Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Minnesota's State Code Should Be: BRRRRRR

So here's the deal. We left Wisconsin and we followed the snowy road Northwest to our final destination for the day: Grand Rapids, MN. It was a balmy 10 degrees when we arrived with about 5 inches of snow on the ground.

L: What is this? Why, the Welcome to Minnesota sign! R: And this? Evidently, the SIDEVIEW of the WTM sign. Photos comliments of Tara Giordano. Thanks, Tara!

Tara, Andrew and I took off into 'town' to do a little exploring...and soon came to found out that the real claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Dorothy herself, JUDY GARLAND! And not only that, but luck would have it that the 'homestead' - the historic house of her birthplace (which is now a museum...) is right next door to the Country Inn & Suites that we are staying out. Evidently, the Garlands chose to build where they did because countless numbers of guests could come visit and stay here at the Inn. Well, that...and there is a Target and Applebee's across the street. Judy loved her riblets and Asian chicken salad. Oh - and Tara loved the yarn store in town.

So here is the big downtown area of Grand Rapids. This building, the old school, is now a building with local artisans shops. Yarns, fabric, quilts, etc. You want it? They've got it! PLUS - Auntie Em's Coffee Shop and Oz Gift Shop. The blessings never end.

So that's it. As an homage to our host, the great state of Minnesota, we are sitting in my room tonight watching the mocumentary, DROP DEAD GORGEOUS...which takes place in beautiful (yet fictional) Mt. Rose, Minnesota. And if you're going to ask if we're loving it, we'll answer in the language of the locals: "Yah! You betcha!"
3 shows tomorrow...the fun seems to never stop!

L: Here we are, enroute to Grand Rapids. PLEASE NOTICE ME READING! I started the new book last night, read our WHOLE trip today and FINISHED it! SO GOOD! R: Eric mistakes Tara's new scarf she just knitted for a hat...and promptly tries it on. Lookin' good.

So...we found some holiday fun on our little jaunt around downtown today. Here Andrew, Tara and I show off the sexy reindeer antlers we found at Claire's in the hoppin' mall here in Grand Rapids.

And what entry would be complete without an ART shot? By Matt. Of Matt.


This sign is on the front door of our hotel...

Adieu to Madison...and Bonjour to More Cheesecakes!

Hi everyone!
We are officially done with Madison. We had our 2 school shows today, and they went well. The venue was BEAUTIFUL! I did forget to snap a picture of it, but I have found it on line at the website for the OVERTURE CENTER (which is where we performed.) Both of our shows were great - we had good audiences and just a few 'incidents' here and there. What incidents, you ask? Well - our first show, I'm going to be honest, was NOT a banner one for me. I knocked Tara's golden ticket out of her hand, the propeller fell OFF my Augustus hat when we were in the factory, and SOMEHOW, while falling into the vat of chocolate, I had a little split in the seat of my pants. THANK GOODNESS it wasn't when I wave my butt for all the kids to see! There would have been complete pandemonium in that theater! But regardless...we got through that show. And the second show, the only real 'incident' was when Tara decided that she was going to try and SKIP the entire Mike Teavee scene and just go straight to the finale! She normally comes off from the Oompa number, grabs the big TV with Jackie and then walks it on stage. And then at the end of the show, she comes off from the LAST Oompa number, and walks back on stage to move one of the set pieces into it's final place. WELL...Jackie stood waiting at the TV, I stood waiting behind the platform while Tara kind of wandered around on stage for a second, looking complete lost. Finally, I whispered, 'TARA. TELEVISION.' And we were BACK on course. But I would say that after 80-some performances, that was Tara's first mistake, so she's golden!
The rest of the day was a couple of extra hours in Madison, with all of us walking around State Street for one last romp...and then the drive NORTHWEST to Eau Claire. We don't actually perform here in Eau Claire...just a stop over on our way to Grand Rapids, Minnesota tomorrow. (And yes...you read that right...Grand Rapids, MINNESOTA. Please don't ask if I mean Michigan. Because I don't.) (There was some SNAP in that last statement...my apologies.)
Jackie and I headed to have lunch at a mexican restaurant on State Street called FRIDA'S - named after and decorated for the artist Frida Kahlo. We were joined a little later by Tara, Andrew and Eric...and I think everyone had a nice time. The food was good - and all my stars aligned for a CHEESECAKE ENTRY! It was a return to our Tulsa-days, and the dish was called FRIED CHIMI CHEESECAKE. The presentation was stunning...the cheesecake was good...and the final picture and resort are below.

