Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: "The Story of Charlotte's Web: E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic"

From past experience, I’ve found that writing a book about another book’s genesis is very difficult. The resulting works are usually somewhere between interesting but unexplored minutiae or gushy biography. Luckily, Michael Sims manages to avoid both pitfalls in The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic. Tracing White’s life from his childhood to his tenure at The New Yorker to his writing of Charlotte’s Web, Sims manages to write a deft and thoughtful examination of the author, his writing style, and his curious, and fascinating, relationship with nature.

Although the book certainly has slow patches (the opening chapters in particular seemed to take a while to get going ), overall it is very enjoyable and incredibly detailed. What’s more, almost everything that Sims includes in the book, from White’s hesitancy regarding romance to his experiences farming in Maine, relates to the book’s ultimate focus. While it might not have been entirely clear when starting the book why Sims opted to describe Samuel White’s manner of speech in the early chapters in such detail, the payoff is seeing the parallels between E. B. White’s father and John Arable, one of the characters in Charlotte’s Web. Even more impressive is that Sims trusts his readers’ patience and intellect; rather than dropping early hints about this, Sims presents the information without apology and only mentions the connection briefly when describing the character later in the book.

All in all, The Story of Charlotte’s Web is a fascinating and insightful look at E. B. White and the factors that led him to write Charlotte’s Web. Sims’s account of White’s life and habits is thorough and well-researched, and his writing clearly conveys his affection and admiration for his subject without being obsequious. Fans of White and Charlotte’s Web will undoubtedly enjoy this book and learn more about the work and man who wrote it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Just Finishing, Currently Reading, and To Be Read

Tired of my book addiction (and worried about the fact that I will probably be moving in the next year), my family banded together and bought me a Nook Simple Touch for my birthday earlier this month. I have to say that I love the simplicity of the design, the portability, and the simple interface. However, while this has definitely slowed down my purchasing of physical books, it hasn't, and won't, stymie it entirely.

Between my Nook and a Barnes and Noble gift card (thanks, Visa points!), I'm up to my eyebrows in books. Here's a list of what I've been reading, what I'm currently reading, and what's coming up on my reading horizon. If there's an asterisk (*) by the book title, that means that I'm thinking about doing a book review on it. If you see a book that you really want reviewed, please feel free to leave a note for me in the comments!

Books I Have Recently Finished:
  • Turkish Delights and Treasure Hunts: Delightful Treats and Games from Classic Children's Books* by Jane Bocket
  • Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey
  • Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume Ages 0 to 22 by Marinaomi
  • Dante's Divine Comedy: A Graphic Adaptation by Seymour Chwast
  • More Show Me How* by Lauren Smith, Derek Fagerstrom, and The Show Me Team
Books I am Currently Reading:
  • The Story of Charlotte's Web: E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic* by Michael Sims - This book will definitely be reviewed because I got it through LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program
  • In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark
Books to Read:
  • Something's Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination by Misha Berson
  • Twenty-Five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity by Thomas C. Foster
  • Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood by Maria Tatar
In light of what I am also doing (working at my off-campus job, analyzing data, preparing for the class I am teaching this fall) this list is a little intimidating. However, I'm hoping to celebrate the July 4th weekend with lots of reading (and possibly a four-day weekend), so I should get through a big chunk of reading during that period. Wish me luck!

Beauty Review: Birchbox Products from June 2011

As I mentioned in my Birchbox post earlier this month, I was stoked about the products in this month's box. Now, several weeks later, that feeling is pretty much the same. I have to admit that there were far more winners than losers in the box, and I am willing to give the product that didn't completely "Wow" me the benefit of the doubt (more on this later). With no further ado, here is a quick rundown of my thoughts on the products.

Laura Gellar Baked Blush N' Brighten in Apricot Berry (Full size [.32 oz] $29.50): This is by far my favorite product in this month's box. Besides being full-size (and thus totally mitigating my guilt over paying a measly $10 for each month's box), this is the perfect summer blush. It packs quite a punch, so only a little is needed. However, despite being very potent, it also looks natural and lovely when applied. The mix of peach/apricot and deeper berry tones works well with my coloring, but I can definitely see this being a universally flattering to all skin tones. I've never tried Laura Gellar before this box, but I'm definitely excited about trying more products from this company.

