London (Beer) Loves

Best coaster ever. TFL FTW.The jet lag may still be lingering, but getting back to London is always worth it. While much has changed since I first moved there in the 1990s – most notably, that everything is so clean, which was absolutely not a feature of so-called Britpop London – it was lovely to see some of my old stomping grounds in a new (visible) light. It’s probably fair to say that I drank ‘reasonable,’ albeit cheap, beer as a postgrad/early career adult back in the day; lots of pints of Directors at my local Wetherspoons, but there wasn’t much beyond that, at least so far as I was aware.

Fast forward to the present day, to a (I have to say it again, very clean) London where specialist beer bars and small breweries abound, and there is so much choice that it requires some navigation; for that, we relied on Des De Moor’s excellent guidebook, plus regular last-minute Twitter ideas from Melissa Cole and Pete Brown (though we never did make it to his Stoke Newington ‘hood – I looked at a cheap bedsit there nearly two decades ago and would love to go back to see it now, though I’m sure I’d lament not having had the wherewithal to buy some portion of it then, when I had £25/week to spend on rent – I ended up getting something for the same amount in East Ham instead, which had the distinction of being near The Who Shop, though little else – but I digress).  We upped the degree of difficulty by having our kids in tow, and while our older one claims he could easily pass for 16 (and he’s probably right), finding a place with great beer that is also reasonably welcoming to a 3-year-old is a trickier challenge.

With that in mind, we were thrilled to have great experiences at The Rake, CASK Pub & Kitchen and The Craft Beer Co. Covent Garden. Each one had a fantastic lineup of CASK ALE (I miss real handpumps so much) and a variety of interesting kegged options. They also had friendly, deeply knowledgeable staff and a largely non-bro-y clientele, which was very pleasant indeed. We found traditional pubs a bit more hit and miss (though I’m mindful that we were often firmly in Tourist London, which can veer toward the more generic), but thoroughly enjoyed The George – re-reading Pete Brown’s book on the plane was useful – and The Lamb, which was an occasional hangout spot of mine as a student; visiting as an adult with children was a very different experience, as its proximity to Coram’s Fields was a major selling point in ensuring a less-fussy meal – and I had one of my best beers of the trip there.

With that segue, I’ll again call out the range of cask beer on offer, essentially everywhere we went, which is absolutely not an expectation in Seattle (though I wish it were – it was much more readily accessible in Philadelphia, but there you go). Particular standouts included the aforementioned beer at The Lamb – Jack Brand Mosaic Pale Ale from Adnams was one of the best pale ales I’ve had in recent memory, and certainly the best cask pale ale I enjoyed.  And as it’s a Young’s house, the Winter Warmer was firmly on the agenda, and as lovely as I remember it. Another favo(u)rite was Barnsley Bitter from Stancill Brewery, which is exactly the sort of beer I wish I had as a regular go-to; it was very nearly perfect. Moving to the dark side, Glamorgan Brewing Co’s Welsh Cake Stout was delightful, as was Truman’s Brewery’s Original Porter – finally, a good porter! Also of note was a black IPA from Windsor & Eton, Conqueror; ironically, the style seems to have vanished from our home in Cascadia, so it was very pleasing to find a well-crafted, hoppy/dark beer elsewhere. We had two historical beers from The Kernel, and while both were very fine, the edge went to their Export Stout London 1890, which was absolutely fantastic though the Imperial Brown Stout London 1856 was also excellent.

Obviously we did some non-drink-related things too – you may have heard of a can-do little musical called Hamilton, and I have nothing but praise for the talented London cast – and the Harry Potter exhibit at the British Library is well worth a visit. We also made some discoveries and rediscoveries. I’ve long been a Foyles partisan, but we didn’t have a chance to make it to their (still new to me) headquarters. We made up for that omission by taking over Daunt Books and buying up as much of their stock as we could carry (including Boak & Bailey’s 20th Century Pub, at long last). Persephone Books made themselves more even more dangerous by ensuring we left with a catalogue, and I enthusiastically recommend the London Transport Museum. While I’ve been there before alone, there is no better place to take an alternately happy, clingy, angry and curious jet-lagged toddler, and the current exhibit on women artists is spectacular. The kids get to touch, climb and play while adults enjoy the exhibits, and everyone comes out happy (if lighter in the bank account). They also had quite reasonable tea, though the dearth of good tea in London may need to be its own post – why did so many otherwise-good hotels, restaurants and pubs want to foist their Twinings supermarket tea upon us? I realize we may not be the target tourist market, in that there is really great tea everywhere you go in the Pacific Northwest and so we expect it, but it did seem odd that we had to seek out teas we’d normally consider passable, rather than really good.  If any venture capitalists are looking for a new vertical, let’s get top-quality fair trade tea to become A Thing – only the museum cafes delivered.

