It Shouldn’t Be This Hard.

I’ve never been the best or smartest person when it comes to managing money.  But we have a household budget and we stick to it.  I don’t track every penny spent, but there are some things I do track so that we can plan accordingly, most notably groceries.

I have been a Key Bank customer for about 30 years.  Recent events have me evaluating that relationship.  Earlier this year, Key overhauled their online portal–the web site customers use to view their accounts, pay bills, transfer money, etc.  As part of that project, they deleted all of the budgeting and reporting tools that used to be a part of the portal.  I had spent hours defining budget categories and applying those categories to transactions so I could run reports, e.g., “How much did we spend on Groceries each month last year?”  All that hard work, gone.

I complain to @KeyBank_Help on Twitter and receive an “apology” and am urged to use another service called “Hello Wallet.”  So I go and sign up with them.  My Key accounts link up easily enough, but Hello Wallet can only show me the previous three months of transactions, which is useless if you’re in need of reviewing a year’s worth of personal finance data. (This was confirmed by their tech support.)

So I suck it up and decide to buy Quicken.  (The Windows version, as Intuit has done a pretty thorough job of screwing with Mac users on and off for decades.)  When I get to the Payment Information screen, I am informed: “The Quicken special discount offer you’re trying to access has already been redeemed or is experiencing an error. Please contact Quicken customer support specialist at 650-250-1900 Mon – Fri 5am to 5pm Pacific if you need more assistance.”  *sigh*  So I call that number.  It rings 3 times, and then punts me to some kind of error tone/beep I’ve never heard before.

The universe is conspiring against me.  I should just keep my money in a shoe box, I guess.  If I ever do manage to acquire Quicken, I should probably send the receipt to Key Bank and ask for reimbursement.

#KeyBank #Quicken #Intuit

Disney Vacation 2016 – Day 4

This was our short day.  We had a flight out at around 7, with the bus from the resort leaving at 4:20.  We packed up and checked out, stowing our luggage with the valet.  Breakfast was in the Kona Cafe at our hotel.  Then we headed straight to EPCOT hoping to get there as the park opened.  The Monorail was inexplicably NOT running, so we had to cram into a bus to get there.  We made it, but the reason we made it STILL had a long line.  The Norway ride was closed last year and was being re-tooled t be “Frozen” themed.  It was the most popular ride in all of Disney.  Despite being there early, we walked into a 45 minute wait.  Long, but the shortest we had seen it while we were there.  So we went!  

Disappointingly, the World Showcase portion of EPCOT didn’t open until 11am, so we waited about 20 minutes and took in the Cinema 360 “Reflections of China.”  After that there was no time to see “the rest of the world,” and so we left the park in time to make our lunch reservation.

Lunch was at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort.  We to some great pics with some characters courtesy of our awesome waitress!  After lunch, we went back to take in the Jungle Cruise, which was now running.  After that we had just enough time to catch “It’s A Small World” a second time.  

Then it was back to our resort and on to the airport!  We arrived in Syracuse at midnight with no delays or complications.  We arrived home at 3am and fell quickly asleep.

Disney Vacation 2016 – Day 3

My leg only marginally improved overnight.  I upgraded my self-diagnosis from “dead” to “numb” and resigned myself to having a slower than usual day.  I could now “feel” it and had muscle control, but topical nerve endings didn’t respond or felt like tingles.  I made an appointment to see my chiropractor shortly after we returned home and we headed out for the day.

Breakfast was at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom.  Buffet style with Winnie the Pooh characters dropping by for photo ops.  Then it was off to Adventureland and Pirates of the Caribbean.  We had a fastpass, but we cancelled it when we saw there was no wait.  After Pirates we headed over to Splash Mountain where riders are admonished, “You May Get Wet.”  Right.  We took a sun-filled ride on the Liberty Square Riverboat to dry off.  Now very hot, we went through the Haunted Mansion again to enjoy the air conditioning.  

Lunch was at the Liberty Tree Tavern.  Traditional American fare, I had a really good cheeseburger.  After lunch we headed to Tomorrowland to ride on Space Mountain.  On our way there, we noticed that the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor had no waiting was was about to begin, so we went in.  We had never experienced this attraction before and didnt really know what we were in for.  It turned out to be an interactive stand-up comedy show in which I ended up playing a key role!  A hidden camera focused on members of the audience, but there was one recurring role: “That Guy”. I was That Guy–the camera kept coming back to me, at which point I would pose in comical fashion, pointing both my fingers at the camera.  I got a sticker at the end!  The whole thing was hilarious!