Kiehl's Ultra Facial Oil Free Lotion (Full size [125 ml] $24.50): It has been a long time since I've used any Kiehl's products, but this moisturizer reminded me why I like their skin care so much. This lightweight, unscented lotion is great for summer and manages to moisturize without being too heavy (or contributing to my skin's oiliness). If you have oily skin, you might want to stick to using this in the evening during the summer months. However, for dry or combination skin, this could be the perfect go-to summer product.

Kate Spade Twirl (Full size [1.7 fl oz] $65): Although I love makeup, I am a bit of a skinflint when it comes to fragrance since I don't use it that often. While I can't see myself buying the full-sized version of Twirl, I really liked the fragrance. It is light, summery, and feminine without being too cloying. If fragrance is your thing, you might really like it.

Xen-Tan Deep Bronze Luxe (Full size [8 fl oz] $39): First, I will say that, if I had to use a self tanner, this is the one that I would use. It was pretty simple to apply, the smell was nice (it had a definite chocolate scent to it), and the tan was natural looking. For someone who usually turns orange when using self-tanner, this is a revelation in itself.

Unfortunately, I had a mini-crisis with this product. However, I can't bring myself to fault it since it was more than likely my ineptitude that led to this issue. After having a pretty good experience ridding myself of the farmer's tan on my arms, I decided to apply the product to my legs to help chase away their paleness. I gave my legs what I thought was an even coating and spent the rest of the evening working. When I woke up the next morning and got in the shower, I noticed that one of my legs was considerably darker than the other one and that the darker leg had noticeable pale patches. A few days of jeans and exfoliating solved this issue, and I'm pretty certain that the problem was me rather than the product.

Herban Essentials Orange Towelettes (Full size [20 towelettes] $15): These towelettes were a nice balance of functional (they helped me get rid of makeup and excess self-tanner) and luxurious (their orange scent seemed very natural and avoided the fake cleaning products smell I was expecting). Although I don't see myself buying the full-sized product since I don't have much of a need for towelettes, I would definitely consider buying them if I traveled more or if I needed individual towelettes to carry around with me for whatever reason.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Foodie Fridays: A Simple but Satisfying Dinner

Waiting for the chicken
The past two weeks have been pretty trying, so I've been trying to keep it simple. This past Wednesday, the weather was awful, and even though I had stopped by The Meat House to pick up some meat (so not a euphemism), I had no idea what to make for dinner. In an attempt to not spend any more money, clear out my fridge, and eat something healthy, I scrounged around my kitchen to see what I could improvise.

Cooking away
While I cooked the house-marinated chicken breast from The Meat House (sauteed in a tablespoon of olive oil), I found some strawberries and mesclun mix I got from the farmer's market last week. To go with the salad, I mixed up a simple salad dressing from olive oil and red wine vinegar (of course, you could use this balsamic vinegar recipe adapted from Mark Bittman's). The resulting meal was simple, fast (it took me less than 10 minutes to cook the chicken, even on my less-than-stellar stove), and incredibly satisfying.
It all comes together!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The 2011 Tonys: Just Because You Try Doesn't mean You Succeed

Since there were only two musicals nominated for "Best Revival of a Musical," I'm going to analyze/snark on the numbers from both the revival musicals and the new musicals in one post. Besides being more expedient (I'm feeling a little guilty for neglecting the Tonys last week), I've found that I didn't have a lot to say about many of the numbers.

The "Best Revival of a Musical" Production Numbers

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Daniel Radcliffe certainly gave it the old college try when leading the cast in a rendition of "The Brotherhood of Man." Even though I'm not a big Harry Potter fan, I was rooting for Radcliffe to do a good job, and I wasn't disappointed. Although he isn't the best singer, I thought that his performance overall was very charming. He has a nice stage presence and is a surprisingly good dancer. The overall staging of the number was good, even though I'm not the biggest fan of  Rob Ashford (seriously, sometimes less is more), and the entire ensemble had good energy. The exception to this was John Larroquette. I'm not certain if he decided to play his character as being preternaturally bored, but he really didn't seem to be enjoying himself at all. My favorite part is, in the last 30 seconds or so of the number, Larroquette is hidden in the back of the formation to disguise the fact that he isn't a dancer and that he isn't really dancing. This, obviously, does not work.

