at the theatre: kinky boots

kinky boots

These boots aren’t made just for walking. In the talented hands (and heels) of a drag queen called Lola – a role that should finally make the estimable talents of Billy Porter familiar to a wider audience – they’re made for high kicks, chassés, and fierce, show-stopping realness. Drab brown brogues be gone; thanks to Lola and her kinky boot designs a struggling family run shoe factory in the middling English Midlands will survive. Yet Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper’s new chocolate box of a musical is about more than just middle class survival, noble as that might be. Like Billy Elliot, to which it owes a debt of gratitude, Kinky Boots extols the virtues of embracing the ineffable thing inside you that allows you to thrive. Let it raise you up, the company, led by Lola, sings in a rousing finale that gives a tantalizing taste of what this musical might have been. But as directed – and I use that term loosely – by Jerry Mitchell the drama which precedes it is messy, unfocused, and as clunky as an old pair of cha-cha heels. Lacking either the critical eye of a dramaturge or the flair of a showman, Mitchell is unable to take Lola’s advice and raise up the promising framework of his collaborators. Certainly a musical should be able to stand alone on it’s own feet, but I often I had the sinking feeling that nobody with an objective, incisive eye was pushing the talented team at the Al Hirschfeld Theater towards doing their best work. Individuals left to do his or her own thing lead to a wall full of spaghetti: only the overdone bits tend to stick. Which is a drag, literally. That’s not to say that Kinky Boots isn’t often entertaining, because it is, especially when the dynamic Mr. Porter takes center stage. I just wish he had some help in trying to raise up his surroundings. As Charlie, a young man who inherits his father’s shoe factory and finds himself stricken by a bout of George Bailey-itis, Stark Sands has a natural, winning charisma. He doesn’t possess the voice of a trained singer but he gives it the old college try and the strain shows only occasionally. He is, however, cast adrift by Mr. Mitchell more than once – most egregiously in his big eleven o’clock number, The Soul of a Man, a vocally challenging, emotional turning point in which Mr. Sands is left to pointlessly wander around the apron of the stage. Annaleigh Ashford plays it broader but fares better as one of the hapless factory workers with a hopeless crush on Charlie, not to mention a history of always choosing the wrong guys, which she sings about to great comedic effect. Performed with gusto, The History of Wrong Guys comes close to bringing down the house and it would if someone put a proper button on the end of the song. This inattention to detail builds up throughout the evening like an exercise in self sabotage – something no self-respecting drag queen worth her sequins would stand for. Kinky Boots could have (should have) been as capital-F fabulous as the glittering red heels of its title. Instead it’s been stitched and stretched into something altogether more ordinary – kind of like that pair of drab brown brogues.

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obit (the dust) of the month: hand in hand to hell

Richard III

A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III. Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family. The skeleton had suffered 10 injuries, including eight to the skull, at around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal. One was a “slice” removing a flap of bone, the other caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull. Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head. Richard III was portrayed as deformed by some Tudor historians and indeed the skeleton’s spine is badly curved, a condition known as scoliosis. However, there was no trace of a withered arm or other abnormalities seen in the more extreme characterizations of the king. Born at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, where Mary Queen of Scots was later executed, Richard had one of the shortest reigns in English history: just 26 months. Appointed as protector of his nephew, Edward V, upon the death of his brother Edward IV, Richard instead assumed the reins of power. Edward and his brother – the famous Princes in the Tower – disappeared soon after, leading to speculation that they had been murdered on the orders of their uncle. Challenged by Henry Tudor, Richard was the last English king to die in battle. He was slain at Bosworth in 1485, leaving Shakespeare the ingredients for a (quite literal) field day. Read the full story HERE.