Looked great...tasted good...earns a high 6 on the MASE. The fried Tulsa Cheesecake put THIS concoction to shame.

And upon our arrival here to Eau Claire, we headed to the hotel restaurant and bar, called the Green Mill, established in 1935, and to my SURPRISE, there was a cheesecake on the menu that we decided we had to try. This one was the SKYSCRAPER CHEESECAKE, and per Kelly, our bartender friend with the insider tips, she promised it was a tall piece-o-cake. Again, presentation was stellar...the cheesecake was fair...and the final picture and report are below.

Tall? Yes. (Although Kelly, Bartender, said she was surprised...most of the time the pieces are TALLER. Scandal!) Good looking? You betcha. As good as it looks? NOT even close. This entry scores a 5 on the MASE...which could be due to the core of the piece being frozen. Who does that?

Tomorrow...290 miles of FUN...with high possibilities of snow/wintery mix and high winds.
My DVD player is charged...the DVD's are lined up and ready for viewing...and sadly, we are ready to wave good-bye to the great state of Wisconsin. Thanks for the cheese...and a ton of fun!

Tara and Jackie enjoy lunch and time together at Frida's Mexican Restaurant. Frida looks on in the background...

Part of the gang at the Green Milll, Established 1935, tonight...raising their glasses to the magic and hospitality of Wisconsin!

So...this has nothing to do with much of anything listed above...BUT, I had to show you that I bought the follow up to A Million Little Pieces - because I loved the first book so much. I got to my hotel here in Eau Claire today, checked my email, and my friend, Shanna Doak at WSB, told me she was reading this. WELL, I ran RIGHT to Borders, found the book and picked it up! (And it was 30% off. CHRISTMAS MIRACLES ABOUND!) I started it tonight, and the first page is very good. Report to follow.....

Monday, November 28, 2005

Madison Madness and a COTU*

An art-shot of the Capitol Dome. It was a rainy-misty-foggy night. And it turned out looking very cool.

Hey everyone -
The long weekend is winding down to an end, and we are in our hotel in Madison, packing up and getting ready to hit the road tomorrow after our 2 shows. We are heading Northwest - next stop: MINNESOTA! And my teeth are already chattering!
We have had one heck of a time in Madison. For those of you familiar with this gem of a city, I'm hoping you agree. For those of you who have never been, find a reason to come check it out! We are right downtown on the Capitol Loop, and our hotel overlooks the beautiful Wisconsin Capitol Building. We are 2 blocks from the beginning of State Street - the HAPPENING street that runs between the Capitol and the UW-Madison campus. State Street is shopping, restauranting, movies, coffee shops, etc. PLUS - our performance space, The Overture Center, sits on State Street. So since we arrived last Wednesday, the only real driving we've had to do is to the movie theater and back...so it's been nice to be able to come and go.

The view of the Wisconsin State Capitol, out of Eric's window. Picture compliments of Eric Thompson's picture taking.

A view of the Capitol from down State Street.

A quick run-down of the highlights of Madison is as follows: the beautiful Capitol Building, Great Dane Pub, Angelic Brewery, Pizza Extreme, Pop Deluxe (fun shop), Triangle Market, State Street Brats, Laundry 101, all the popcorn shops, cheap movies, and (according to Elisa) The Company Store Outlet. The food has been STELLAR - the people have been AMAZINGLY friendly (except for the crazy lady yelling at someone on her cell phone by our dressing rooms today...who said, in the best Wisconsin accent, "Well excuse the hell out of me for working 2 jobs, Mr. Rich Man.") - and we got SNOW! It has been so much fun!
*I had 3 SPOTTING of 3 different CASE OF THE UNFORTUANES while I was here in Madison...but UNLUCKY for me, I couldn't get my camera out in time for 2 of them. And they were super unfortunate. BUT - tonight, I look up at the laundromat, and fate delivered into my direct path a candidate for your consideration. This dude HAS to know that the hair-do, the boots, the army jacket...they just aren't WORKING for him. I hope the pictures capture the unfortunateness of it all. And I'm going to say - capturing these things is a LOT harder than I thought it would be. AND factor in not getting CAUGHT snapping the photos. It's a craft I'm honing...that's for SURE! Enjoy!