Anything Goes - The show's title song was performed by the lovely and talented Sutton Foster and ensemble. While there wasn't anything wrong with it per se, it managed to be perfectly adequate without being all that memorable or special. I wonder if my ennui with the number in general stems from its overexposure. I feel like I had seen Foster sing and perform "Anything Goes" numerous times (in rehearsal footage, on the show's site, and on various talk shows). Perhaps Foster was feeling the same, since she was missing her trademark spark.

Best Musical Production Numbers

Catch Me if You Can - After a brief appearance and intro by Aaron Tveit, Norbert Leo Butz led the ensemble in "Don't Break the Rules," which many have cited as the high point of the show. Unfortunately, this doesn't speak that well to the show's merits, since my co-bloggers and I found the number very "meh." Unlike "Anything Goes," I don't fault the performers, since Butz and company are giving it their all. Instead, I think that the song in and of itself is flawed, and no amount of showmanship could have saved it. My favorite thought regarding this number comes from The Craptacular's Twitter feed: "Don't Break the Rules" plays a lot less compelling/exciting when its not preceded by like, 40 minutes of boring sh*t."

Sister Act - I have a soft spot for Sister Act (the movie). While Petina Miller has a nice voice and a great stage presence, she and the rest of the sisters weren't enough to make me forget the excellent ensemble in the movie. That said, "Raise Your Voice" wasn't bad, but I don't know if it would convince people to buy tickets. For me, it made me want to get the movie from Netflix rather than go to New York to catch the show.

The Scottsboro Boys - This number presents a conundrum. On one hand, it was well-written, well staged, and well performed by the actors. However, I have a problem with the fact that the number really, REALLY wasn't all that representative of the show as a whole. I don't know if the producers and the director (Susan Stroman) thought that doing a representative number was less important than showcasing the talents of the cast, but it did come off as very strange. Based on the number, you would think that this would be a lighthearted musical about friendship (trust me, it is not).

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon broke with the trend of the evening (and the trend of most musical numbers performed at any given Tony Awards) by not doing a big ensemble number. In fact, "I Believe" is essentially a solo performed by Elder Price, with some unwitting (and very reluctant) assistance from the Ugandans at the end of the number. While I would have liked to have seen Josh Gads be featured in some way (not only was he not in this number, the camera didn't even cut to him when they were announcing the nominees for "Best Actor in a Musical"), I appreciated the break from big production numbers. Andrew Rannells did a wonderful job being believably sincere and appropriately earnest, and he has a great voice. I also thought that, unlike the Scottsboro number, this song perfectly encapsulates The Book of Mormon. After hearing this quasi-power ballad, you would definitely know what you were getting into if you decided to see this show.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Be Right Back

I know I've been an errant blogger this week, and I apologize. I will be posting my final thoughts on the 2011 Tonys soon (I'm aiming for tomorrow). While the delay was unexpected and unintentional (I've had a horrible week), it has given me more time to process the awards ceremony.

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Thoughts on the 2011 Tonys (Part I): The Host and the "Extra" Production Numbers

I've had (almost) 24 hours to ruminate on the Tonys, and while I'm not nearly as pessimistic as I was last night, I'm still somewhat disappointed. It wasn't bad at all, but it was predictable and (on occasion) mind-numbingly boring. With few exceptions, this was not from lack of effort. Neil Patrick Harris sang, danced, and hosted his little heart out, and a lot of people, from Hugh Jackman to Bono to Daniel Radcliffe, were incredibly good sports. Perhaps I was expecting too much (this is an ongoing problem with me and the Tonys); I found the entire show serviceable and competent but not terribly exciting.

The Host - As I said, Neil Patrick Harris did a nice job. While some people might disagree, I would much, much rather watch NPH host than Hugh Jackman (or, God forbid, Sean Hayes, Whoopi Goldberg, or Rosie O'Donnell). He was charming and kept the momentum of the show going for the most part. That said, I do think he was trying too hard. The effort he was putting into being his usual lovable self was almost palpable, and I wanted to give him a hug and tell him to chill for a few moments. However, when he was on (such as the opening number, the hysterical glue joke regarding the War Horse, the showdown between him and Jackman, and even the rap, which was much better than I gave it credit for last night), he was good.