On to Space Mountain where Amanda got to be FIRST on the sled!  (Something she has wanted to do for a long time.). When we came out, it was pouring rain.  Being autumn, some of the trees in the park had lost a few of their leaves, which promptly covered over the storm drains resulting in 4-inch mini lakes on the terraces of Tomorrowland.  We slogged our way to the PeopleMover and went around twice (didn’t have to get off!).  By then the rain had subsided.  We headed back to Adventureland hoping to ride the Jungle Cruise, but it was closed because of the rain.  So we walked over to Pirates of the Caribbean which had no waiting, so we went through it again!  After that, my leg was VERY tired and so I suggested we walk over to Frontierland and take the train back to Main Street USA.  When we got there, it, too, was closed.  But Splash Mountain had no wait!  So we went on THAT again.  When we came out, there was a short line for the train, which started back up about 10 minutes later.  We rode the train back to Main Street and caught the boat back to our resort.

Dinner was at ‘Ohana in the Polynesian Resort.  An interesting concept: they ply you with appetizer fare, and eventually start delivering shishkebobs of shrimp, steak, and chicken.  You can eat as much as you want.  Next time I’ll know not to load up on the appetizers.  I was too full to have very much of the yummy steak!  After dinner we returned to our room and bed.

Disney Vacation 2016 – Day 2

On Monday we woke and took the bus from the Polynesian Resort to Animal Kingdom here we had breakfast at Rainforest Cafe.  We then took the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch where the petting area was open and we got to see and pet goats and sheep and a few other exotic, medium size animals.  After returning to the main area of the Animal Kingdom we happened by “Finding Nemo, the Musical” which had no wait, as it was just abut to begin.  We went in and were glad we did!  It was an incredible performance.

Next was lunch at Tiffin’s, a new “upscale” restaurant right there in the Animal Kingdom.  Our dining plan included three meals for each night we stayed.  Given that we were leaving on Wednesday afternoon before dinner, we needed a way to use up an extra meal.  Several of Disney’s dining venues are so “posh” that they take two meal credits when you eat there.  Tiffin’s is one such place.  The lobster/Thai curry bisque I had to an appetizer was worth the price of admission!  Yummy!

After lunch we took the Kilimanjaro Safari.  I applaud Disney’s conservation efforts, but I wish they weren’t so fake about it all.  Don’t point to a cast cement “wall” painted to look like clay and tell us elephants were gouging it with their tusks 5 minute before we drove up.  Even the mud ruts are cement!

Over to “Asia” for the Karl River Rapids.  We used a FastPass for this.  We got to the end of the line and got in our “tube”…and waited.  We could see the escalator/platform that lifted the tubes to the top of the rapids, but it wasn’t moving and neither were we.  We sat there for about 15 minutes.  I returned a phone call.  Our launch attendant hadn’t been informed abut what was going on.  Then we were moving!  The ride continued without interruption, and when we got back to the beginning we were told we could go around again!  Wahoo!

Now soaked, we wandered into “It’s Tough to be a Bug” (No waiting!). It was a fine source of schadenfreude when Hopper came out and several kiddos were frightened out of their wits and had to be removed by their parents.  I don’t like seeing kids cry, but parents should pay more heed to the content warnings!  Still soaked, we returned too our hotel to shower and change before dinner.

Dinner was at EPCOT’s Coral Reef restaurant with windowed views of the massive aquarium Disney has.  Sharks, rays, and sea turtles were among the undersea dwellers to be seen while we dined.  Early for our dinner reservation, we took in the Finding Nemo ride in the same pavilion.  (Also no waiting!). After dinner we went on “Soarin’,” which we were not able to catch last year because it was always a 3 hour wait with no fast passes. WOW!  Part ferris wheel, part IMAX, it really can’t be described.

