Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sites to Help You Survive Without Wheels in Beantown

As I near my anniversary of my move to Boston three years ago, I've been thinking of all of the services I have found that have made things a little easier. Here are a few services and sites that can help you get things done if you are carless in Boston:
  • RunMyErrand - I did an earlier post about this site, and while I still think that using it all of the time can get rather pricey, it is a great concept. Plus it has wonderful customer service (I actually had someone who worked for the site call me to get my feedback), and the runners I have used have all been very prompt and professional. If you need a little help getting things in the city, I highly recommend using this!
  • Zipcar - Despite my fear of driving in Boston, Zipcars can be very helpful. You rent cars for a set amount of time (anywhere from an hour to a day), and gas, parking, and insurance are all included! Also, the cars are located throughout the city, so it is pretty easy to locate one close to you.
  • and - Public transportation in Boston can be a little unpredictable, but it is still the cheapest way to get around the city. Both of these sites have tools that let you plan out your trip using the bus, subway, and commuter rail. Just be certain to check out the Red Sox schedule if you want to avoid insanity on the Green Line.
  • Roche Bros Grocery Delivery - For a long time, I was convinced that Peapod was the only delivery grocery company in town. However, I found Roche Brothers and am now a complete convert. Besides having a bigger selection of items that Peapod, the delivery people are very courteous and the entire company seems very concerned with the customer. I also recommend their stores, which a friend of mine described as "Whole Foods quality with Shaw's prices."
  • Foodler and GrubHub - Sometimes you just don't feel like cooking. However, food delivery is just a few mouse clicks away. Both of these sites show various restaurants that deliver in the Boston area. When you enter your address, they will only show the restaurants delivering to your area. It doesn't get much more simple than that!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

One More Great Michael Jackson Moment

"Rockin' Robin" - Look at how young and happy they all seem to be! If you look at this video on YouTube, there are some funny/ sad comments by viewers who couldn't figure out which one was Michael (for people who were only familiar with MJ in the 1990s and later, this is an understandable mistake).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Remembering Michael Jackson's Best Moments

Although the past two decades of Michael Jackson's life have been the stuff that tabloid dreams are made of (the marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, the charges of child molestation, the bizarre personal behavior), I have been heartened to see that the various news specials that have aired tonight have also acknowledged his incredible talent as well as his immense influence on music and popular culture. Before the internet and the iPod, Michael had a following that, at the time, seemed impossible to comprehend.

During the 1980s and very early 1990s (before the insanity of his private life started to eclipse his career), everything that Jackson did was a major event. For a moment, try to forget all of the craziness and scandal in his later years and enjoy some of my favorite MJ memories:

"Do the Bartman" - Besides guest starring on an episode of The Simpsons ("Stark Raving Dad"), Jackson also decided to write a song for Bart. While it is one of his lesser-known compositions, this song and video always makes me smile, if only because it was a combination of two titans of pop culture (at the time).

"Black or White" - I remember when this video premiered (it was a HUGE deal). While the song and the ending of the video (where Michael vandalizes a car) were criticized, this is one of last songs Michael released that I truly enjoyed.

"The Way You Make Me Feel" - Immortalized in the insane final ballet in the movie Center Stage, "The Way You Make Me Feel" is one of the quintessential Jackson tunes. While the video is kind of creepy (Michael is essentially stalking a girl with a bunch of guys egging him on), seeing him dance almost makes up for the squick factor.

"Smooth Criminal" - Superior to the Alien Ant Farm version in every way.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

RunMyErrand: Making Life in Boston a Little Easier (for a Price)

Although I have lived in Boston for several years now and enjoy the fact that I don't have to deal with car ownership (no insurance, no parking woes, no paying for gas), there are times when having a car would be very helpful. Despite my ZipCar membership, I am a little skittish about driving in Boston, particularly areas that I do not know very well. Consequently, that can make life a little difficult.

However, through the magic that is the ZipCar newsletter, I found out about, a website that allows people to sign up and post errands, such as picking up dry cleaning or dropping off a package. The runners who do the errands are then paid in credits the senders have purchased through the website. So far I've used the service twice and have had a positive experience both times.