The Opening Number - I liked the idea of having an original number for the opening (rather than a mash-up of all the nominated shows). Besides being somewhat coherent (at least in theory), it also incorporated a lot of the shows without trying too hard. It was cute, but the most memorable part of it was Brooke Shields's epic screw-up that seemed to go on way too long. In fact, I couldn't remember much of the opening until I saw it on YouTube. This is not a good sign. However, it does get kudos for me for having the audacity to have NPH sing about how Broadway isn't just for gays while being hoisted aloft by a bunch of sailors who are shaking their butts in time with the music. That's special (in the best way possible).

The "Extra" Numbers from Shows that Were Not Nominated this Year - Many people argue that the Tonys have become one long commercial for shows (mostly musicals), and the number of extra numbers from shows not nominated doesn't help disprove that theory. Although most of these numbers were not as awful as the extra numbers we've gotten in the past (Young Frankenstein and the intolerable Mamma Mia! numbers come to mind), that doesn't mean they were good.
  • Memphis - Dammit, Tony Awards. Stop making me watch this damn number from Memphis. "Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll" was boring last year, and it was even worse this year. The inclusion of the small children dancing in the aisles only made me surlier, since it was obvious applause bait. If Memphis comes back next year, I might even start praying for the return of Jersey Boys, if only because that show has okay music.
  • Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark - The Spider-Man producers went an interesting route for the number they selected for the Tonys. Rather than focusing on the flying and acrobatics, we got a duet between a very bored-sounding Mary Jane and Peter. I can't help but wonder if they opted for this because 1) the issues with bringing the rigging to the theatre or 2) they wanted to appeal to more traditional audience tastes (See! It has a love story! Just like Oklahoma!). Either way, I'm not convinced this was the best choice. Besides downplaying the comic book aspects of the show, it also proved that hearing other people sing the songs of Bono and The Edge isn't that interesting.
  • Company - I wanted to like "Side by Side by Side," and it wasn't awful, but it wasn't great either. It was mostly "meh" and didn't seem nearly as rehearsed or polished as the version taped by the New York Philharmonic. The inclusion of the three girlfriends was understandable (hey, people need to get their Christina Hendricks fix) but clumsy. That said, I'm still excited about seeing the show this week.

Beauty Review: Sprout Wellness Skin Care

Have you ever looked at what's in your face wash or moisturizer and freaked out because of the long list of unpronounceable ingredients? If so, then the Sprout Wellness skin care line is for you. This company, based out of New York City, is dedicated to using organic, fair trade, and local ingredients whenever possible. It also tends to use a "keep it simple" philosophy, so the ingredient lists are very short and lack polysyllabic ingredients. As an added bonus, most products do not contain animal products, so vegans can use the line without any qualms.

Although I am not a vegan or anyone who is particularly worried about most long ingredients list, I was very intrigued when I saw this feature on Jasmere, so I bought a couple of vouchers and decided to try out several products. I'm including pictures, but please note that the company recently changed their packaging, so these pictures are not representative of the packaging now. Also, I'm listing the current prices, which are more than I paid because the sizes were smaller. The products themselves are the same.

From left to right: Makeup Remover, Sugar Body Scrub, and All-Over Cream
Makeup Remover ($10 for 30 ml): The ingredients for this super-simple makeup remover are sweet almond oil, extra-virgin olive oil, and distilled aloe vera. It is simple to use and pretty effective. I've tried it against my current go-to makeup remover (Lush's 9 to 5), and the results are comparable. It is very gentle and moisturizing, and it manages to get off even the most stubborn eye makeup without scrubbing.

Sugar Body Scrub
Sugar Body Scrub ($22 for 170 ml): I am a sucker for body scrubs, and I really wanted to like this product. Although one of the ingredients listed is coconut oil, the scrub is actually quite dry. You are supposed to mix it with water and then scrub yourself with it. While this sounds good in theory, I didn't find it as effective or as easy to use as scrubs that had a creamier consistency. It wasn't bad, but I wouldn't replace my current body scrub (from The Body Shop) with it. However, it does make a nice (if unexpected) sweet treat if you decide to taste it (it was for research purposes, I promise!).