EPCOT was closing, so we headed back to the Magic Kingdom by Monorail for one of the last performances of the Main Street Electrical Parade before it is packed up and shipped to Disneyland.  As we got to the park, fireworks following the 9:00 performance of the parade were just ending.  Tons of people exited the park.  Amanda and I planted ourselves on the “downstream” side of a trash can just north of the main street buildings on the east side of the street and waited.  About 20 minutes later, the crowd subsided and we waited some more.  In short order, Disney’s salute to animation was portrayed on the front of Cinderella’s Castle, which is “transformed” into a projection screen in a way that only Disney could pull off.  By now we are tired of standing, so we sit on the curb in preparation for the 11:00pm showing of the Main Street Electrical Parade.  (11pm and I couldn’t believe how many strollers were still there.). I live streamed the parade on Facebook, much to the delight of several friends.

Although I didnt feel it, something went wrong while I was sitting on the pavement for those 90 or so minutes.  When the parade was over and I attempted to stand, I had difficulty.  My entire right leg was dead!  I had lost all feeling in it.  It was there, but I only knew that because I could see it.  I figured it had just fallen asleep, so I turned down the offer of a wheelchair by a cast member.  Amanda and I stood there for about 10 minutes waiting for the feeling to come back, but it didnt. We returned to the boat launch, me using Amanda as a crutch the whole way.  I went to bed hoping it just needed a little time.

Disney Vacation 2016 – Day 1

Last Summer Amanda and I took Brady and Kyle (and ourselves) to Walt Disney World as sort of a last Family vacation.  Brady was about to go to grad school, and Kyle had one more year of High School left.  I didn’t expect to be back so soon!  But a few weeeks agao Amanda and I both came to the realization that we needed to get away from, well, everything.  Disney was the first thing that came to mind.  We are back staying on-Disney at the Polynesian Resort this time.  We have no plans part from our arrival and departure.  We are making everything in between up as we go along.

Today was Day 1.  We arrived dry late last night and went straight to bed.  This morning we woke and took the boat transportation from the Polynesian to the Magic Kingdom where we had breakfast reservations at the Be Our Guest restaurant in FantasyLand.  After that we went to TomorrowLand and enjoyed the PeopleMover and Carousel of Progress.  e then explored Liberty Square and went through the Haunted Mansion.  Then it was time for our scheduled FastPass appointment at It’s A Small World.  

We had lunch reservations at the Sci-Fi Drive In Diner at Hollywood Studios, so we made our way to the bus stands and caught one to Hollywood Studios.  We meandered our way to the diner.  A little early, we decided to just wait about 20 minutes.  After lunch we enjoyed Star Tours and The Great Movie Ride.  We walked down Sunset Boulevard, stopping in a few shops.  By then we were both a little tired.  So we took the boat from Hollywood Studios to EPCOT, walked through the park t the Monorail and caught that back to the Transportation Center, transferring to the Resort Mnorail and back the Polynesian Resort where we each took a shower/bath.

After that rest it was time for dinner.  We decided to g back to EPCOT since it was the park open the latest tonight.  We caught the Monorail from the Polynesian, rode it to the transportation center and caught the EPCOT Monorail.  As we entered the park we noticed almost no line for Spaceship Earth, so we went on that.  We then  headed straight for World Showcase, deciding to dine in the Mexican Pavilion–our favorite restaurant at all of Disney World.  We had about an hour to kill, so we checked out the Norway Pavilion.  The new Frozen ride, despite not having any discernible line extending outside the building, advertised a 2-hour wait!  This was confusing as it was 7:30 or so and the park closed at 9:00.  We left ant went to kill the hour we had in the Mexican Pavilion, taking The 3 Caballeros ride and browsing in the shops.  Dinner finished, we made our way back to the Monorail.  When we got to the Transportation Center there was some technical problem with the Resort Monorail, so on a whim we took the express over to the Magic Kingdom and then rode the boat launch back to the Polynesian Resort.  (Its actually a very short walk from the transportation center to the Polynesian, but we’re on vacation and had walked enough!)

I must say we led the charmed life as far as line lengths.  We waited no more than 10 minutes to get into anything we wanted to do (except Frozen).  Hopefully our luck will continue tomorrow!