Of course, this convenience comes with a price. According to the site, most errands go for 10 to 15 credits (each credit equals $1.00). The price is determined by level of difficulty, location, and the time it will take to complete the errand. You set your price, but you can also make it negotiable in order to entice runners to sign up for your errand. When you purchase credits through the site, there is an additional fee added. However, the upside to all of this is that you don't need to have cash on hand to pay your runner, and you can even pay the runner for unpaid purchases they pick up using the credits.

While this isn't something that I will use frequently since it can get a little pricey, it does make a great alternative to using a ZipCar to run a simple errand. As an added bonus, RunMyErrand is currently offering the first errand ($10.00 or under) for free. If you are carless in Boston or just need an occasional hand running errands, RunMyErrand might be the answer to some of your problems.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The 2009 Tony Awards: Proving that You Can Be "Whelmed"

Finally, here is my take on the dizzying highs and terrifying lows of the 2009 Tonys:

The Highlights:
  • I have never been a big fan of Hair, but their showing at the Tonys won me over. "Hair" was fun and energetic, and "Let the Sunshine In" was transcendent. Watching the cast run into the aisles, dance with the other nominees and audience members (Elton John looked so happy), and throw flowers was a nearly perfect moment. Overall, the cast's overwhelming enthusiasm and passion were infectious, and I liked how humble the entire cast and production team seemed, even as they won for Best Revival of a Musical. I also loved how happy Gavin Creel looked when he was giving a standing ovation to the three actors who won Best Actor in a Musical for Billy Elliot. That's class.
  • Neil Patrick Harris wasn't given much to do, but he was a great host (for the little time that we saw him). He was smart, charming, funny, and subtle, which made him a breath of fresh air after the insanity that was Whoppi. His closing number was also fantastic. Dear Tony producers: Please bring NPH back next year (and let him do more)!
  • Angela Lansbury's speech was lovely - very articulate and gracious. She also did a wonderful job presenting Jerry Herman the Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Anne Hathaway looked so damn happy to be there, and it was nice to see a young, talented Hollywood actress (I know, she started off in theatre, but still) be so excited at the ceremonies. Whether she was introducing "Hair," enjoying Liza's performance, or just reacting to whatever was happening onstage (the cameras kept cutting to her for some reason), she looked like she was psyched.
  • I know that this is complete schadenfreude, but I'm convinced that the theatre gods were smiting Bret Michaels. I've watched his collision with the set numerous times on YouTube, and it never fails to make me giggle like a schoolgirl.
  • The three boys who won for Billy Elliot (David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish) were adorable. Even though they were a little flustered, it was obvious that they had rehearsed what they were going to say. More importantly, their speech was heartfelt.
The Lowlights - There were so many, but here are the worst of the worst (at least in my book)
  • The technical aspects of the show were atrocious! As a former theatre techie, I hope that someone (perhaps multiple someones) got fired for the shoddy, shoddy work that was done on Tony night. The horrible sound problems, the ADHD-inducing camera work, and other technical snafus were inexcusable, especially when you consider that this show was for THEATRE AWARDS!!! I loved how Audra McDonald and Marcia Gay Hayden were very quick to point out the technical problems that occurred during their brief segments. Honestly, I've worked with high school kids who might have done a better job.
  • Usually the Tonys does a pretty good "In Memorium" segment. In past years, the audience was very respectful (unlike the Oscars, no one clapped until the end of the montage). However, this year's was painful on several levels. In addition to the producer/ director's questionable choice of using a choral version of "What I Did for Love," the camera work made it impossible for us at home to see who was being shown on the screens. Also, for the first time in my memory, the audience clapped for specific people during the montage, which made a potentially moving moment a morbid popularity contest.
  • Oh Alice Ripley - I and many others had a great deal of good will towards you, and you managed to diminish it or completely kill it with your acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Musical. Yelling at the audience was jarring and unnecessary (for a moment I wondered if she was channeling her mentally unstable character from Next to Normal), and a lot of people thought the entire speech was condescending and pretentious. This is unfortunate because you are talented, and from all reports, your Tony was well-deserved. Next time, work being likable instead of insufferably arrogant and loud.
  • While featuring some touring shows might have seemed like a good idea in theory, the reality was a terrible, confusing, off-key mess. The worst of the three definitely was Mamma Mia!, but Jersey Boys and Legally Blonde the Musical were awful as well. Jersey Boys needs to be retired from the Tonys for at least a decade or two - according to one site, the show has been featured three times in the past four years. There were other shows, like the straight plays, that deserved to be featured.
  • The straight plays continue to get the shaft. While they actually got to have a tiny clip on the broadcast this year, the clips were less than 20 seconds each (I got my stopwatch out and timed them). I would much rather see the straight plays get some respect than suffer through another damn performance of "Dancing Queen."