All-Over Cream
All-Over Cream ($32 for 100 ml): I was skeptical about this product, since commercials and the beauty industry have convinced me that it is unthinkable to use the same lotion on my body and my face. Despite my skepticism, I wanted to try this cream because so many people have raved about it. Luckily, those raves are much deserved, as this thick, rich cream does a lot of things well. Since it was a little heavy to use as a facial moisturizer during the warmer months, I've been using it on my elbows and heels, and they have my skin ready for summer. I'm looking forward to trying this out in the winter to see how it does with the cold, windy weather in the Northeast. Given that a little bit of this cream goes a long, long way, I'm sure I will have my small 2 oz. container for quite a while.

Face Toner & Face Cleanser
Face Cleanser ($24 for 100 ml): If you are used to foaming cleansers, this one is very different. Instead of mixing it with water, you put it on a cotton ball and apply it to your face and neck. Then you rinse it. I admit, I had a difficult time getting used to this type of cleanser, and I never felt like my face was totally clean after using it (this is perhaps just in my mind). That said, my skin felt very soft and fresh. While I don't know if I would use it all the time, it does make a nice, no-fuss way to wash my face, particularly in the morning or on days when I haven't used a lot of makeup.

Face Toner ($24 for 100 ml): This toner is very straightforward. You apply it to a cotton ball and then put it on your face. As someone whose skin manages to be both oily and sensitive, I was very interested in this product. Unfortunately, I found that it was a mixed bag for me. On one hand, it did get any makeup that I missed with the makeup remover and cleanser and it got rid of any excess oil without being too drying. However, the problem was the toner's scent. Since one of the ingredients is apple cider vinegar, a vinegary smell isn't surprising, but the issue I had was the fact that the scent lingered for quite a while. Even after I rinsed my face with cool water, I still thought I smelled a bit like a pickle. If the spicy odor doesn't bother you, then this is a great toner. If you are like me and are sensitive to scent, then you might want to pass this product.

All in all, I was happy with these products and with the company. I highly recommend the Makeup Remover and All-Over Cream, and the other products are good (even if they aren't my cup of tea). The philosophy and business practices of this company are excellent, as is the customer service. Consequently, if you are looking for a gentle, simple, natural skin care line, Sprout Wellness might be right for you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The 2011 Tony Awards: First Reactions

Oh Tony Awards. Every year I think that this year's telecast might be better than last year's, and every year you manage to prove me wrong. It wasn't anything was obviously wrong per se. Unlike past years, the sound wasn't awful and no one got hit in the head with the set. However, it was just so boring that even I (a theatre devotee with an aversion to sports) was tempted to change the channel to the NBA finals just for something more exciting. Even live blogging it with the snarky but reluctant help of my brother and sister didn't make this year's awards any more exciting.

However, I will do some roundup posts on the evening's events, including posts dedicated to the performances for Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical. Stay tuned for critiques, kudos, and snark aplenty later this week.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Live Blogging the 2011 Tony Awards

Friday, June 10, 2011

"The Book of Mormon" Original Cast Recording is On Sale at Amazon

Are you ready for the Tonys? I'm not quite there yet, but I'm getting closer thanks to Amazon, which is offering a digital download of The Book of Mormon original cast recording (please don't call it a soundtrack :) for the bargain price of $1.99. This is an excellent deal if only because you get to hear the awesome "You and Me (But Mostly Me)," a song that pays homage to (or savagely rips on) the power ballads from Wicked. Besides mocking Wicked, a show that I find too overly earnest and bombastic to fully embrace, I love that the song addresses the idea that, in spite of the many "buddy stories" in our culture, the partnership is usually very uneven.

If you want something even more irreverent (and borderline offensive) but still funny, check out "Baptize Me," a song that takes something that sounds like a conventional romantic duet and puts a distinctly unique twist on it.

Foodie Fridays: Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I'm so bad at remembering these Foodie Fridays posts that even I'm embarrassed. To try and make up for my benign neglect, I'm going to give you my favorite pound cake recipe. I made it recently to celebrate my friend L's birthday, and it is an excellent (and almost fool-proof) cake and is perfect for the novice baker. I'm always a little embarrassed when she raves over it, because it is pretty easy.