Finally, I’ll recommend two very different experiences: the London Mithraeum, well-preserved and well-presented underneath the new Bloomberg building, may be one of the best public archaeology installations I’ve seen. I won’t say that no expense has been spared, as I’m sure there’s been some sort of trade-off, but it’s really very impressive, and should serve as some sort of model for other developers. And as it’s only a temporary happening, you should make your way soonish to the Southbank Centre for ABBA: Super Troopers: The Exhibition. If you’ve ever wondered what an immersive ABBA-themed experience, narrated by the dulcet northern tones of Jarvis Cocker, would be like, wonder no more. It is utterly delightful (and my 12 year old will vouch for this as well).

Out of the many places I’ve lived, London and New York are still my favorites – hardly surprising for a city-obsessed theatre nerd, but London does edge out New York when it comes to beer; I wish I had more excuses to get back to both more often (ideally, of course, on someone else’s dime, but who wouldn’t want that?).  All outrageous job offers happily considered!

On the (Hamil)Tonys

The (Hamil)Tonys are fast approaching, and this year promises to be an especially spectacular edition, not just because of the Hamilton juggernaut, but because of the diverse range of talent on display across all the nominated shows – can you imagine another Tonys year in which there was so much quality that the always-brilliant Audra McDonald didn’t get a nomination? How lucky we are to be alive right now.

And for those who question whether Hamilton is really that good, I offer an emphatic yes; I’ve catalogued everything I’ve seen on Broadway, in the West End, at the Globe, the National Theatre or at the Royal Shakespeare Company (both Stratford and London) over the past decades for comparative purposes. It took something truly amazing to move the most perfect production of A Little Night Music off the top spot, but there you are.

Without further ado, some theatrical reminiscences; I’ve left out opera, touring productions, college shows and children’s theatre for the sake of some attempt at brevity, but still largely failed. Art isn’t easy.

Holy Cats, That Was Amazing

Hamilton, Original Broadway Cast, 2016 Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson History is happening in Manhattan
A Little Night Music, Royal National Theatre, 1995 Judi Dench, Siân Phillips, Joanna Riding, Patricia Hodge Best Sondheim production ever
Fun Home, Original Broadway Cast, 2015 Michael Cerveris, Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas, Judy Kuhn, Emily Skeggs Amazing cast and show; I hope it runs forever

Truly Great

Assassins, Broadway Revival, 2004 Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Cerveris, Denis O’Hare Fact: Michael Cerveris wins a Tony every time I see him
Richard III/Twelfth Night, Globe Theatre on Broadway, 2014 Mark Rylance, Stephen Fry, Samuel Barnett, Paul Chahidi, Kurt Egyiawan Mark Rylance! Also, one of several productions featuring an alum from The History Boys
Henry V, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1995 Iain Glen, Daniel Evans, Tony Britton Or, where I first discovered Iain Glen. Excellent St. Crispin’s Day speechifying
Henry V, Globe Theatre, 2012 Jamie Parker, Kurt Egyiawan Another great Henry V, and another History Boy to add to the collection
Company, Broadway Revival, 2006 Raúl Esparza He could drive a person crazy; everybody rise
One Man, Two Guvnors, Original Broadway Cast, 2012 James Corden Some of the best physical comedy you’ll ever see
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Original Broadway Cast, 2013 Jefferson Mays, Bryce Pinkham Jefferson Mays is a national treasure

Really Quite Good

Equus, Broadway Revival, 2008 Daniel Radcliffe, Richard Griffiths Really nicely observed production
Avenue Q, Original Broadway Cast, 2003 John Tartaglia, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Ann Harada What do you do with a BA in English? Work toward your EGOT
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Original Broadway Cast, 2005 Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dan Fogler I do love some William Finn, and this was an outstanding cast
Hamlet, Almeida Theatre, 1994 Ralph Fiennes, Francesca Annis, Damian Lewis, Tara FitzGerald, Paterson Joseph, Rupert Penry-Jones, Nicholas Rowe Before internet scalping, before Tennant and Cumberbatch, this was the Hamlet people were looking for
The Clandestine Marriage, West End Revival, 1994 Nigel Hawthorne, Finty Williams Fun with Molière
Cabaret, Broadway Revival, 2014 Alan Cumming, Michelle Williams How did Alan Cumming look fitter and stronger, all these years later?
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Broadway Revival, 2011 Daniel Radcliffe, John Larroquette, Tammy Blanchard Yes, Daniel Radcliffe is quite a good singer and dancer, even with his clothes on
The Light in the Piazza, Original Broadway Cast, 2005 Victoria Clark, Kelli O’Hara, Matthew Morrison Well worth the price of admission
Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, Original Broadway Cast, 2012 Hugh Jackman Yes, please
Henry IV, Pt 1, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1991 Julian Glover, Michael Maloney, Robert Stepehens Julian Glover!
Julius Caesar, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1995 Hugh Quarshie, John Nettles, Julian Glover, Paul Bettany As with a lot of ’90s Shakespeare, I was often getting my Julian Glover fangirl on
Take Me Out, Original Broadway Cast, 2003 Denis O’Hare (though we saw excellent understudy Nat De Wolf), Daniel Sunjata Sportsball! On Broadway!
Spamalot, Original Broadway Cast, 2005 Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria, Christian Borle, Sara Ramirez A fun show, and glad we got to see Tim Curry

