Phantom Farewell

Tonight, hours after this post goes public, my wife and I will attend a local stage production called Lovesong.  It’s our first foray into the offerings of our community theater so we’re really looking forward to it.  Lovesong has a run of five evening performances and one Sunday matinee while it’s in town.  A check of the theater website indicates about 20% of Thursday’s seats have been sold.  By my calculation, that’s about 80% less than any Broadway performance of Phantom of the Opera.

Maybe you heard.  After 35 years and 14,000 performances, last Sunday the curtain dropped for good on Phantom of the Opera.  Its creator, Andrew Lloyd Weber, was on hand at New York City’s Majestic Theater to offer the cast and crew a personal farewell.  He claimed their final performance as the best he’d ever seen.  You’ll forgive Andrew for being a little sentimental after all these years.

Theater District, Midtown Manhattan, NYC

Whether the stage production, the 2004 movie, the glorious soundtrack, or even the books on which it was based, you’re familiar with Phantom.  It’s a captivating story; part haunting and part romantic, with a lead character who has you wondering, “Is he real or imagined?”.  Reading Phantom’s synopsis (which you can do here), I realize I overlooked some details of the story the one and only time I saw the show. No matter.  The sets and the songs will stay with me for life.

Phantom took my admiration of stage performances to an entirely new level.  The one time my wife and I saw the show, in San Francisco in 1997, it literally took our breaths away.  The only shows we’d seen prior were the “off-off-off Broadway” offerings; the kind where they recruit locals just to fill out the cast.  Phantom left us yearning for more of the best, including seeing something on Broadway (which we did years later with Les Miserables, deserving of its own blog post).

Phantom was also a technical marvel.  What other show boasted a giant chandelier swinging out over the audience and threatening to fall?  Or a staircase giving the optical illusion of descending several levels as the Phantom dragged Christine downward?  Or the subterranean lake the Phantom rowed across, where you swore you were looking at a giant body of water right there on the stage?

Every Broadway production seems to have three or four unforgettable songs.  Phantom was no exception.  The show kicks off with an orchestral version of “Phantom of the Opera”, turns sweet with Christine’s solo “Think of Me”, and overwhelms with the duet All I Ask of You and especially The Music of the Night.  The latter includes one of the most powerful notes I’ve ever heard, when the Phantom sings, “Close your eyes… and let music set you… FREE-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E…!”

Deservedly, Phantom won the “Laurence Olivier Award” for Best New Musical in 1986, the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1988, and pretty much everything else it was nominated for.  Besides the London and Broadway productions, Phantom enjoyed nine worldwide tours and one revival.  Over its 35 years, Phantom employed 6,500 people and played to over twenty million theater-goers.  Phantom even had a short-lived sequel, Love Never Dies, debuting in London but never making it to Broadway.

Sadly, Phantom’s closing can be considered a casualty of the pandemic.  The show was suspended from March 2020 to October 2021 (when all Broadway productions ceased).  After reopening, attendance was sporadic because patrons were still hesitant.  Meanwhile, Phantom’s production costs continued at a staggering $1M/week, which eventually became unsustainable.

Phantom was originally slated to close in February but once theatergoers found out, the show experienced a brief resurgence and lasted another two months.  I don’t expect Lovesong to extend its little run at our community theater.  Thanks to Phantom of the Opera however, I’m simply excited for the potential of a wondrous stage performance.

Some content sourced from the article, “Final curtain comes down on ‘Phantom of the Opera'”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

First Class is now un-American

On our return flight from Denver last Saturday, the woman across the aisle coughed so many times I lost count before I had a sip of my complimentary beverage. Another woman ten rows back had a speaking voice so loud you wondered how she could hear herself think. And then there were the backpacks, so… many… backpacks. Nothing wrong with carrying your stuff on your shoulders, except when walking down the aisle and the slightest turn of the hips gives me a not-so-gentle whack as I sit in my aisle seat. Which pretty much confirmed what I already knew.  I should’ve flown First Class.