The recipe is from the addictive SmittenKitchen website. The only changes I made were to get rid of the almond extract (I'm lucky when I have vanilla extract in the kitchen, so almond is out of the question) and halving the recipe. The resulting pound cake is a somewhat craggy loaf of cake that perfumes the kitchen with buttery sweetness. While Deb recommends brushing the cake with simple syrup if you are planning on making the cake ahead of time, I've never done this and the cake is always moist enough.

Cream Cheese Pound Cake (with very minor adaptations from
  • 3/4 cup (1 and 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 package (4 ounces) cream cheese*, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped white chocolate**
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly butter and flour a loaf pan. You can also butter the pan and line it with parchment paper.

2. Place the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl and beat with a mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar, increase the speed to high, and beat until light and airy, at least five minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the vanilla, then the flour and salt all at once. Beat just until incorporated.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and shake lightly to even out the top. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean (approximately 1 hour and 5 minutes in my temperamental oven. If your oven works better than mine, start checking the cake after 50 minutes. Remove it when a toothpick comes out clean).

4. Place the pan on a cake rack and cool for 20 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

*Deb's recipe notes that Philadelphia brand cream cheese is the preferred brand to use in baking because of the lower water content. I've made this cake with both Philadelphia brand and generic cream cheese, and I've never had a problem with it.

**The white chocolate is a nice addition, but it has a tendency to cause the bottom of the cake to get too brown (or caramelize, as L's husband kindly says) in spots when I use it. Smaller shards tossed with a bit of flour should fix this issue.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Burning Questions for the 2011 Tony Awards

The Tonys are coming! The Tonys are coming! Now that the day is almost upon, I'm actually pretty psyched. Besides the fact that I get to virtually watch it (and comment on it) with my siblings, there are a number of burning questions that the awards will answer. Here are a few, in no particular order:

Will Neil Patrick Harris have more to do than he did when he hosted two years ago? My best guess is "Yes" since he and (most of) the members of the New York Philharmonic concert production of Company are doing a number on the telecast.

Just how upset are people over the aforementioned number from Company? According to the This Week on Broadway podcast for this week, there has been some grumbling about the fact that Company, a show that isn't currently on Broadway, isn't nominated for a Tony, and is being shown in movie theaters later this month, is getting some precious airtime on the awards. While I sort of get the whining, all I can ask is:
How many times has the Tony Awards telecast subjected us to the horrors of Mamma Mia! and Jersey Boys? Seriously, at least this is fairly new. Also, it's Sondheim, who is, by his very nature, awesome. Now stop complaining or I'm going to make you listen to the touring cast of Mamma Mia! belt out a substandard version of "Dancing Queen" again.

Just how badly will the straight plays be treated this year? Every year, it seems like the straight plays are pushed into the corner in favor of the flashier musicals. However, given that this was a rather dismal year in terms of musicals (both original and revival) and an EXCELLENT year for straight plays, I'm hoping that the straight plays gets some much-deserved attention. With shows like Warhorse, The Normal Heart, Born Yesterday, and Jerusalem, the competition for the play categories is fierce!

Speaking of Warhorse, will we get to see those awesome horse puppets during the show? My money is on "yes."

Will Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark make an appearance? While I could not care less about this musical, I sort of want to see it on the Tonys because odds are that it would be very snark-worthy.

Will The Book of Mormon make a clean sweep of it? The charmingly irreverent (or is it irreverently charming?) musical from the creators of South Park is nominated for 14 Tony Awards, and some critics are predicting that they will make a clean sweep of things in these categories. While the musical sounds funny and charming, and is doesn't take itself too seriously like some past shows I could mention (ahem, Spring Awakening), I find myself rooting for other nominees in some of the categories. For one, I'm hoping that The Scottsboro Boys get some well-deserved love and attention. However, since the Tony voters tend to have a block mentality when it comes to voting, as evidenced by the sweep that the entertaining if unexciting and often pedestrian musical The Producers, so who knows what will happen?

Just how charming will Daniel Radcliffe be in the How to Succeed... number? Even though I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan, Radcliffe seems adorable and very grounded, so I'm rooting for him to blow the audience away with his performance.

Interested in finding out the answers to these questions? Do you have more questions (like: Will the set hit anyone this year)? Please feel free to leave comments below, and be certain to watch the Tonys on Sunday (and join us for the live blog if you can)!

