, “Lou Harry is here!”

Lou Harry is the arts editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal.

“Oh?” I said.

“Yes, look behind you.”

I looked in the mirror and saw Lou standing by the spiral staircase leading down to the restrooms.  I shrugged to Mike and went back to listening to Claire.

A few minutes later, Mike said, “Lou left.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Yes, he said it was too noisy.”  Mike read aloud Lou’s tweet on his phone:  “‘Wanted to hear Claire Wilcher sing. Heard nothing but loud patrons. With regret, I bailed. Now at Cabaret where music is respected.’ (@IJBArts)”

A bell on my bullshitometer went off.  Lou apparently hadn’t made a reservation at Chef Joseph’s, hadn’t even sat down at the bar, so I didn’t believe for a moment that he hadn’t planned all along to go to both places in one night.  What better way to get people to read your stuff than to set up a controversial comparison? 

It doesn’t actually matter if Lou had planned to stay long at Chef Joseph’s or not.  I’m just sharing how it appeared to me.  In any case, controversy sells papers (or gathers hits for advertisers or whatever) and I don’t blame Lou for wanting to stay in business.  And I do enjoy thoughtful comparisons and other courteous conversation about the arts.

So I just shrugged again to Mike and thought but didn’t say, “Oh, who cares what Lou Harry thinks.  WE are having a good time here!”

In the meantime, some of the wheels in my head kept spinning about the arrangement of the room. Would it be easier on the performer if the piano and microphone were in front of the window? No, that’s not good for the piano and the audience would be distracted by people walking by outside.  It would be better to have the “stage” area at the back of the room, but in this space the bar is already there and it can’t go by the window either, so that’s no good.  And the other wall includes the entrance to the kitchen and the stairs to the restroom – definitely too many distractions…

I couldn’t think of anything to suggest.

On Monday morning, when I went to read Lou’s blog, sure enough, there was a stir-up-discussion piece comparing Lou’s brief visit to Chef Joseph’s with his supposedly impromptu visit to the Cabaret at the Columbia Club.

However, there was also a line that made me think, “YES!  What a good idea!  Insights like THIS are why I check the IBJ for Lou Harry’s blog and articles every day.”

Lou had written, “…it also would have helped if management had given Wilcher a proper stage introduction instead of having her do her own cold opening.” 

I agree: that would have helped a lot.  Read Lou’s whole post for yourself here: http://www.ibj.com/lou-harrys-ae-2013-11-18-you-review-it-monday-wicked-cabaret-hopping-and-more/PARAMS/post/44654.

Speaking of professional journalists, at another point in the evening at Chef Joseph’s, one of Mike’s friends told me they had met the new arts reporter at the Indianapolis Star.

“What?!” I said.  “The Star hired a new arts reporter? I can hardly believe it!  That’s excellent! What is his name?”

“He introduced himself at the last Jabberwocky.”

(Jabberwocky is a live storytelling event sponsored by Storytelling Arts of Indiana and held at the Indy Fringe Theatre usually the second Tuesday of every month.  Usually three or four special but ordinary people – not professional performance storytellers – have been invited ahead of time to tell their stories related to a certain theme and then there is an open microphone time.  It is sort of like the “Moth” programs on National Public Radio.)

“What’s he like? What’s his name?” I asked again.

“He is going to try to cover all the arts in central Indiana.  I said ‘Pumpkin, there’s no way.'”

“His name is Pumpkin?”

By this time Mike had the new reporter’s Twitter profile up on his phone.  Mike said, “His name is Michael Anthony Adams.”  Mike showed me his Twitter handle:  @MichaelAdams317.

When I got home, I found the YouTube video of his Jabberwocky talk.  Give it a watch and listen yourself if you like:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr_AKDmB5eQ.

It doesn’t sound as if he has really figured out yet how he’s going to do this possibly impossible new job but that’s okay.  I mean, good grief, he just got here.  I bet that if he sticks with it, he will find a way to satisfy both his employer (sell papers!) and himself, and maybe even sometimes please some of the highly-trained people in Indy’s arts community and the many everyday people here that still have high hopes and high expectations for the arts coverage in our local paper of record.