Heads up, weary travelers.  If your brand of travel abroad is a first-class seat, you’d better book one while you can.  American Airlines (AA) just announced they’re removing those premium seats in favor of several more in Business Class. Why? Because nobody wants them.  It’s not rocket science.  Airplanes need to be full (like, 97% full) or airlines don’t make money.  If a class of seat doesn’t interest a passenger the airline will find one that does.  Put the champagne on ice, flight attendants.

Even if dropping the very best seats makes good business sense, it doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.  I’ve never deliberately flown First Class but I still get to walk down their aisle on the way to the cozier confines of Cattle Economy.  As I do, I steal a glance to the left and to the right.  What are they wearing?  What are they drinking?  Most importantly, what are they talking about?  After all, these are America’s movers and shakers.

Except they’re not anymore, now are they?  Tell me who (or “what”) you see the next time you pass through First Class.  The domain of the rich and famous is now diluted with passengers who simply rack up enough frequent flyer miles.  Thus, next to the woman in the stylish suit with the glass of Pinot Noir, wrapping her important business call, you have the young tattooed character in tank top, shorts, and sandals, slurping a Rockstar energy drink while obliterating his latest Call of Duty foe.  No wonder these seats aren’t selling anymore.

My kids don’t believe me but there was an era when people dressed up to travel.  When I was young I wore a suit and tie on airplanes, as spiffy as a Sunday morning in church (although church attire has changed too, sigh…).  Instead of a palm-sized bag of peanuts in Economy, you still got something of a meal.  Flying was, back then, a classy step above other forms of travel.

Just because I can – and knowing American’s about to crash the party (poor choice of words) – I decided to book a first-class ticket to London for Thanksgiving.  Get me to jolly ol’ England the day before (so I can overcome jet lag before the big meal) and have me back in my own bed by Sunday night.  I know, I know, it’s practically Halloween already but guess what?  There are still plenty of first-class seats for my un-American Thanksgiving. They’re just a little – ahem – pricey.

My least expensive option on AA is $6,054, which includes two stops, choice of seat (but isn’t every first-class seat equally wonderful?), free baggage, and a full refund if I have second thoughts (which I will).  My most expensive option is $12,966, with identical terms as the first option except this ticket is nonrefundable.  Huh?  Whatever.  Even the least expensive option is more than my annual grocery bill.  Let’s not book this trip after all.  Let’s have turkey at home instead.

You can see where this is headed.  Next thing you know AA will get rid of First Class on all of its flights.  Then passengers will lose interest in Business Class so that’ll have to go too.  Premium Economy will be the last to fold, until all we’re left with is a planeful of Cattle Economy, every row and every seat.  But given the attire and attitudes of passengers these days, isn’t Economy a perfectly-fitting shoe?  As a friend described it, air travel these days is effectively a Greyhound bus with a couple of wings.

I just ran another itinerary on the AA website.  I can visit my son in Dallas over Thanksgiving, flying First Class, for just over $1,000 roundtrip.  That’s a bargain compared to London and I can get my turkey from a smoker (delicious!)  Maybe I’ll splurge.  After all, there may come a day when my grandchildren ask me, “What’s ‘First Class’?”

Some content sourced from the Fox Business article, “American Airlines ditching first class…“.

The Time of My Life

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk thinking, “Hey Dave, time’s a-ticking. Gotta come up with a topic for tomorrow’s post”. I stared at the clock, considering a few interesting ideas. The slender second-hand edged ever closer to the next minute, to the next hour, time literally passing before my eyes. Suddenly it hit me. My topic. Time.  More to the point, clocks.  To which I lob an interesting question your way: analog or digital?

The Seth Thomas “Promise”

My house is full of inanimate objects screaming for attention. When I’m lost in thought and staring into space, a certain something in the room starts to say, “Pick me! PICK ME!” in a desperate attempt to become a blog post. Today my desk clock actually pulled it off. I was dead set on a couple other topics until my clock somehow ticked its way to the top of the list.  Perhaps today’s title should’ve been, “A Moment in Time”.