Birchbox June 2011

It's a mystery....
Hello! I hope all of you have had a good day! Mine has been surprisingly good. I got to catch up with a good friend of mine, work was busy but productive, and my June Birchbox was waiting for me when I arrived home. Since my past two Birchboxes have arrived in the middle of the month, it was a very pleasant way to end the day. What's particularly exciting is that, since I got my box earlier than usual, I didn't get a chance to find out what other people have received, so the contents were a surprise as well.

This month's theme is "vacation-ready products," and I'm loving what I got in my box. This month, I received:
My first look
  • A sample of the Kate Spade perfume Twirl
  • A large sample of Kiehl's new Ultra Facial Oil Free Lotion
  • A full-size Laura Geller Baked Blush N' Brighten Blush in Apricot Berry
  • A large sample of Xen-Tan's Deep Bronze Luxe
  • Two Herban Essentials Orange Towelettes (this was my extra for the month)
These products look amazing, and the people at Birchbox really outdid themselves with this month's box. Besides getting a full-size blush from Laura Geller (priced at $29.50), the Kiehl's product isn't even available in stores yet, which gives me a sneak peek at this moisturizer. I also love that I got a mix of makeup and skin care. While some reviewers have either had much worse luck than I have or are much more discerning, I find that I am pretty easy to please when it comes to Birchbox. The only thing that I'm a little iffy about is the self-tanner. Since I'm Asian, I've found that some self-tanners turn me orange. However, I will definitely give it a whirl and hope that I don't turn into an Oompa Loompa.

From left to right: Kiehl's  Lotion, Laura Geller Baked Blush N' Brighten (top),  Kate Spade perfume,  Xen-Tan self tanner, Herban Essentials Towelettes
So far, I've tried Twirl and the Laura Geller blush. Although I am a cheapskate when it comes to fragrance (1.7 oz of Twirl is $65, much more than I would pay for perfume), the scent is very pretty. The blush, which can also be used as a highlighter, is pretty but very potent. I'm going to have to use a lighter hand when I apply it next time.

I'll post a more complete review on the products in several weeks (after I've had a chance to spend more time testing them). If you have questions about Birchbox or about the products (from this month's box or from previous months), please feel free to leave a comment below!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jasmere Discount for Facebook Fans (Now through July 30, 2011)

If you need another reason to like Jasmere, you can now get $5.00 off your next Jasmere order by simply liking the company's Facebook page. Simply go to the Facebook page and like them, then get the discount code from the "Sweet Offer" tab (on the left-hand side of the page). This offer is good through July 30, 2011, so you've got plenty of time and plenty of deals to consider!

"Somewhere That's Green" (from Little Shop of Horrors)

To keep myself entertained while working, I've been listening to the Showtunes station on Pandora a lot. While some of the songs that come up are puzzling (there has been LOTS of Moulin Rouge! and Mulan, with some Taylor Swift thrown in for good measure), I've been enjoying listening to the occasional song from Little Shop of Horrors. Based on the cult film, Little Shop features music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman (who, in my mind, was Mr. Menken's best collaborator).

While many of the songs are amazing (my favorite is "Skid Row," which manages to be catchy and incredibly depressing at the same time), one that's been on my mind a lot (due to Pandora) is "Somewhere That's Green." Performed by Audrey, the sweet but insecure girl who works in the titular shop, the song is just one of Menken's many "I want" songs. However, it is an "I want" song with a twist.

Wait - What's an "I Want" Song? An "I want" song is a song in a musical that expresses a character's innermost desires, which will serve as the main imputes for the show's events. For examples of an "I want" song, you only need to look at any Disney musical. Prime examples of this include "Reflections" from Mulan (stupid Pandora), "Belle" from Beauty and the Beast, and "Go the Distance" from Hercules (yes, guys have "I want" songs too). These songs are also a staple of non-Disney musicals. "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof, "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from My Fair Lady, and "I Want to Be a Producer" from The Producers all fit the bill.

What sets "Somewhere That's Green" apart from most other "I want" songs is the lyrics, which make the song simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. Unlike Belle, who longs for adventure and to get out of the little town where she lives, or Tevye, who longs for riches, Audrey's desires are much more pedestrian. Her "I want" centers around the 1950s ideal, with "a fence of real chain link/ a grill out on the patio/ disposal in the sink" featuring prominently in her dream.