I mean...the hair. You're seeing that right...SHORN like a sheep. And the other side was the same...so I'm PRETTY sure we can assume that when he's feeling REALLY crazy...he spikes it up into a mohawk of emotion. And...did I mention the guy looked 40?

Special thanks go out to: Dan Weber, an old high school friend, who in a previous post recommended Pizza Extreme. I had the deep dish Chicago-style, Sir Weber. Delicious. To my old friend Ben Bennett...a Wisconsin-native and my e-tour guide...from the Brats to the Capitol, all of your recommendations were SPOT ON! Your city showed me a great time, my friend. And I will speak its praises forever more. Um...actually...that's about it. OH! The only thing I did have a problem with in Madison: FINDING CHEESECAKE. And finally, at the 11th hour, TONIGHT, before leaving, I found a pumpkin cheesecake at Hawks Restaurant - ON STATE STREET - and you can get the details below...but know that I'm leaving happy.

This pumpkin cheesecake was worth the wait. I give it a high 8 on the MASE. What would've made it better? A thicker crust. A LARGER slice. And better whip cream. I don't know what was wrong with it, but it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. But the cheesecake itself was light and tasted like pumpkin pie batter. Amazing flavor.

2 shows tomorrow - a drive to Eau Claire, WI - a sleep over and then an all-day drive on Tuesday into Minnesota. We are at about 3 weeks until we close the book on this Fall portion of the tour...and the next 3 weeks are going to be cold, whirlwind and FUN!
Oh - and for those who are wondering...we are still doing the 'altered show' - but today, since the doctor told Jen to be off her feet, we did the show with Jen in a wheel chair. And for the most part, it was pretty seemless. PLUS I'm sure that the audience members were hailing the Kennedy Center's Equal Opportunity Policy. A minority AND a wheelchair performer? How progressive!
Stories from Minnesota to follow......

Eric and Elisa celebrate the snowfall we got, the day after Thanksgiving, with a good ol' fashioned SNOWBALL FIGHT!

after the fight comes the make-up. Couples welcome.

L: Who did we run into out on the streets? TORG! And in shorts, as always...snow or sun! R: During the Friday snowstorm, Eric tries to re-create a RENT moment for us. Gladly, it didn't work.

L: The world-famous BRAT from State Street Brats. Even as a non-fan of brats, there were right tasty. R: Jackie celebrates the NEON lights at the County Courthouse. I mean...neon and justice? Weird.

En-route to the movies, Puppetmaster Chris tries to warm up in the cold van.

Here is Elisa, hanging at the Pizza Extreme, waiting for my pizza to be ready to go.

L: Jackie opens her SURPRISE 'WELCOME BACK' gift from Matt outside the Urban Outfitters! What could it be? R: Why, it's a T-shirt that seems to be made with Jackie in mind! Bottom: The FINAL fashion show for the shirt.


Eric and I went to do our laundry tonight at Laundry 101! It's a laundromat. It's a internet cafe. It's a bar. It's a dry cleaners. It's an arcade. It's the COOLEST LAUNDROMAT I'VE BEEN TO IN MY ENTIRE LIFE! And USA Today SEEMS to agree. I miss it already....

More Laundromat. I know- I look THRILLED to be there. Believe me, I REALLY was. It was like the DISNEYLAND of Laundromats. PLUS the had the BEST of Will Farrell SNL DVD's playing. Heaven. And is that a beer I see in Eric's hand? At the laundromat? Zany.

Today, the Jen got a new costume shipped to her...and Tara wanted to do a quick photo shoot with it on. Just a few changes...like the neon patterns added to the body suit. Here are the best 5 shots from the 45-frame shoot. (If you watch them REALLY fast on the camera, you can see her in ACTION!)