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at the theatre: the common pursuit

I did something at the theater the other night that I haven’t done in a very long time, I left at intermission.  It’s not that there was anything particularly egregious about the current off-Broadway revival of Simon Gray’s The Common Pursuit at the Roundabout Theatre’s second stage, it’s simply that I while I was supposed to be engrossed in the earnest navel-gazing of a group of Cambridge, England confreres I found myself unable to stop my mind from drifting off to thoughts about whether or not I had left in the dry cleaning or if there was enough milk for morning coffee. When the act break finally arrived my own insubstantial intellectual pursuits appeared vastly more consequential than what was happening onstage and so I left, wondering to how many other people the possibility of a stove left lit in any empty apartment suddenly occurred. 25-odd years ago The Big Chill made it safe, even fashionable, to obsessively scrutinize the idealistic slide from who we think we are to who we turn out to be and Mr. Gray’s play – having arrived from England in 1985 – is at one with that gestalt. But either my patience has grown thin or the years have not been kind to any artistic endeavor which features people of privilege extolling the possibilities of what might have been while whining about the roads they didn’t take. Collectively we’ve all briefly indulged in that pity party – especially if you’re of an age (like me) which today might kindly be called grown up. But we’ve matured, haven’t we? Events of the last generation have taught us to get on with it already: there’s little point in dwelling on the past when tomorrow might never happen. Or as my mother might say, “you’ve made your bed – now lie in it.”

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dames and divas

London’s National Portrait Gallery is one of the capital’s great free museums. Just off Trafalgar Square, it’s a mecca for Anglophiles and devotees of period drama due in large part to the historic paintings of Tudor and Stuart royalty that fill a handful of galleries. Yet it’s also a museum very much rooted in the present - eclectic and embracing multifarious media: from tempera and photography to LCD monitors utilizing integrated software. It’s one of the best places to wander without a map – you’d be hard pressed to find a room that doesn’t lead you off on a flight of fancy involving both artist and subject. It strikes at the heart of what I love so much about Britain: you can’t turn around without having your curiosity piqued.

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indian superfood

Exec Digital is a new digital-only magazine that randomly dropped into my in-box earlier this month. Although more geared toward “executives” – whatever that means – it nevertheless features an interesting pastiche of travel, food and lifestyle writing. One piece in particular really struck me where it counts: the belly. Chef Gurpareet Bains’ favorite curry houses around the globe made for a quick read yet left me with a fistful of notes-to-self for future reference. You can read it below or catch it in situ HERE, courtesy of the folks at Exec Digital.

International House: The Best Curry by Gurpareet Bains

Gurpareet Bains, chef to A-listers and royalty, author of Indian Superfood and most recently winner of the 2011 Chef of the Year ‘Curry Gong’ at the English Curry Awards, takes a breather from his book tour to share a select handful of his personal favorite Indian restaurants dotted around the world.

Devi, New York, USA - Average $60 per head

Only in the last few years have dapper Indian restaurants started popping up in New York. And although it is most definitely the pioneering days of curry in the US, New York just had to deliver in style…

Devi is America’s only Michelin star Indian restaurant, and accordingly worth a visit. Chefs Suvir Saran and Hemant Mathur are sure to whip your taste buds into a frenzy with traditional Indian home cooking fused with the bold flavours of the new world.

I’m salivating just musing over fond memories of the grilled scallops with roasted pepper chutney and bitter orange marmalade, and the signature Tandoori lamb chops with pear chutney. Or for something a little more traditional, how about Phool Makhanee Kee Sabzee (lotus seeds and cashews in a creamy sauce) or the all-time-favourite, and must have Indian street food, Bombay Bhel-Puri?

With an ambience akin to an old worldly Rajasthani boathouse palace, this is the place to entertain and astonish. Be sure to invite your Indian business clients to a dinner at Devi. Deal done and dusted!

Cinnamon Kitchen, London, England - Average $60 per head

With London widely recognised as the curry capital of the world, restaurants on this side of the pond have a mighty high bar to aspire their standards upon – and the Cinnamon Kitchen doesn’t fail to astound. Right in the heart of London’s financial district, the Cinnamon Kitchen is located in a courtyard abuzz with activity. Start with a Cinnamon Spiced Martini in the Anise Bar, sipping it just to the left of the main dining room.

When you’re ready, the main dining room is a converted warehouse with 20 foot ceilings that reverberates a debonair ‘007’ style.  With an exceptional wine-list, a flawless brigade of staff and most importantly, award-winning chefs Vivek Singh and Abdul Yaseen on-hand, you’re really in for a spectacular night.

