Friday, December 16, 2011


During the spring semester of my senior year in high school, my English teacher assigned our class the task of creating a small poetry anthology. The guidelines included selections from respected poets and original writings from our own seasoned twelfth-grade minds, as well as the option of choosing a song with lyrics we admired. While sharing our finished books during class one day, I remember a classmate playing one song in particular: "For Good" from the musical, Wicked. It was literally music to my ears.

Throughout the rest of the semester, Wicked became a big deal at school, particularly among the more musical chorus and band students (I was in the middle of my clarinet-playing days). In fact, I remember a lovely rendition of "For Good" being performed during our senior Baccalaureate/Award ceremony. Around that time, I fell in love with Wicked from a distance--buying the book, singing along with the soundtrack, and dreaming of the day when I'd sit in a magnificent theater, watching these misunderstood characters belt out stories of friendship, love, and major turning points in life.

Fast-forward: six years later. I've graduated college, gotten married, moved to Michigan. Imagine my surprise as I watched TV over the summer and saw local commercials for Broadway in Detroit, a place within driving distance that hosts Broadway-quality shows all year long. And guess which musical was featured to return to town in December?

I squealed like a little girl for about two months every time I saw the commercial, and finally went to the Ticketmaster with Brad sometime in November to reserve our seats. The countdown was on.

Thanksgiving came and went, December snowed its way in, and before I knew it, opening night was here. I made sure I had everything ready before Brad got home so we could get to Detroit in plenty of time--dinner, dress, shoes, you name it.

(Long story short, I threw some chicken in the oven and went on a last-minute errand in my dress and huge shoes to get some Fast Flats. While I was at the drugstore, I saved a baby from almost falling off the cashier's counter. Inquire below if you are at all curious.)

As you can see from the picture on the right, it's probably a good thing I got the flats.

When I got back from shoe shopping and baby-saving, Brad was home. We scarfed down dinner, then took pictures of ourselves by the Christmas tree since we (I) had spent so much time getting pretty. I wasn't planning on taking our camera to the show, so I knew any pictures we took at the opera house would only look as good as our cell phones allowed.


Finally, we were off to see the Wizard Detroit! FYI: If you ever have a Ticketmaster lady tell you there's no need to pre-pay for parking, she's lying. We ended up spending twice as much when we got there. Then again, we didn't look much further than the garage, since we didn't exactly feel like wandering around in an alley somewhere to save a few dollars.

The opera house at night
The opera house was breathtaking. Ornate chandeliers, mirrors, and classic patterns dripped from every surface, and person after person walked by in their finest evening attire. It reminded me of my first trip to Broadway in 2009 to see Shrek the Musical, and at the same time made me feel like a Victorian socialite on her way to "just another evening" at the Opera. In all seriousness, though--walking through those doors made me feel really special.

Ceiling inside the front lobby
Outside the auditorium on the box seating level (that's a chandelier, not fire).

That's me! Me at Wicked!

My program--it doesn't say "Playbill" at the top, but I love it all the same. :)

After we milled around for a bit, Brad and I showed our tickets to an usher, who led us to a very important door that was labeled with our box number (we were lucky enough to have box seats in the center of the theater, which according to a lot of people we've talked to, are basically the best seats in the house). As the courteous, old man opened the door for us to walk in, I felt as though I was being escorted into a VIP area. 

We waited a little while, then shortly after 8:00, the lights went down, the show was introduced, and I bounced giddily in my seat as the first few chords of  "No One Mourns the Wicked" filled the auditorium. Showtime! I had finally made it! I sat back for the next hour-and-a-half or so and took everything in--the music, the lights, the costumes--it was all spectacular.

Nothing could surpass, however, my favorite moment of the musical: the last number of Act I. It's in this scene that the main character, Elphaba, comes to terms with her new "wicked" reputation, singing about her transformation in "Defying Gravity." Just before the curtain closes, Elphaba flies above her enemies in a swirl of smoke and mystical lighting. I obviously couldn't take pictures of the show, but it looked something like this:

It was everything I could do to keep from crying like a little baby. It really was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

During intermission, we wandered around some more, and Brad bought me a souvenir--the most expensive t-shirt I've ever owned. I felt guilty about it for at least an hour before finally promising Brad that I would hand wash it in cold water and never, ever put it in the dryer. He is way too good to me sometimes.