Hitching The Hard Way

As I was pulling away from the last light-controlled intersection in Potsdam yesterday, bound for Camp, something jumped up in front of my car. It was smaller than a bird, and wasn’t anything kicked up by another vehicle. It seemed to land somewhere on the hood close to where it meet the windshield, but I couldn’t see what it was. 10 seconds later, it jumped up again, this time landing on the little ledge of my door, just behind the driver-side mirror. It was a tree frog!!

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At this point I am up to speed and doing 30 MPH.  The little guy is still hanging on.  I reach the village limits and speed up to 45, thinking he’d have enough of this and jump for it.  Nope!  He still hangs on.  With the 55 MPH sign in sight, I pull over.  The frog just sits there.  I start to lower my window and realize that’s going to squish its leg, so I open my door.  The frog jumps down.  I don’t get out of the car–I just close the door, roll up the window, and head on my way.

St. Regis Falls…Paul Smiths…Bloomingdale…Franklin Falls…Wilmington…Jay.  I stop to visit a friend.  And just as I roll to a stop and my shifter slides into Park, up from out of seemingly nowhere comes the frog!!

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Where the hell was he that whole time? If reptiles are capable of experiencing fear, I can only imagine this thing was terrified!  I got out of the car and took one more picture.  Then I poked him and he jumped away.  To the ground.  And away from the car this time.  (I checked.)  So if anyone is keeping track, as of yesterday Potsdam NY is minus one tree frog, now a resident of Jay.

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Batman vs. Superman

[SPOILERS—If you haven’t seen this movie and are bothered by knowing serious plot points in advance of doing so, then you probably shouldn’t read this.]

Before I get to the movie, I should first give a little background on my history with and love (and then hatred) of DC Comics. I’ve been a fan of Superman since I can remember. I grew up seeing re-runs of the George Reeves television series, and I loved the early movies (though they got progressively worse as time went on). I collected comic books as soon as I was old enough to earn my own disposable income. I’d make trips to the drug store every 2 weeks and buy up all my titles and spend the next few hours reading and re-reading them, falling deeper and deeper in love with all my favorite characters and teams. In no particular order, I remember fondly Batman and the Outsiders, Teen Titans, All-Star Squadron, Justice League of America, The Legion of Super Heroes, Superman, Superboy, DC Comics Presents, World’s Finest Comics, Green Lantern, The Flash, and probably a few others I’m not remembering as I write this. Marvel? Feh. Marvel was OK. I liked Fantastic Four and a couple of other titles. But in general, I was not fond of their wussy teens bitten by all manner of insects; and their whiny, angst-ridden “poor us” mutants. I liked my heroes to be fantastic. I wanted to have to suspend a hell of a lot of disbelief when reading about them. People from other planets with all manner of powers—THAT fires up the imagination! Random gene mutation? BORING. Can you tell that Batman was one of my least-favorite characters?

I read comics until DC’s “Crisis On Infinite Earths” series. I collected the entire series. I collected the “Who’s Who?” companion guide. I bought every crossover title I could find, even if I didn’t collect that series. And then they finished it. The tagline for “Crisis” was, “Worlds will live, worlds will die; and the DC Universe will never be the same!” Well, they were right. As far as I was concerned, they had killed everything I loved about the DC Universe, including Supergirl and the Flash. What they did was stupid and unnecessary, and I decided I was done. I stopped collecting and made room for other things in my life. A few years later while on a family trip I was in a New England drug store with a few minutes to kill, so I found the comic book section of their magazine rack. I grabbed the latest issue of “Superman” and took it out to the car. The art had certainly changed, as had the quality of the paper. I saw these as generally good things. Superman was fighting someone (as usual). The fight ended up in space. Where Superman HAD TO HOLD HIS BREATH. What?!? What the hell was this? I almost cried. I threw the comic on the car’s floor in disgust and have not purchased one since then (about 30 years). I was right—they had ruined everything.

Fast forward to the 21st century. A lot has changed in the media of TV and the movies. Marvel has spent the last decade packaging up their most popular characters (and a few more minor ones) for consumption both on the big screen as well as television, masterfully weaving and presenting the backstories for Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk in the movies; and bringing us ongoing shows like “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, “Agent Carter”, “Jessica Jones”, and “Daredevil”. As I write this, there have been two “Avengers” movies and we are anxiously awaiting a third (“Civil War”). Where has DC been during all of this? Mostly silent. They gave us “Man Of Steel” in 2013, which I rather liked. And someone with a lot of love and a lot of respect for pre-Crisis lore has been pouring their heart into “Arrow,” “The Flash,” and “Supergirl” on television. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, they threw “Batman vs. Superman” our way.