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Tonys (part III)

For those of you in cyber world who want even more about the Tonys, here are my thoughts on the production numbers from the "Best Revival of a Musical" shows for your reading pleasure:
  • West Side Story - WSS opted to go the classic route with "The Dance at the Gym." However, I've got mixed feelings about this. On the plus side, Jerome Robbins's choreography was still a feat to behold, the cast was very talented, and this number was a great way to incorporate the entire company in a very organic way. It also did a good job showcasing the leads (particularly Karen Olivio), and even Tony and Maria got a nice moment in the frenzy. Unfortunately, the camera work was sub par (an ongoing theme in this year's broadcast), which made the translation to television a little odd. Also, compared with the great version of the same number done at the Tonys for Jerome Robbins' Broadway, it didn't quite live up to its potential greatness. All in all, however, I thought it was one of the better numbers of the night. It was infinitely understandable and accessible, even people who aren't that familiar with the story (are there people not familiar with WSS?).
  • Guys & Dolls - Poor G&D. Not only were they critically trounced, they also had some horrible sound issues, resulting in a stage hand running onstage at the beginning of the number to give Tituss Burgess a new mic. Their offering was the perennial favorite "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," and Burgess recovered admirably to deliver the number, but the number seemed a little low-energy. What could have been an electrifying showstopper was only "meh." Another problem was the insane backdrop - it was unnecessary, and I initially thought that the Tony crew screwed up and were showing a screensaver behind the cast. Sadly, this was a G&D production choice, and it shows us just why this revival didn't work out so well. Also, why did show's producers decide to not use their leads (Lauren Graham, Oliver Platt, Craig Bierko, and Kate Jennings Grant)?
  • Hair - The highlight of the monstrous opening number was Hair's giddy "Let the Sunshine In." Sadly, since they had already used that song, they had to go with something else for their main number, and so they turned to the show's title song. On the plus side, the cast was very energetic and their enthusiasm and excitement was palpable (please take a lesson from them, touring companies - they are the real thing). I wasn't crazy about the staging - personally, I thought that they either should have stayed on the stage or had more actors start out in the audience. However, Gavin Creel managed to practically molest James Gandolfini (which seems like a double-edged affront since Gandolfini is bald) without getting a hit placed on him, so it was successful on that account. Best line regarding this goes to Dave Itzkoff on the NYT live blog: "Yeah, you go up to James Gandolfini and run your fingers through his scalp. I dare you."
Coming up in a future post: the highlights, lowlights, and WTF? moments. Stay tuned!