Work it out, GIRL!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Giving Thanks In Madison

Hi Friends.
Thanksgiving 2005 has come and gone...and the cast of Willy Wonka has a very chill (both literally AND figuratively) day. The high today here in Madison was at about 18 degrees...but does that really matter when you get to sleep until noon, watch TV the rest of the day, and go eat a big ol' Thanksgiving dinner with NONE of the clean up? I think not.
Puppetmaster Chris found a local restaurant called Essen House - which is a German restaurant in Madison - that serves a full family-style Thanksgiving dinner. Since Jackie left and Emily wasn't feeling well, it ended up being 10 of us at the Essen House. The food was as good as we were going to find away from home...they brought out a full turkey and all the sides - mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables, rolls and stuffing - and the ended the dinner with either a pumpkin or apple pie. So foodwise, we were set. The real 'tragedy' of the day was our waitress...who really could've cared less if we were there or not...and spent as LITTLE time as possible helping us. But we had a nice dinner - and we're all looking forward to spending Thanksgiving 2006 together, where ever we all are. HAHAHAHA. For your viewing pleasures, a photo gallery of all us turkeys is below.
After the dinner, a group of us went to the movies. 3 different movies were viewed - but I am only going to talk about the movie that I saw. It was RENT...and it was NOT good. On the M.A.S.E., I gave it a low 4. Now I hear those of you out there who know I didn't like the stage show saying, 'You didn't like the stage show...' - and that would be true. BUT - Eric, who did like the stage show did NOT like the movie either. It was ridiculous...with a lot of dumb 'changes' for the film. Hated it. And that fact that it was 2 hours and 15 minutes did NOT help.
To close up shop tonight, I want to leave a list of the things I am thankful for this year. This is not a final list...just a list of random thoughts as I type. If you find something not listed, and you want to find out if I AM thankful for it or not, please don't hesitate to ask.

-I'm thankful the movie, RENT, finally ended...it felt like it never would.
-I'm thankful that I have a family that keeps in touch and that we genuinely enjoy talking to each other.
-I'm very thankful for the wonders of technology, and that it allows me to keep in touch with friends and family.
-I'm thankful for the Canon Digital Elph...and my wonderful friends at WSB for the gift!
-I'm thankful that I have been given the chance to use my talents to chase my dream...and that it allows me to explore this area of the country.
-I'm thankful for the freedoms I enjoy in America...and that there are people who have fought and died for my freedoms.
-I'm thankful that I was raised by parents who taught me the importance of my faith - and how to live a life based in it.
-I'm very thankful that I have friends that know how to laugh and keep me grounded.
-I'm thankful for really GREAT TV's show that come out as DVD sets later (Need I mention FAME again? Or Arrested Development? American Dreams? SO thankful!)
-I'm thankful that our tour has a tech crew who is good at what they do!
-I'm thankful for a stage manager who continually is willing to go to bat for us as a cast.
-I'm thankful to have a cast to work with that I consider friends, as well.
-I'm thankful to have nieces and nephews who are my friends and who continually keep me entertained.
-I'm thankful for the opportunity I've had to live abroad.
-I'm thankful for the jobs I have had...for what I've learned from each of them...and for the people those jobs have brought into my life.
-I'm thankful someone invented the airplane. I don't mind driving places...but I LOVE flying.
-I'm thankful that I have music in my life...and that I have been taught how to make music.
-I'm thankful that Tara has been on the first half of the tour...so that we can say we 'knew her when.'
-I'm thankful that Chris gets to do the 2nd half of the tour...he's a good sports friend.
-I'm thankful that Jackie can always make me laugh...even if it's onstage sometimes.
-I'm thankful that Andrew puts up with me in our room...and let's me watch my news.
-I'm thankful that Jen does as much as I do in this show...so SOMEONE really understands.
-I'm thankful that Eric is adventurous and forgiving...for our Springfield fun and for bad Reese Witherspoon movies.
-I'm thankful that Elisa is such a good listener...especially among our group of talkers.
-I'm thankful for mistakes, struggles, heartbreak and loss...they have made me stronger, wiser and, hopefully, better.

Thanks to all of YOU - for your support of all of us on this tour! I think I speak for everyone when I say how blessed we are for the support we get from you!
Best -


The 3 stages of our turkey: New. Not New. Completely Done.

Elisa is SHOCKED at the golden goodness of our turkey. Chris gives the international sign to our waitress for "BRING OUR DANG TURKEY OUT!"

Everyone deep in thought and shoveling it in.

Elsa and Todd raise a fork and a mug to the things they are thankful for in 2005. Chris gets ready to do the same.

Torg works on stripping the turkey clean.

Andrew and Chris...looking very content post-dinner.

More happy customers...mainly because no one had to do dishes!

Eric and I give our best 'Bring On The Pie' faces.