The first time or two you hear the song, the mention of things like "Pine-Sol scented air" and the "big, enormous 12-inch screen" is funny, since these things are more than a little dated and are probably far from our ideal. However, upon closer inspection, this song really captures the bleakness of Audrey's life. She doesn't want adventure, she doesn't want to be rich, and she doesn't want to "go the distance." All she wants is security and a seemingly average life (I'd bet she'd be perfectly happy in Belle's provincial town). While most "I want" songs deal with wanting something much bigger, this song fits the character perfectly, because her life is so bleak that a toaster and and frozen dinners are as much as she can hope for (and are perhaps as great and as unobtainable to her as riches are to Tevye).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

One Week Until the Tonys

The Tony Awards are next Sunday, and I'm slowly but surely getting pumped for the show. Besides the return of Neil Patrick Harris as host, I am very excited about getting to liveblog the event with my siblings. Please come by next Sunday for fun, hilarity, and plenty of snark as we dissect the show in real time. Of course, I will also be doing a recap/review of the show's best, worst, and most wtf moments after the show.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Glee Season 3: A Wish List

Glee has had quite a year, hasn't it? While there were some bright spots (I still stand by my opinion that "Grilled Cheesus" is a good episode), the season overall was uneven at best. However, I am not ready to give up on the show just yet. Here's a wish list of what I would like to see next season:

  • New Directions Needs... Well, Some Direction - As a recovering theatre junkie and stage manager, one of the things that annoys me the most about Glee is that our lovable band of misfits seems to slack like no one's business. It is very hard to root for them when they are always scrambling around at the last minute to write songs or finalize a set list. I know that this is (possibly) due to the fact that the show doesn't want to subject us to watching the same song being rehearsed over and over again. However, isn't there a way that the show could set it up so that we know that the group is practicing but we don't get to see the finished product until the competition? Although I know I am supposed to hate Vocal Adrenaline for their ruthless practices, I have to admire their work ethic.
  • Stop with the Original Songs - I actually liked the first set of original songs. "Get It Right" grew on me, and "Loser Like Me" (with the exception of the unforgivably awful rap section) was very infectious. By the time that Nationals rolled around, I was over original songs. The first time they were an obvious but fun gimmick. The second time, it just didn't work. Just pay the royalty fees and get some decent songs please.
  • More Creative/Innovative Covers of Songs - In lieu of original songs, I'd love to see more creative takes on existing songs. One of the best (if not the best) songs of season 2 was the wonderfully unexpected and understated mash-up of "I Feel Pretty/ Unpretty." Not only did it suit the talents of the performers and make sense in terms of the plot, it was a gorgeous remake.
  • Don't Mess with Schue's Relationship with Coach Bieste - Schue is often an intolerable character. He's overly familiar with the students, he tends to make everything about him, and he needs much more discipline (when it comes to his personal life and to his teaching). However, if anyone brings out the best in Mr. Schuester, it is his friendship with Shannon Bieste. In all honesty, Coach Bieste is perhaps the best change in season 2. Please don't screw up her character or her awesome friendship with Will. In fact...
  • More Friends without Benefits (Please!) - I understand that this is a show about teenagers, but I'm exhausted by the romantic musical chairs. Out of all of the relationships on the show, the ones that I find the most interesting are the friendships among the characters. Kurt and Rachel, Mercedes and Rachel, Mercedes and Kurt, Puck and Artie - the list is long. I'd love to see more development of these friendships and see more of them next season.
  • Take It Easy with the Guest Stars - Although I don't have the intense hatred that some people seem to have for Gwyneth Paltrow, I seriously overdosed on her this season with Glee. My problem with her guest spots is that they didn't seem to add to the episodes so much as take over the episodes. It felt like she sang every (or almost every) song and had a huge part in each of the three episodes she was in this season. While the first season's guest stars were used just enough (Josh Groban comes to mind), I felt like a lot of guest stars this past season were either shoe-horned in (see: Jonathan Groff) or completely hijacked the show.
By no means is this an exhaustive list, and there are so many more things that I could (and probably should) include. Please feel free to add your wishes for season 3 in the comments!