The 2009 Tonys (Part II): Now with 50% More Liza

Looking for more reviews/ snark on the Tonys? Well, here is my second post (the first post can be found here) on the 2009 Tony awards broadcast, featuring the "Best New Musical" production numbers:
  • Shrek the Musical - This should be the poster-child for why a good movie does not always make a good musical. Besides not featuring the talents of Sutton Foster and Brian D'Arcy James (who were both nominated for Tonys), the entire Duloc number seemed more suited for an amusement park than Broadway. Even the little "Welcome to Duloc" song, which was hysterical in the movie, fell flat. However, I must give props to Christopher Sieber for being able to dance and do an entire show on his knees. That's impressive!
  • Rock of Ages - This show, along with Shrek, filled the "Never in a thousand years" requirement for "Best Musical." Every year, there is at least one (this year there were two) musical that most people with even a basic familiarity with Broadway knows has a snowball's chance in hell of winning "Best Musical." The production number, which included Mitchell Jarvis approaching Liza Minelli, was a hot mess. It was not helped by the fact that we didn't get an introduction to this number but were just thrown in without any notice (imagine watching a Merchant-Ivory film only to have a reel from This is Spinal Tap spliced in for good measure). Even my love for "Don't Stop Believing" couldn't save this number.
  • Next to Normal - I liked this number; it was not splashy or gimmicky (I'm looking at you Rock of Ages and Shrek), but it was very moving and translated well to television. The end of the number was a little confusing, but a quick internet search helped. The actors were great, and Alice Ripley really hit it out of the park in this number. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of my respect for her during her Tony acceptance speech, but more on that later.
  • Billy Elliot - I really, really wanted to like you. Your creative team was so delightfully articulate and British, and your three young stars were adorable. However, what the hell was up with the number you did last night? It had some very creative choreography, and the child who played Billy is an incredible dancer, but for the life of me, I really didn't get it. Furthermore, I don't think it did a good job of selling the show to the general viewing audience. Some of the short clips they showed when the show won its various awards and even the snippet in the opening number did a much better job of giving audiences a glimpse of what the musical is really like (I loved the little clip of Billy dancing in a row of tutu-wearing girls).
Do you still want more? My take on the "Best Revival of a Musical" numbers, and the ceremony's highlights and lowlights are still to come! I hope to have them posted no later than 6/10.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Thoughts on the Tonys (part I)

For me, the past few years with the Tonys has been sort of like prom (or graduation or any other "big day" that gets hyped up). I get all excited about it, but the event inevitably lets me down. While I can certainly stand to watch it the entire way through, which is more than I can say for the Oscars, my Tony love has been slipping, and this year's ceremony did little to help revive it:

The host - Oh, Neil Patrick Harris. You are capable of much, much more than the producers, directors, etc. of the show allowed you to do. The closing number (which was very witty, funny, and entertaining) and that shot at Jeremy Piven gave us a glimpse of what the show might have been like if you were allowed more of a part. (For all that is holy, Tony people, you let Whoppi do more last year. And don't get me started on the Tony's seeming obsession with Hugh Jackman).

Anyway, when NPH was on, he was funny, subtle, and cute. He needed to be featured a lot more. According to the live blog at the New York Times, NPH got the biggest press room applause of the night.

The opening number - I admit, I missed the first minute of the opening number because of a washer/ dryer issue, and I ran into my apartment just in time to see a child from Billy Elliot fly into the rafters. That said, watching the opening was very confusing, and I don't think that this can entirely be attributed to my belated start. The pairing of the shows (why juxtapose West Side Story with Guys & Dolls?) didn't make any sense, and the sound issues were out of control. Mikes went in and out, the orchestra overpowered the singers, and at one point, you could hear the people in the audience rather than the people onstage.

What else? We get the craziness of the entire Shrek cast, appearances by Stockard Channing and Dolly Parton, and Bret Micheals of Poison crashing into the set. We also get Liza, looking good but sounding iffy (Anne Hathaway is still excited to see her), and the entire cast of Hair to bring everyone back to sing "Let the Sunshine In." With the ending aside, the rest of the number is just huge and confusing and hard to hear. This is might happen if you gave Cecil B. DeMille Nyquil and then told him to come up with an opening number for the Tonys. NPH says that this is the most expensive opening number in Tonys history. This is a sign that perhaps the show needs to rethink its strategy.

The "Touring Musical" production numbers - Last year, the Tony producers started a dangerous trend by allowing musicals that were not nominated for "Best Musical" or "Best Revival of a Musical" do a number on the show. This year, in order to promote the touring shows (and perhaps to get more people to watch the Tony awards?), someone decided to let shows that are currently touring the U.S. to present a number. And yes, the result was just as boring as it sounds:
  • Mamma Mia! - When they announced that this was going to be the first "Touring Musical" number, I knew that it was going to be a long night. Besides singing the ubiquitous "Dancing Queen," the three women performing did not seem at all excited to be there and sounded rather off-key. On a shallower note, I never realized how hideous some of the costumes for the show are. Since it is a show that has high gay-appeal, you would think they would have better outfits.
  • Legally Blonde the Musical - Like the monster at the end of a horror movie, this is a musical that just won't go away. While Becky Gulsvig, who is starring in the tour as Elle, was pretty good, the number probably didn't make any sense if you weren't familiar with the musical. The funniest part of this number is that, when the camera cuts to Bebe Neuwirth at the end, she is doing the polite smile and clap even though you can tell she isn't all that into it.
  • Jersey Boys - Actually, this is probably the monster at the end of the movie. Why won't this show go away? I've never liked the jukebox musical, so I'm pissed that the Tonys have to devote more time to it. Adding to my anger: the niggling thought that this is the same number they did when Jersey Boys performed because it was nominated for "Best Musical" (it wasn't the same number, but it was so damn similar that I don't think it matters) and the fact that they played off the three boys from Billy Elliot, who were so delightfully flustered but still gave good speeches, so that we could be subjected to this dreck. Dammit Tony Awards, get your act together!