We’re not talking about just any desk clock, mind you. The little guy you see here (all of 2.5″ wide by 3″ high) is a Seth Thomas “Travel Carriage Alarm Clock”, a quartz analog model made by the hundreds of thousands in China. You can find one online for $14.99, the affordability belying its simple elegance. I chose this clock as a gift from Hewlett-Packard (HP) on the fifth anniversary of my employment back in 2002.

I had better choices than an analog clock, but the Seth Thomas somehow captivated me. Even twenty years ago when I got it, a desk clock waxed nostalgic, especially with arrow-capped hands and Roman numerals. The “Promise” model also makes a pleasing little tick-tock-tick-tock sound as the second-hand sweeps the minutes away.

German AND Swiss-made…

If my four-year-old granddaughter were reading this post she’d ask her dad what analog means.  Let’s face it; my granddaughter’s growing up in a wholly digital world.  Her watch, her smartphone, her computer, and the clocks she displays in her future house will exhibit squarish lifeless numerals instead of graceful minute and hour hands.  She’ll “tell time” the way McDonald’s cashiers push the hamburger key instead of entering the amount.  No interpretation required.

I took a stroll around my house and counted three analog clocks, each with sentimental value.  Besides my Seth Thomas, we have an intricate cuckoo clock we purchased in Germany (with the mechanics made in Switzerland), and a horse-head clock we’ve had forever (which no longer works but still graces our bedroom wall).  Our digital timepieces are many more in number yet I still prefer the soothing tick-tick of analog hands, as well as the lazy swing of the cuckoo clock pendulum.

When I was a kid, I grew up in the presence of a formal grandfather clock, standing guard in the curve of our entryway staircase.  I can still hear its chimes, with a higher pitch than you’d expect from its heavy-framed stature.  My bedroom was close enough to hear the bells of the hour in the middle of the night, a gentle reminder it was time to get some sleep.  Whenever I wind our cuckoo clock today, I remember my dad doing the same thing with the grandfather all those years ago.

Since we’re talking about analog, I owe my wristwatches a few words.  I have eight of them and most stopped ticking a long time ago.  Two are also from HP anniversaries (What the heck, were timepieces my only choices?) but three others have more significance.  One carries the logo of my father’s seafood restaurant.  I still have the Snoopy watch I believe was my very first timepiece (my granddaughter wouldn’t know Snoopy either, sigh).  I also have my first “big-boy” watch; a gold Pulsar with matching hands on a cream-colored face.  Yes, I may be wearing a sleek digital Fitbit as I type but I always wear one of my analog watches on special occasions.  At least, one that still works.

[Author’s Note: I’m a little unnerved to see each of my wristwatches in the above photos is stopped at the exact… same… time. I didn’t do this! Why would I do this? Either someone’s been playing in my watch drawer or my house is haunted. Maybe both.]

Prague’s Astronomical Clock

I can’t decide if my granddaughter will miss out with the lack of analog in her life.  She’ll take trips where she’ll see quaint clocks high up in the steeples of New England churches.  She’ll take a hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus through London, passing under the shadow of Big Ben.  She may even make it to the Old Town Square in Prague to see the famous Astronomical Clock, still operating since 1410.  But will she know how to tell the time?  Time will tell (ha).  More likely, her grandfather will teach her how.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.


Lego Grand Piano – Update #5

Last week

I describe this week’s movement as “allegretto”, or “light and cheerful” (read about my hesitant warm-up in Let’s Make Music!).  I completed the build of Bag #5 – of 21 bags of pieces – in a cool 46 minutes.  Maybe I’m finding the rhythm of this piece, though I did have a tense moment where two critical blocks were installed the wrong way and I had to disassemble several steps to get them right.  Whew – that was close!

Dare I say, we’re starting to see hints of the finished product.  Those four circles in the “this week” photo are part of what you’ll see when the piano lid is open.  All those little yellow “grabbers” will cradle the piano strings.  To the rear, we’re seeing some of the graceful curves of the instrument’s black body.