Great Cast, Meh Show and/or Production

Nine, Broadway Revival, 2003 Antonio Banderas, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, Chita Rivera, Nell Campbell, Mary Stuart Masterson Never a huge fan of the show, but the cast was amazing
The Boy from Oz, Original Broadway Cast, 2003 Hugh Jackman This should be the dictionary definition of a performer utterly transcending a mediocre show
Man of La Mancha, Broadway Revival, 2002 Brian Stokes Mitchell (and future Hamilton choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler in the ensemble) Stokes! And not a bad production, just not a great one, either
Curtains, Original Broadway Cast, 2007 David Hyde Pierce Another fine effort, but the show didn’t hang together well
Dessa Rose, Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2003 LaChanze, Norm Lewis, Rachel York Once again, a great cast, a middling show

Not Bad

Urinetown, Original Broadway Cast, 2002 John Cullum, Hunter Foster, Spencer Kayden A cute show, and a lot of fun
Lenny, West End Revival, 1999 Eddie Izzard, Elizabeth Berkley Eddie Izzard is often underrated as an actor, though the production wasn’t amazing
Relative Values, West End Revival, 1993 Sarah Brightman, Susan Hampshire I don’t think Sarah Brightman was cut out for Noel Coward

The Lows

A Little Night Music, New York City Opera, 2003 Jeremy Irons, Juliet Stevenson, Anna Kendrick One of my faovrite shows butchered by a non-singer in a must-sing role; props to a very young Anna Kendrick for playing a delightful Frederika, though

Martin Guerre
, Original West End Cast, 1996
Iain Glen, Sheila Reid, Baby James Corden (in the chorus) I love Iain Glen, there are some OK tunes, but the words and brief talking bits were a trainwreck; mystifying choreography as well
Aspects of Love, Original West End Cast, 1990 Not Michael Ball that night, but Michael Praed instead A series of drink ordering by recitative, followed up with creepy would-be teenage cousin molestation – not a great idea for a musical
Speed the Plow, Original Broadway Cast, 1988 Madonna, Ron Silver, Joe Mantegna 2/3 of the cast was great, and the other 1/3 was Madonna – enough to ruin everyone’s evening

In Which I Take Terrible Photos of Interesting Programs

All sorts of things might make a post, and this certainly qualifies in that regard.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, my dad spent a lot of time in New York as part of his long career with 7Up. When I was a small child in the 1970s and ’80s, I enjoyed going through his collection of Playbills and programs with him, and naturally demanded to be taken to the theatre on every possible occasion. And while I’ve seen some great productions (and some less so – Martin Guerre, this means you) on Broadway, in the West End and elsewhere, my own collection simply isn’t as impressive (yet).

I’ve been attempting to organize his collection since his death in 2006, though I never seem to make much of a dent. But some of these are too fabulous not to share, and, of course, that goes for the ads, too.

It’s worth noting that they aren’t all for plays – this program was for a screening of Mastroianni’s 1961 comedy Divorce Italian Style, shown at the Paris on W58th.  And sometimes there’s a concert – it’s hard to ignore this amazing program from a Robert Goulet show. But we quickly get into the good stuff – a Playbill from the original production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. My dad was always a huge fan of Zero Mostel – I’m reasonably sure I saw The Producers for the first time when I was around 6 – and he also liked to recount having seen him in a play in which Mostel flashed the audience.

Showcase Robert Goulet A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

There are more original casts:  we revisit Zero Mostel in Ulysses in Nighttown – I’m presuming the 1974 play was the one involving a nude Zero Mostel, though it’s also notable for starring a young Tommy Lee Jones, David Ogden Stiers and Fionnuala Flanagan – then Funny Girl and the rather tamer Oliver! make appearances.

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There are also some larger-format programs, for The King and I (which I saw much later, on Yul Brynner’s very literal farewell tour) and Golden Boy:

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Among the ads for Tiki bars, cigarettes and furs, there are some amazing pieces – and some very worthwhile bios – young Jerome Robbins looks as though he wants to devour your soul, and a pre-Monkees Davy Jones had ‘the longest part ever written for a teenager’ on the radio (so think on!); one presumes many librettists still consider Benson & Hedges ‘noteworthy’ as the ad suggests:

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But while there’s much more from the world theatrical that isn’t poorly-photographed here, I couldn’t miss out the Kentucky Derby program from 1956 – in case you don’t recall, Needles was the victor that year, the very first Florida-bred to win – he would also take the Belmont Stakes.

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At some point, I’ll need to be a good archivist and make sure staples and paper clips aren’t damaging things, but for now, they are happily climate-controlled and reasonably well stored beyond that. I’ll have to do another installment in future: there’s a bio of a young Elaine Stritch that’s simply outstanding…