Saturday, May 17, 2014

Post-holiday entry

Writing this a month after returning to Singapore is rather pathetic, but that's what my life's become after joining an intense course, on top of working in a war zone called the ER.

My 4 weeks away from home were heavenly, though not without some degree of suffering. The itinerary and accomodation were excellent, but the food was quite the opposite. American cuisine has never been a favourite of mine, and I seem to dislike it that much more every time I visit the country. Really developed an aversion to salads, deep fried / grilled anything, cheese and bread.

Hawaii is breath-taking. Everything I know from books, TV and movies was confirmed during our 10-day adventure. We stayed in Honolulu, Maui, the Big Island and Kauai, enjoying pristine beaches, 5-star resorts with balconies facing the ocean, drives up mountains, canyons and volcanoes, and my personal favourite - a jaw-dropping helicopter ride.

The latter was the crown jewel of the tour, which ended with 2 days in Kauai. We were flown by an ex-Black Hawk pilot named Chris, whose warmth and enthusiasm we will always remember with great fondness. The hour-long flight was AMAZING, and it's easy to see why Kauai is such a film shoot hotspot ( Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. ). In fact, we were informed that the crew and cast of Jurassic World were also on the island, though we didn't see them, of course. Very hush hush.

Washington, DC was vastly different but equally fabulous. My only complaint involves the freezing temperature ( at one point, I was wearing a thermal undershirt, a cashmere sweater AND a thick outer coat ) and the truly awful food. It's true that we didn't venture far from the city centre ( we stayed near the White House / Pennsylvania Avenue area ), but considering the district, shouldn't there be a few decent restaurants for us tourists? Especially the busloads of Chinese swarming all over the place?

4 days isn't enough to do everything, so we were selective. We viewed the permanent exhibition at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum - extremely crowded and absolutely heartbreaking, but a definite must-see. I was particularly moved by archival footage of WWII. One clip showed an elderly Jewish woman clinging to the hand of an Allied soldier during liberation, as she sobbed and thanked him for saving them. It was such a poignant moment I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. The same thing happened when we caught a documentary in one of the auditoriums. It's so well-made it felt as if we were watching a Hollywood blockbuster-type production, on the same level as one of Steven Spielberg's masterpieces. ( Who knows, maybe he had a hand in it, since I didn't look at the credits that closely. )

We also visited Arlington Cemetery, which really blew me away. The sprawling grounds are beautifully landscaped, with more than 400,000 graves in total. We rode the shuttle from place to place, and seeing row upon row of white tombstones was extremely sobering. We bowed our heads at the graves of President John F. Kennedy, his wife Jackie, and brother Bobby. We also viewed the beautiful changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, and marveled at the respect the Americans have for their military ( those currently serving, as well as veterans ).

The Lincoln Memorial is our favourite haunt. We went there on 3 different days, though for slightly different reasons. It's a 20-minute walk from our hotel, which doesn't sound that far, but wasn't easy considering the thick layer of clothes we wore. But we met lots of nice people each time, including an adorable little girl who asked me about a popsicle I ate ( yes, how stupid was I to do THAT in cold weather! ).

But of course, nothing can beat New York City! After 2 prior trips, it almost felt like home to us. Stayed at the same hotel, ate at our fave Chinese restaurant (decent food at last! ), caught a string of Broadway shows...

We also took a detour to a gala tribute for Kevin Spacey, organized by the Museum for the Moving Image. I bought tickets for the dinner and got to see lots of stars, including Samuel L. Jackson, as they gave speeches to honour my all-time favourite actor. Although I didn't manage to say hello to Mr. Spacey ( partly because my mum couldn't stand the cold and wanted to leave immediately after the event ), I did brush past ( as in LITERALLY ) powerful Hollywood producer, Dana Brunetti ( The Social Network, Captain Phillips, Fifty Shades of Grey ) and his girlfriend, Broadway legend Kristin Chenoweth, as we waited for our coats at the exit. I also stood right next to Chazz Palmintieri ( Bullets Over Broadway, The Usual Suspects ) for a few minutes, which was surreal!

Most surprisingly, despite sharing a table with 8 strangers, we had no difficulty mingling. Everyone was extremely friendly, and the museum placed its staff strategically to break the ice. We sat next to the director of marketing - a lovely young woman named Cynthia who chatted with us the entire night and made us feel most welcome.
Considering how apprehensive we were about attending this sort of event - and all alone, no less - we came out of it feeling great! Let's do it again next time! :)

Another major surprise came in the form of last-minute tickets to Seth Meyers' monologue rehearsal, which were given to me while I browsed through the NBC store. Better still, Seth spoke to me before the monologue! Because he wanted to know if there were any foreign visitors and I put my hand up. Turns out he's been to Singapore - "a few years ago, for a comedy festival". How come I didn't know about it, argh!
Anyway, he's really sweet, and so good-looking in person. Very happy he'll be hosting the Emmy Awards in August. All the best, Seth!