This week

Simple math tells us we’re approaching 25% completion of the build.  To put it another way, our concerto is about to wrap up the first of its four movements.

Running Build Time: 5.0 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Leftover pieces: ZERO! (Holy cow – how did that happen?)

Conductor’s Note: I’m about 700 pieces into the build and this instrument is getting heavy.  Now I understand why you need special movers to relocate a piano.

Cause for Alarms

A headline in this morning’s news feed announced , “Flaming Condoms are the Newest Threat to Southern Israel!” Just wanted you to be aware.

Now that I have your attention, let’s turn to a timelier topic. Big Ben, the iconic clock and tower at the north end of London’s Palace of Westminster, has been silent for almost a year now. In case you missed the news, Ben’s Great Bell and Quarter Chimes no longer toll – for another three years in fact – while much-needed repairs are made to the clock mechanics behind his massive face. At least the damage was simply wear-and-tear, and not the result of flaming condoms.

For Londoners, I have to believe the muting of Big Ben took some getting used to. Imagine, heard on miles of city streets, the Great Bell bonging every hour on the hour, and the Quarter Chimes playing every fifteen minutes (a stuck-in-your-head repeating melody of twenty notes). Now take all that away; replaced by uncomfortable silence. I’m sure city-dwellers subconsciously depended on Ben to remind them they had, say, thirty minutes to get to the office, or fifteen minutes left in the lunch hour, or no minutes before church (better start running). How will these people cope for the next three years?

In the absence of Ben, Londoners surely turn to alarm clocks more than they used to.  Not comfortable relying on their own senses (or the sun’s position in the sky), the English probably carry “Baby Ben’s” if you will – whether mobile phones or other portable devices.  I expect the additional chorus of beeps and chimes and other musical bites make a ride on the Tube even more enjoyable, as you’re left to wonder whether your neighbor’s getting a phone call or simply late for an appointment.

Alarms have come a long way since the basic digital LED box-clocks of old.  I wish those old bedside Ben’s were gone forever, but a visit to any Walmart or Radio Shack proves they’re more prevalent than ever.  My wife used to own one of the more potent models – with an enhhh…enhhh…ENHHH screech capable of levitating me out of a deep sleep, my pulse racing faster than an Indy car.  I’ll hear that murderous alarm even after I’m six feet under.

The colorful Beddi

Today – mercifully – we have several alarm clocks designed not so much to levitate but rather to ameliorate your transition into the conscious world.  Beddi – a “designer smart-clock” – is a sleek enough bedside companion.  Along with charging your phone, Beddi controls the dawning of your bedroom lights or the gradual amplification of your favorite playlist or even the pleasing aroma of your coffeemaker.  You choose how you wish to wake up.

The cute Kello

Kello is the spitting image of a toaster, but it’s really a partner for your body clock, with sleep-training modes to wake you a little earlier each day, or guided breathing exercises to help you nod off faster each night.  Kello also offers music in place of an alarm and can restrict the number of times you can whack the snooze button.

The sadistic Pavlok

Some people demand a little more, uh – torture – to get themselves up and out of bed.  Ruggie is exactly what it sounds like – an innocent-looking rug placed just to the side of the bed.  Ruggie is all about blasting music in louder and louder bursts, and the only way to shut the blessed thing up is to stand – full body-weight – atop of its fleeced surface for at least thirty seconds.  Then there’s Pavlok, a wearable alarm clock programmed via smart phone app.  Pavlok begins with a beep or a vibration (my advice – get up NOW) – but left to its own “devices” matures into a pulsing, zapping electric shock when you still don’t respond.  Pavlok is also happy to electrocute for trivial pursuits like biting your nails, smoking, or too much time on the Web.

Don’t know about you, but I have no interest in meeting Pavlok’s inventor.  Mr. Shock Clock is one messed-up sadistic soul, and probably has a host of other torture devices at the ready.  Like flaming condoms.