The menu is short; instead, it focuses on a select few dishes that they get right every single time. Although the meals are presented in an aptly contemporary fashion, with subtle hints of fusion, the food is truly Indian at heart. To start, I’d recommend the Fat Chillies with Spiced Paneer or Hyderabadi Lamb Mince.  As an entree, try Scottish Angus Fillet with Masala Chips or Seared Sea Bass with Kokum Curry and Rice (kokum is slightly sour, although less so than tamarind). The dessert menu is as equally as spectacular – so remember to leave room.

Dhaba, Claridges Hotel, New Delhi, India - Average $30 per head

Dhaba specializes in Punjabi Highway Fare. In the Indian state of the Punjab, locals consider highway eateries – better known as Dhabas – to serve up the best food…and they are absolutely right. It’s rather a kind of street food for people on wheels, who miss home cooking.

Dhaba’s menu is comprised of many traditional family recipes handed down generations. Try something suitably rustic, and typically Punjabi, such as Baingan Ka Bharta (spicy barbecued eggplant), Dahl Makhini (lentils slow cooked overnight, until rich and silky), and accompany this with flaky Tandoori Rotis and some of the more familiar suspects such as meat kebabs and  balti curry dishes – and you will be eating just as heartily as any Punjabi farmer. If you’re not sure what to order, or if you want to try a bit of everything, go for the Thali, which is the chef’s taster menu, and is very much the avant-garde thing to do.

But at Dhaba, it’s not only about the food. The ambience is also of the classic rural highway eatery, complete with a truck fresco, rustic interiors and waiters dressed in traditional Punjabi dress. There is even a thatched ceiling and walls replicating the irregular mud painted texture of a village hut. An old wireless belts out golden oldies from the silver era of Indian cinema, putting the final touches on a perfect evening. 

Ravi’s Restaurant, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Average $10 per head

Ravi’s on Satwa Road (near Satwa Roundabout) is an institution, and arguably Dubai’s number one curry house. Set amidst the hustle and bustle of old Dubai, and bounded by spiraling minarets and the haunting sound of muezzins’ calls, this is the place to eat curry.

It’s very much a rough-and-ready diner style restaurant with Formica tables; fortunately, the tacky decor only enhances the experience of Dubai before it became an international tourist destination.

Ravi’s is frequented by the legions of Indian and Pakistani expats living in Dubai – which is always a good sign of authentic food. If you can imagine classic dishes, such as Butter Chicken, Tarka Dahl, Biryani and Naans, all served up in monumental portions, and for just a few dollars – this is Ravi’s!

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egghead revisited

From Albert Einstein and Dr. Seuss to Stephen Hawking and Bill Clinton – not to mention twenty-six British Prime Ministers, more than thirty international leaders, and at least twelve bona fide saints – the register of great and good Oxford graduates has to be one of the more impressive lists around. Funny enough, it’s one that anyone can easily join, too.

Now in its 20th year, The Oxford Experience is a one-week continuing education course taught each summer at Christ Church, one of Oxford’s most prestigious and picturesque colleges. Tutorials cover some 50 subjects and are as varied as The Brontës; Late Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories; The Novels of Thomas Hardy; Riot and Rebellion in Shakespeare’s London; Cotswolds Folk Traditions; The Arthurian Stories in Text and Image; Ethics, Questions of Life and Death; and The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Back-to-school week starts with a reception in Tom Quad, the largest quadrangle at Oxford, built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524.  While mornings are devoted to course work, most afternoons include excursions to stately homes, cathedrals or museums. Other days feature tours of Christ Church, the city of Oxford, Blenheim Palace and Broughton Castle.  In the evenings there may be a pub walk, a lecture, or even Pimms and croquet in the Masters’ Garden.  Every student is invited to dine on “High Table” at least once during the week and on the final night there’s a gathering for drinks in the Cathedral Garden followed by a gala farewell dinner in the magnificent Tudor Hall, which might look familiar to fans of Hogwarts.

Three daily meals give lie to rumors about dreary English food.  Plus, anybody who’s secretly harbored a British schoolboy fantasy is in luck: accommodations are in student dorms, only some of which have private baths. The deadline for registration is May 1, but early application is encouraged as some courses are already full. The all-inclusive price for the week is £1,090, or approximately $1,730. Posh digs, private bog, and stiff upper lip are extra.

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