In the meantime, since I promised Neal Taflingler, the Star‘s arts editor, that I would buy a paid subscription for a year if they hired another fulltime arts reporter after Jay Harvey left, that is what I’m going to do in December.  (It can’t be this month because I didn’t budget for it.  I didn’t think the Star’s Gannett owners would actually allow it!)

Actually, maybe I only promised myself that as I was trading tweets with Neal one day but anyway, that is what I am going to do.

I am going to subscribe to the IBJ for a year, too.

And until I go on vacation again, I’ll be tweeting after every show I see.

‘See you at the theatres…

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.

***************** 

*”Winnie the Pooh” – from the stories of A. A. Milne, dramatized by Le Clanche’ du Rand, music by Allan J. Friedman, additional lyrics by Le Clanche’ du Rand.  Directed by Jeff Stockberger. Musical direction by Terry Woods. Produced by Eddie Curry. Choreography by Deb Wims. Costumes by Terry Woods. Scenic design by Bill Mollencupp. Sound operator: Daniel Hesselbrock. Lighting design by Shaun Mcilquham.  Stage manager: Jeff Stockberger.  A Pyramid Players production presented by Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre.

Cast of Characters:

Winnie the Pooh – Darrin Murrell

Piglet – Jaddy Ciucci

Rabbit – Gracia A. Gillund

Eeyore – Paige Scott

Tigger – Ben Asaykwee

Roo – Jaddy Ciucci

Kanga – Paige Scott

** “The Odd Couple,” written by Neil Simon. Directed by Jeff Stockberger. Production stage manager: James W. Carringer. Lighting designer: David Lapham.  Scenic designer: Bernie Killian. Sound designer: Christopher Strange. Costume designer: Margaret Ozemet. Presented by Actors Theatre of Indiana in the Studio Theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.

Cast:

Oscar Madison – Don Farrell

Felix Ungar – Bradley Reynolds

Around the poker table – Speed (Adam O. Crowe), Vinnie (Jeremy Grimmer), Murray (Darrin Murrell), and Roy (Dave Ruark)

The sisters from upstairs – Cicely Pigeon (Carrie Fedor) and Gwendolyn Pigeon (Katy Gentry)

***************
&#169:2013 Hope Baugh

5 thoughts on “Two Vacation Days (includes a review of Claire Wilcher’s show at Chef Joseph’s at the Connoisseur Room)”

  1. Thanks so much for coming, Hope. I appreciate that you were on vacation, but I’ll also admit to being disappointed that you were’t Tweeting or Blogging about The Odd Couple! 😉 I’m sure ATI hopes you come back when you are “on-call”. Happy Holidays!!!

  2. Thanks very much, Adam. Happy holidays to you, too! I loved you as “Speed” in ATI’s “The Odd Couple,” and I look forward to seeing you on stage again soon.

  3. Hope,
    Just saw this and, frankly, I’m disappointed that you would question my integrity, especially in a public way such as this. My journalistic reputation means something to me and while I’m wide open to criticism for my writing both at IBJ and elsewhere, what you wrote about me here is just isn’t factually correct.
    Contrary to what you wrote, I did have a reservation at Chef Joseph’s for the show and I did have a seat which I occupied for the first half hour or so. I took the seat, between the bar and the main floor with the intent of staying for the entire three-set evening. However, as I tweeted and later wrote, I could not stand the level of patron conversation around me and could not hear what I had come to hear. I tweeted this, in part, because I didn’t want people to think my leaving was in reaction to Claire’s performance. (To avoid being seen walking out, I asked the manager if there was a back door but was told I had to go through the front. When you saw me in the back, I was waiting for the most appropriate time to quickly step out). Since it was only about 7:30, rather than give up on the evening, I opted to see if a seat was still available at the Cabaret. It was. Next option would have been the Symphony.
    If you challenged what I wrote, I would have ignored this. But when you question my honesty and integrity, a response is needed.
    That being said, I’m glad to see that you are still writing here. Your voice is a valuable one. I just hope you have a warranty on your bullshitometer.
    As always,
    Lou

  4. Interestingly, Lou was reserved a seat directly in front of Claire, but preferred a seat in the lounge. Chef Joseph’s is a Supper Club. The definition is simple, everyone goes about their business and the music is in the background. It is not a new concept. Claire maintained attention quite well and was a hit.

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