I enjoyed Act II more than I expected, particularly because I realized that I didn't know what was going to happen.You can learn a lot from a play by listening to the music, but there are some details you'll never fully understand until you see the production in person. Now, I wouldn't dream of ruining the story for you, but let me just say this: You'll be hard-pressed to find another story that puts such an effective sympathetic spin on a classically-hated character. Oh, and if you decide to see the show for yourself, pay careful attention to the dialogue and lyrics. The whole darn thing is a foreshadowing extravaganza.

So, overall, the evening was definitely a success. Even Brad liked the show, which has given me license to play the soundtrack continuously over the past week. Hey, I don't like to let any opportunity slip by. ;-)

After the play, we drove around Detroit for a little while to see some of the buildings and landmarks that are characteristic of the area. The streets seemed unusually empty, save for the fact that clouds of fog billowed out of every drain. It was kind of neat, actually--a somewhat peaceful evening in what so many people perceive to be a wretched city. There were also a lot of Christmas lights, along with a huge, decorated tree and an outdoor skating area that reminded me of a tiny Rockefeller Center.


So, second trip to Detroit? Not too shabby. This time around, I saw that artistic spirit surrounding me that so many people talk about, and I could finally see a city that was once incredible, had its hard times, and is on its way to bouncing back. Give it time . . . there's so much bundled up in those city blocks that's just waiting to burst to life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hello L.A. from Ann Arbor, Michigan

In recent years, I find myself questioning more and more why I do certain things. Usually, I blame my decisions to stay up all night and stand in the cold for movie premieres and Black Friday shopping on my curiosity and desire to participate in new experiences. In reality, it's probably because I'm young and stupid.

Okay, I won't go so far as to bash my own intelligence. The truth (as I've mentioned before) is that I am wildly impressed by fun gimmicks, and this one was no exception.

It all started with a handful of Twitter messages from a certain daytime talk show host:

"Ann Arbor! You can be on my show, help a kid in need, & win big @Walgreens. 7:30 p.m. It's a win win win.
Wear your favorite holiday outfit."
If you saw one of these messages, wouldn't you want to run out and see what was up? Me, too. That's why I went to Ann Arbor on Thursday night to participate in the craziness that was a televised Toys for Tots drive and raffle sponsored by Walgreens and The Ellen Degeneres Show.

When Brad and I arrived at the Ann Arbor Walgreens shortly after 7:00 p.m., the parking lot was already completely full. (In fact, this picture doesn't do the scene justice, since the line to claim a raffle ticket actually wrapped around the back of the building and into the parking lot of a neighboring business.)

Jeannie! She works for The Ellen Show and used a megaphone to keep the 2,000+ people in line.

There was one TV set up for everyone to watch the main portion of the show as it was taped in Los Angeles.
The screen size was probably just around 32 inches, and it was basically a communication porthole for the huge crowd that assembled in Ann Arbor that night.
Toys for Tots Donation Box

Because we found out about the event so close to the time it began, we completely forgot to bring toys. Unfortunately, Walgreens was closing up in preparation for the show, so Brad made a quick trip across the street to get a couple things while I wandered around and took pictures.

Fans of the show didn't hold back when it came to festive Christmas wear.
Christmas Present Buddies
These were my favorites. The wreath just made me giggle, and I'll admit . . . the fake Ellen correspondent actually had me believing she was the real thing. I blame the cold for my momentary lapse in judgment.

Meanwhile, the crowd kept growing and everything kept changing. Every few minutes, it seemed, a new line formed. Then, as the line moved up, the people at the front were told to line up somewhere else to wait for the taping to start. By the time Brad got back with a couple of toy trucks, I had been moved to the sidewalk, onto the grass, back off the grass, then routed around the back to stand in the biggest line I'd ever seen. Thinking there was no way we'd get back to the front of the building by the time Ellen telecasted in, we tried hanging out with some other bystanders, but were eventually told to go around the back of the building again. As luck would have it, the line moved quickly; we had, however, a lot more time to kill than we originally thought.

Literally running around the building to form a new line
People waiting for the show to start after finally getting through the raffle ticket line
Finally, around 9:00 or so, it was show time. We stood among a massive crowd of people, quietly hopping up and down to keep warm as we tried to watch the live L.A. taping on the one TV in the parking lot. At one point, the crew filmed a quick segment of Jeannie (Ellen's correspondent) coming out of the front doors of Walgreens, running through the crowd as we cheered for Ellen back in her studio. That was followed by more hopping around in the cold as we waited for the rest of the show to be taped, and about ten minutes before we were live from Ann Arbor again, Jeannie gave us some lovely instructions: "When Ellen comes back, I am going to call a number . . . and whoever wins, I want you to go nuts. Scream like you've just won a million dollars." I mentally prepared myself and wondered if I had enough freak-out tendency in my DNA to scream in the unlikely event I won, then stood back and waited for the results.