I saw “Batman vs. Superman” last night. I will probably see it again, if for no other reason than I saw it with only one of my two sons, and I’m pretty sure the other one wants to see it too. I’ll start by saying that any movie that has me looking at my watch has not sufficiently grabbed my attention. There were several glances in the first 90 minutes. We apparently are in the universe established by the “Man Of Steel” movie. We have no real background on the Batman of this universe beyond the very basics: His parents were killed when he was a kid, he discovered a cave full of bats and made it his lair, and his family mansion is now a ruin. (I can’t remember if that last detail happened in one of the most recent Batman flicks—I was probably asleep. That franchise has been rebooted/revisited so many times I’ve lost track. (Batman was never my favorite, remember?)) I don’t remember the locations of Gotham City and Metropolis ever being specifically mentioned in the comics. It was always an “understood” elephant in the room that they were both analogs for New York City, which made it only slightly awkward when Batman would visit Superman or vice versa. We didn’t know exactly “where” Gotham and Metropolis were, but we knew they weren’t the same. Well, now we know they are “sister” cities, across the harbor from one another. Sure. Whatever.

I’ll start with Superman. I generally enjoy Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman. I think he has “the look,” and while I wish the colors were a tad brighter, I like what they have chosen to do with his costume. He spends the movie struggling with the age-old question: “Can I ever get close to anyone?”, realizing, apparently for the first time, that if you care about someone (or some thing), then people who don’t like you can use that person (or thing) as leverage against you. I was somewhat relieved when it was revealed that it was this moth-eaten plot device that was going to be the real reason for a fight between our two heroes. They spent a solid hour attempting—poorly— to provide adequate background and character development, leading us to believe that they were going to come to blows simply over philosophical differences (a la the aforementioned “Civil War”). But when it came down to it, Superman simply had no choice. I think he did a piss-poor job of trying to explain that to Batman, but if he hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been much of a fight, and that’s why we all bought our tickets, right?

Batman. I said earlier I’ve never been a big fan of Batman. This movie didn’t make me any more of one. First of all, he kills. And shoots guns. When did that start? Is that a thing now? (Remember; I haven’t bought a comic in 30 years!) One of the things to LIKE about Batman, even if you didn’t like much else, was that he chose not to kill. He was all about justice. Catch the bad guys and deliver them to law enforcement and let the system do its job. No guns, unless they shot cables or mist or something else non-lethal. But in this movie there are several scenes in which he indiscriminately mows down bad guy after bad guy with spray from fully-automatic weapons, and when he’s out of bullets or there’s no gun handy, he doesn’t seem to pull any punches. Several others are quite obviously dead in the aftermath of the sheer brutality of his physical attacks. This is not the Batman I used to know. I will, however, give serious props to Ben Affleck as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Affleck’s one of those actors who for me is only as good as the material he’s performing. I’ve loved him in roles. I’ve hated him in roles. I loved him in this role! He was suave and handsome enough to be believable as the “billionaire playboy” Brice Wayne (though that aspect of the character is not at all played up in this flick) and brooding and angsty enough to pull off the “Dark Knight” shtick that has become popular with the character over the last 40 years.

Wonder Woman? *blink* What? Who invited her? Indeed, the movie asks this very question as the three heroes are set to face Doomsday (Its name is “Doomsday, right? It’s a post-Crisis character, so I’ve never seen it before, but I’ve gathered that’s its name.): Superman: “Is she with you?” Batman: “No, I thought she was with you!” Her presence is obviously a prelude to a sequel which will expand upon her backstory and her last hundred years, explaining what her contributions to World War I were and where she’s been since then. And we see evidence that The Flash, Aquaman (ugh) and Cyborg will be seen in some future movie(s). But she came out of nowhere and just decided to show up for the big fight at the end.