On to Broadway. O.M.G. This was my most ambitious itinerary so far - 2 shows in 2007, 4 in 2011, now 6. I was originally aiming for 8 ( 2 on days with matinees and evening performances ) but had to settle for 1 per day because every show was almost 3 hours long, and hanging around the stage door was a must.

I usually prefer musicals but included 4 plays because of the casts. I mean, how could I possibly miss the likes of Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Chris O'Dowd, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts and Tony Shalhoub?

The best of the lot is, hands down, All The Way, in which Cranston plays former American President, Lyndon B. Johnson ( blog review here ). A real pity he didn't come out to meet fans that afternoon ( I didn't know until it was too late ), but the Tony nomination is extremely well-deserved, and I predict he will win come June 8.

The other productions pale in comparison, but I enjoyed them as well. Of Mice And Men - starring Franco and O'Dowd - featured strong acting, but alas, Franco had a hissy fit over the New York Times' Ben Brantley's less-than-stellar remarks, and I seriously think that cost him a Tony nomination ( O'Dowd picked one up ). No sympathy for you, James, especially since you treated your fans so poorly the night I was there, refusing to sign playbills or take photos, keeping us waiting for ages before sauntering to your car with a smug grin on your face.
Something else this little stunt cost you - my support. It probably won't affect your career in any way, but I'm not going to spend another second of my life watching you in anything.

In stark contrast, we have the star-studded cast of The Realistic Joneses. The play itself was rather dull, but the dream team of acting talent more than made up for the limp script. Michael C. Hall - star of my all-time favourite TV series, Dexter - was incredibly gracious at the stage door, as was Tracy Letts ( Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor ). Letts' Killer Joe was adapted into a Hollywood film starring Matthew McConaughey, and it is mind-blowingly awesome! Both men chatted with me, with Letts revealing that his brother, Shawn, lives in Singapore. ( He's a jazz musician, and recently accepted my friend request, woohoo! )

Another phenomenal stage door experience was the one with Tony Shalhoub. Not many Singaporeans will know him, but mum and I watched him in all 8 seasons of TV series, Monk, in which he played a brilliant detective crippled by OCD, and meeting him was nothing short of heart-stopping! He's so much better-looking in person, with smooth, fair skin and a gorgeous smile. We noticed how similar he is to Monk - mellow-voiced, well-mannered, a little shy - and I even managed to fluster him when I paid him a compliment. Seeing him bow his head and smile bashfully ranks as one of the best moments of my life! :D
What's more, when I accidentally knocked his hand while retrieving my playbill, causing him to drop his glasses, I was mortified and apologized profusely while picking them up. His reply when he took them back: Don't worry, this happens all the time. *kind smile*
Aww, my heart MELTED. He's such a sweetheart!
Shalhoub's also received a Tony nom for his role - actually, 3 roles - in Act One, based on famous Broadway playwright / director Moss Hart's autobiography. Aside from portraying Hart and Hart's dad, he also dazzles as temperamental genius, George S. Kaufman ( who's got his own OCD tendencies, haha ).
Not a sure thing for the win, but if he does, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Reviews of the 2 musicals I caught - Cabaret and Les Miserables - can be found here. I hope to complete the other 3 within the next 2 weeks.

Last but not least, the final highlight of the past 6 weeks - invitations to the X-Men: Days Of Future Past Southeast Asian premiere 3 days ago. I'm not a member of the press, nor part of the film industry, and I didn't enter any contest, so how did I get the tickets?
Call it Fate, or a blessing from God - I met a lovely Australian couple during the Hawaiian tour, and turns out the husband knows Hugh Jackman's dad. In fact, they're long-time pals. This nugget of information came out when we were having dinner together - separate from the rest of the group. We had such a wonderful time talking about all sorts of things, I almost got a heart attack when he told me.
So when HJ's visit to Singapore was announced, I gently asked if I could go, and one of his relatives kindly obliged. Amazing! :)
No, I didn't get to meet Mr. Jackman - I'm not THAT special or important, come on - but I did see him at the blue carpet event along Orchard Road ( he walked by so quickly I didn't manage to get a photo or autograph, but I did see him right in front of me for a few seconds! ), and later on, upstairs in the Lido cineplex lobby. He was great with the fans, and made sure to wave and smile at as many people as possible. It was terrific to see it firsthand.

Might be heading back to Broadway later next year, and HJ is scheduled to star in a play - The River - around that time. Not too sure what might happen then, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

p.s. X-Men: Days Of Future Past is AWESOME! HJ is superb, but Michael Fassbender outshone EVERYONE. Definitely an actor I hope to see or meet one day. :)

That's enough excitement for now! Time to get back to normal life. :)