Here's how it all went down on the air (and no, I am not visible in any of this video footage):

It probably goes without saying, but I was not one of the lucky people who won a prize that night (or one of Ellen's studio audience members, who all won $100 Walgreens gift cards). After the cameras stopped rolling, though, Jeannie called out ten or so more numbers, with each winner receiving a Walgreens gift card of their own.  Finally, she made one last announcement: apparently, this was one of the largest events of this type the show had ever encountered, so Ellen was offering one more prize opportunity in exchange for us waiting outside in the cold all evening.

Jeannie's Final Announcement:

As it turns out, 100 more winners would be chosen at random from the crowd--all we needed to do was snap pictures of ourselves at the Ann Arbor event to upload on Ellen's website the next day. The photo, along with a description of our evening, would serve as a ticket for a one-in-twenty (or twenty-five) chance to win one of Ellen's 12 Days prizes! Technically, the odds were still against us, but to be that close to winning an iPad, laptop, year's supply of cheese, whatever--I wouldn't turn it down. So, we got our cameras and phones out and started snapping pictures of each other. The best part about the evening ending, however, was knowing that it was time to go back to our heated car and warm home.

Me and my cold, red nose. I was having a lot of trouble bending my toes and fingers at this point.
This morning, I watched the Ann Arbor episode of Ellen with a much different perspective. I'll never again take for granted how much work goes into making a TV show, or the influence that a celebrity or someone with similar importance can have in gathering people to support a cause. I know I did my share of whining for being cold and not winning anything that evening (and I have yet to find out if I'm still in the running for a 12 Days gift), but the truth is--would any of those people have showed up with a toy to donate if it hadn't been for Ellen? Regardless of the fact that I didn't win anything that night, it was exciting to be part of a nationally-recognized event that brings happiness to so many children.

Of course, I can't help but keep my fingers crossed that I'm one of those 100 people Ellen chooses for a last-chance prize. But I guess I shouldn't get ahead of myself on that one.

Friday, December 9, 2011

In Blue

Photo by Matt Gentry, The Roanoke Times
I just wanted to take the time to write this brief note.

I am fortunate to have so many life experiences to write about, to share with you today. So many blessings that I am thankful for that, in retrospect, seem trivial.

What's bigger, and more important, are instances like this and people who put their lives on the line every day. For all of us. These people are often under-appreciated most days of the year, and it's a sad thing when we have to mourn the loss of one of them.

So many senseless acts of violence and losses of life have sporadically scarred the peaceful image of a place that I will always call home. And somehow, that place is still beautiful, still full of love among all the sacrifice.

It was my father who called me yesterday afternoon to let me know that there had been more shootings on Virginia Tech's campus. I spent the next three or four hours streaming live video online from my old hometown news station, listening to updates as I tried to get anything done around the house. Familiar feelings from 2007 came back as I fixed my eyes on the images, and while it was a great relief to find that yesterday's instance came nowhere close to the scale of that from four and a half years ago, none of the sadness can be erased from the tragic taking of this police officer's life.

My father was a campus police officer/sergeant/lieutenant/chief from before I was born to around the time I graduated college. So many people take for granted the motivation, bravery, stress, and strength it takes to go out there every single day (and night), not knowing what you're up for. Yet, these men and women work to keep us safe while we unknowingly go about our everyday routines. It's usually a thankless job, and often draws hatred from people rather than gratitude. Yet, there's no denying that the job and the people doing it are essential, and we would be in constant pandemonium without them.

Please remember to keep campus police (and police in general) in your thoughts and prayers, and please be grateful for their dedication to making your life better.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Light (Up the Night) Bright

It seems like there have been endless Christmas events around the Metro-Detroit area since Thanksgiving . . . greenery sales, concerts, parades, tree lightings, you name it. In fact, the number of festivities seems much more widespread than what I'm used to, at least since I've moved to a place where so many cities and towns are pushed up against one another. That said, although it's still less than a week into December, I feel like I'm playing catch-up with all of the weekend celebrations (in particular, I'm bummed that I had to pick my car up from the mechanic during Lansing's Silver Bells in the City and that I missed Starbucks' half-priced Holiday drinks a couple weekends ago). Fortunately, I informed Brad when he got home from work last Friday that we were going to Novi's Light up the Night. I know--I'm an awesome wife.