Superman’s (apparent) death. At the end of the film we are led to believe that Superman (and, ipso facto, Clark Kent) is dead. They handled this all wrong. Superman’s wake was closed (and empty) casket, while Clark’s was open-casket; and Smallville is where the body was buried. That makes it very hard to explain his eventual resurrection. Had they done it the other way around, with Superman’s body on display and Clark’s apparently “missing,” it would have been easy. Superman simply bursts forth, apparently finally healed from his wound; and Clark emerges from some as-yet-uncleared rubble that resulted from the big fight with Doomsday, barely alive, but able to come through his ordeal. I have no idea how they’re going to explain Clark coming back they way they’ve done things.

Broadly, I don’t know what Warner Brothers has been thinking for the past 10 years. Marvel has been trouncing them and it’s like they’ve been sitting around a board room table with blindfolds on and fingers in their ears. Now they’re “awake” and playing catch-up and doing so very poorly. Box office receipts notwithstanding, this new Universe could have been…and still could be…so much better! They need to slow down and take their time and explain exactly WHO all these “new” characters are and where they came from and why we should love them. Superman and Batman are easy. Unless you’ve lived in a cave all your life, you at least know who they are. You know Superman can fly and has heat vision and is invulnerable. You know Batman has a cave and a Batmobile and a utility belt. You almost can’t not know these things! Wonder Woman is on the fringe of this level of popularity. Amazon, bracelets, lariat…check. But Cyborg? Flash? Aquaman? Who?? DC has a LOT of work ahead of itself. In many ways, this film is a knock-off of Marvel’s recent work. Superman = Captain America. Batman = Iron Man. Wonder Woman = Thor. Doomsday = Hulk. *yawn* I’ve seen all of this already!

Give me something NEW and reasons to once again love the characters that consumed my imagination for most of my teen years. Please?

12 Ways to Become a Great Leader

Copied without permission from an article on inc.com

1. Think big.
If you want to lead people to do something, make it somewhere worth their time and effort to achieve.

2. Think strategically.
It’s easy to get so caught up with urgent things that you forget about the truly important ones. Ask yourself: do our daily efforts truly lead to the big goals we want?

3. Get forgiveness, not permission.
Don’t wait for someone else to give you a title or a leadership role. Most often, people hold themselves back because they feel like they need someone else’s imprimatur. Don’t do that–and this is true 10 times over if you actually are in a formal leadership role!

4. Forget about titles and pedigrees.
Practice what you preach. Don’t get hung up on what other people’s job titles are, or what schools or previous employers they came from. Watch the results people achieve, instead.

5. Make more leaders.
When someone you’ve mentored or led outshines you–take it as the ultimate compliment to your leadership style. Be proud and excited–never envious.

6. Be open and transparent.
A great leader understands that in a majority of cases, people who hoard information do so because they’re weak and insecure. Give others the tools they need to be successful.

7. Take responsibility; share credit.
Regardless of why a team falls short, if you’re a true leader it’s up to you to take the blame. On the other side, when the team succeeds, share the credit. That’s the burden of leadership.

8. Be courageous.
You don’t have to be fearless; far from it. Everybody is afraid, even of greatness. The test here is whether you can control your fears and act anyway.

9. Be other-centered.
It’s amazing how much success you can have as a leader when you stop worrying about your own success–and instead focus on the success of your team and its members. True leaders put others first.

10. Be confident.
When you have a worthy goal, a good plan, and a great team–act like it. Confidence and optimism usually lead to positive outcomes.

11. Be humble.
Humility and confidence can go hand-in-hand for a truly great leader. Bluster is unbecoming, and ultimately leads to poor leadership.

12. Be caring.
Separate from selflessness, a great leader displays concern and consideration for others. Act strongly and decisively–but with kindness.

My Review of the February 20th, 2016 Performance of “Les Misérables” at the Imperial Theatre, New York City

Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean

Alfie Boe played Jean Valjean in the Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert. He was incredible! Last year when it was announced that he would reprise the role on Broadway, I made a promise to myself that I would see him. This past weekend, Amanda and I kept that promise, leaving early Saturday morning for Albany where we caught a train to New York City. We stayed at the Marriott Marquis Hotel right on Times Square, next door to the Imperial Theatre where Les Misérables was playing.