The Tonys: Whoppi Free Since 2009

So the Tony Awards were this evening, and I am feeling a little let down from the entire experience. The entire three-hour extravaganza wasn't bad, it just wasn't all that good either. The host, Neil Patrick Harris, felt like a non-entity for most of the show, there were technical issues aplenty, many of the numbers didn't make a lot of sense, and the straight plays still are the red-headed stepchildren of the Tony Awards. However, there were some good moments (and perhaps even some great ones, such as NPH's awesome closing number). Stay tuned for my thoughts on the ceremony - I will have the first post up by tomorrow!

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Thin Line Between Love & Hate: My Complicated Relationship with Facebook

I recently had to join Facebook because of my job. Until my boss informed me that I needed to join, I had adamantly resisted. Although I may be deluded in some portions of my life, one thing that I understand about myself is that my life is not interesting enough to have regular updates (I don't Twitter for the same reason). Consequently, when I first started using Facebook, I was amazed at how many people say what's on their mind on a very regular basis. This site (and other social networking sites) also presents issues regarding how I (or anyone really) is perceived. Horror stories, such as this article, have made me more than a little cautious (this is also why I try not to put any identifying info on this blog).

On the positive side, I can certainly see the benefits of Facebook. It makes networking much, much easier, and if I ever get the desire to find a guy I had a crush on in high school, it is ridiculously easy. It also allows you to ask a lot of people a general question or to connect (or reconnect) for business or pleasure. All that said, I've been on for approximately 2 weeks, and I have come up with a few more ambiguous thoughts and reactions to Facebook:
  1. Strangers with candy: I've been very surprised by the people who have "friended" me on Facebook. While I have connected with some people I like, I honestly don't know some of my Facebook friends all that well (some are acquaintances or perhaps friends of acquaintances). I suppose that having a lot of friends on Facebook is a status symbol for some people, thus leading them to "friend" anyone who they may vaguely know.
  2. High school was a long time ago: Another issue with "friending" people is finding people I want to friend. I have searched for a few people who I went to high school with, but I have always freaked out and closed the window before I ask for a friend request. Part of this is from the realization that I probably have nothing in common with these people - most of them are married and have children (even though high school was only 11 years ago). The other reason I have is that I don't feel any sort of pressing need to reconnect with my high school friends. I've kept up with the ones I was closest to; the others were nice enough, but I don't want to know every time they get a dog or they pick their children up from school. I am also certain that they don't want to hear about my (non) progress on my dissertation.
  3. I do not remember any of my undergraduate classmates: Even though I spent four years with some of these people (and my school wasn't that big), I honestly cannot recall anyone I would want to "friend." After being inundated by pop culture on how the undergraduate experience is a magical and seminal time in people's lives, this realization makes me a little sad.
  4. Time is not on my side (but it is on other people's): A brief glance at my Facebook page reveals the numerous ways my friends (or "friends") spend their time. Besides the updates to what is on their minds, some of them seem to spend a lot of time on quizzes. Facebook apparently has a quiz for everything. I don't particularly care what color my aura is, nor do I stay awake at night wondering how my friends voted in the toilet paper poll. I'm not judging how people opt to spend their time, but I can't help but think that Facebook could easily before a black hole for time, sucking up seconds, minutes, hours, and days.
Since it is for work, I am going to stay on Facebook. Perhaps I will even grow to like it a bit more. For now, I choose to remain apathetic.