After debating whether or not we should go to dinner first (we were both starving and I was a little loopy from not eating since my early lunch), we decided to take our chances on there being enough free snacks at the civic center to tide us over for a while. And oh, boy, were there ever.

Inside view of the Novi Civic Center
People lining up to get free rice and beef from bd's Mongolian Grill
Upon entering the Novi Civic Center, we were greeted by about a billion people, each standing elbow-to-elbow and contributing to a scene of mass of confusion. The lines for the free food tables, however, were not too long, so we wiggled our way through a sea of Novi-ans to claim our complimentary chicken wings, cinnamon snacks, and hot chocolate. I know there were several more tables set up with cookies, coffee, and who knows what else, but we had to cut it at some point because we were determined to still go out for dinner. We wolfed down our food, and with full bellies and slightly annoyed reactions to all the kids who were standing on our feet, Brad and I went outside to await the tree lighting.

Santa! He's here! I know him!
We found some good standing spots in front of the stage just as some city officials (or people of similar importance) were giving speeches, awarding nice do-gooders with flowers, and introducing Santa and a group of young people who eventually ended up singing Christmas carols. I probably should have gotten outside earlier so I could figure out exactly who everyone was, but with hundreds of people simultaneously trying to find places to view the show, it probably would have been just as confusing either way.  

[Regardless, I commend you, stage people . . . you congregated nicely and spoke in bold, happy tones. And in return, I hope you can forgive me for not remembering anything you talked about before the tree lit up.]

3, 2, 1 . . . Oooh! Ahhh.
While it wasn't exactly the one from Rockefeller Center, the tree was beautiful all the same. Covered in soft, purple lights and abbreviated with leftover snow from earlier in the week, It was simple and serene. Brad and I snapped some photos of each other, then went off to explore the civic center campus just as several families descended on the tree to take pictures of their kids.

Ice sculpting! Can you tell what it is?

Hint: it's a reindeer.
This guy twisted balloon animals like it was a race. I wish I had gotten a picture of the little girl who ended up with this hat. It was about as tall as she was, and she couldn't move without taking out an eye or a nose (mine included).

"Light up the Night" was filled with all sorts of entertainment, from ice sculptures and balloon animals to Santa meet-and-greets and ballet dancers. We also tried our hand at shopping the indoor craft show, but the combination of gift hunters and parents assembling to watch their daughters dance as swans made for very little breathing room. We stayed for one musical number and glanced at a few tables' worth of mittens and paper roses, then once again made a stealthy exit. Like I've said on several occasions, I'm not much for cold weather, but the night was clear and beautiful and I didn't mind strolling around to look at all the night time glitz.

Light-up wands, glow sticks, you name it-- reminiscent of overpriced Disney World toys.
Who didn't want one (or ten) of these when they were a kid?

 And this--a tractor trailer/crane thing dressed to the nines for a festive occasion!

Top o' th'evenin' to ya, sir.
The Novi Public Library was next door to the civic center and housed more "Light up the Night" activities, but since Clifford, the Big Red Dog was greeting people at the door and we had dinner plans, we figured the face painting and storytelling were best left to the kids. Before we went back to the car, however, I remembered a few more interesting sets of lights I had seen on the drive in. So, I grabbed the camera and pulled Brad over in the direction of the library to catch a few, last-minute pictures.

What caught my eye were several Lite Brite-style ad boards for local businesses, each lining the sidewalk to draw in visitors. Festive as they were, the boards reminded me of the 2007 controversy with Turner Broadcasting, where promotional light boards were distributed around Boston to promote upcoming episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Of course, the boards in front of the Novi Public Library were much more obvious in their sponsorships and promotional attempts; it was ATHF's less-than-cordial cartoon characters that made people think there were bombs littering the city.

Not-so-classy photo alert:
A board from the 2007 Aqua Teen Hunger Force Campaign
(I am happy to report that this was not present at Light up the Night in Novi).

After photos, it was time for dinner, so we left to finish the evening with food and a movie in Farmington. Great way to end a December evening, but I kind of wish I hadn't chowed down on so much free food beforehand. (Only kind of, though . . . it's really difficult to pass up free chicken wings).
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