After the opening chain-gang scene, when Javert calls for “prisoner 24601” to be brought before him, the performance had to pause for a few seconds while the crowd applauded Alfie Boe. The man obviously has fans! And well he should, for his performance did not disappoint. He does not merely act the role, he becomes Jean Valjean. His performance was everything I expected. Indeed, after his “Bring Him Home” soliloquy, the partial standing ovation carried on for a solid minute or more, all while he just sat there on the barricade, never breaking character.

While Alfie’s performance was beyond criticism, I cannot say the same for some of the other key characters. I was particularly disappointed with Brennyn Lark’s Eponine. Her solo “On My Own,” well-performed, will bring a tear to my eye. But to do that, I need to believe that the actress is feeling what she’s singing. Lark just doesn’t do that for me. I believe she was also playing Eponine when I last saw Les Mis in August of 2014. The same was true then—I didn’t feel it, because she didn’t make me. Now, Samantha Barks, who played Eponine in both the 25th Anniversary Concert and the motion picture, makes me tear up every time. Maybe there is some benefit brought to the performance by the relative luxury of cinematography, but similar evoking of emotion is to be had when I listen to the complete symphonic recording with no benefit of visual queues. No, I found Lark’s performance mechanically wonderful, but emotionally lacking.

Chris McCarrell’s Marius had me nervous at first. He seemed almost as if he was fresh out of school and that this was his first performance anywhere, let alone Broadway. At least he started out that way. By the end of the show I was convinced of his talent and ability without further question. Wallace Smith as Enjolras was up and down, almost warbling one minute and then bowling us over with the raw power of his voice the next.

Every time I see or listen to Les Misérables it seems like I notice something new. My favorite minor character is Grantaire, the student whose first lines chide, “…is Marius in love at last?” In “Drink With Me” after the barricade has gone up and the weight of what is to come becomes apparent, Grantaire asks, “Can it be you fear to die?” I have always regarded this as merely a rhetorical question, but the way it was portrayed in this performance (by Richard Barth) was as a challenge to all present, i.e., “what the HELL is the point of all of this? Do you think anyone will remember what we do here…or even care?” He dares to ask the question everyone is thinking. The rest of the cast quickly rebukes him and he retreats, slumping and weeping against the wall stage left, with Gavroche offering comfort in the form of hugs. I never caught that before.

It’s hard to come away from any performance of Les Misérables disappointed. Actually, I’m not sure that’s even possible (for me)! I very much enjoyed this performance and recommend to anyone who has yet to experience it that you do so if you find yourself with the means.

America (2016)

This evening at bowling someone played Neil Diamond’s “America” on the jukebox.  I never saw “The Jazz Singer.”  I don’t even know the story, much less the context for the song as performed in the motion picture.  I’ve never cared especially for the song, but for some reason, hearing it now struck a chord.  The lyrics tell the story of how this country came together from, basically, the dregs of everywhere else on this planet.  For a long time, it was “y’all come!”  And all were welcome.  There have been some very dark times in our nation’s history, to be sure.  I won’t romantically gloss over all of that.  But we have always invited those like us to join us.  From Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”, which is engraved on the pedestal of our very own Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Reading recent headlines, it would seem that Neil Diamond’s “America” doesn’t exist anymore.  If that’s true, I mourn that loss.  Still, it’s a catchy tune–an anthem, really!  And I think the melody deserves to live on.  But it will need new lyrics.  And so, with humble apology to Neil Diamond, I offer “America (2016)”:

Far…
We all travelled so far
To our new home
Away from any Czar

 

Free!
We cut down all the trees
And tamed this land
While writing our own creed

 

On the boats and on the planes
We all came to America
Welcomed all who shared our pain
They all came to America

 

Then
We forgot from whence we came
Now if they are not the same
We don’t want them here
We don’t want them here

 

Home
All they want is a new place
It is to our great disgrace
That we greet them with fear
That we greet them with fear

 

Everyone around the world:
Stop coming to America!
Just in case you haven’t heard:
We fear you in America.

 

We don’t care where else you go,
Stop coming to America!
You don’t fit the status quo,
Stop coming to America.

 

Stop coming to America!
Stop coming to America!
Stop coming to America!
Stop coming to America!
Go ‘way, Go ‘way
Go ‘way, Go ‘way, Go ‘way!

 

My country used to be (Go ‘way!)
A place where all would be (Go ‘way!)
Welcomed with Love (Go ‘way!)
We’ve really lost
OUR WAY!