My penpal (yes, penpal since the third grade) Sue was in town with her husband to visit his daughter and they invited me to join them for dinner and a musical.

During the 2017 Tony Awards broadcast, I was blown away by the number (“Welcome to the Rock”) that the cast of Come From Away: A New Musical performed. I knew that seeing it was probably not in the cards because of the expense. But when Sue mentioned that was the musical we would be seeing, I was thrilled. Before the show, we met at Marseille for dinner. We’d eaten there before and the food is very good. If it sounds familiar that’s because it’s usually the first restaurant ad you see at the back of your Playbill. It’s filled with lots of white-haired (probably) theater-goers. The service is excellent. I got there early and started with a Ketel One on the rocks. It’s a shame I didn’t glance at the cocktail menu because there were one or two that I would have liked to have tried (what a change in attitude for me). While looking through the wines by the glass section, I asked the waiter about a wine I wasn’t familiar with and his description inspired me to order a glass with dinner. I had the soup du jour, which was a delicious butternut squash soup with brown butter, cream, and micro greens. My entrée was duck breast with root vegetables and a pear-port sauce. And dessert was an apple-plum galette with black pepper ice cream and a plum port sauce. Everything was wonderful. The galette’s dough was a little dry but the black pepper ice cream more than made up for it.

We had such excellent seats that I told Sue I was already so happy that it didn’t matter what the show was like. We were in the center of row J in the center orchestra. We laughed when some people in the row in front of us pulled out a big Newfoundland flag and posed for photos in front of the stage (it was a guess as to what flag it was but an educated one based on the musical’s plot). Then several groups throughout the theater started waving little Newfoundland flags. Just before the start of the show, Neil Patrick Harris walked in and sat a few rows ahead of us.

The stage set was bare and crowded at the same time. On either side at the front of the stage were tall tree trunks with their roots wrapped around the front edge and front side of the stage. A forest with small white lights throughout the trees covered both sides of the stage and in the center were wooden chairs and tables of different shapes of sizes. The back wall was all wood with cut outs that would turn out to be doors or a cargo hold. The band sat on stage in the forest on both sides. The music had a strong Celtic feeling.

All the scene changes were done by the actors. A turntable helped them move the chairs and tables around so that the stage represents a diner, a plane, buses, a community center, a bar, and homes of several Newfoundland residents. The action takes place in Gander, Newfoundland starting on September 11, 2001 and the days following when 38 planes are diverted to Newfoundland and the towns have to feed and house almost 7000 passengers (which doubled the size of the town) and 19 animals in cargo. The show starts in the diner and moves from the first angry and then frightened passengers on one of the planes as they finally find out why they have been sitting so long on the tarmac in the Newfoundland. Despite a strike, school bus drivers take the passengers from the planes to a community center in Gander and then many of the passengers end up in Gander homes so that they can shower and sleep in a real bed.

The cast plays the residents of Gander and the passengers. One romance blooms between two of the passengers and another couple from the plane discover their priorities are different. Gays and blacks on the plane aren’t sure how rural Newfoundlanders are going to accept them but everyone in Gander is welcoming and friendly. Food is mostly cod au gratin, which is said with such a thick accent that it’s difficult to know what they’re saying until it’s finally translated as fish with cheese.

Despite the horror of why they’ve been brought together the people of the small town and the passengers become close and they laugh and drink while waiting for the go-ahead for the planes to leave. The Gander residents won’t take any money for their kindness and generosity, so the passengers stuff the City Hall suggestion box with cash and take up a collection on the plane. One million dollars was raised for college scholarships for the Newfoundland high school students. Ten years later the crew and passengers from the plane return to Gander to reunite with the life-long friends that they had found.

“Prayer” starts as the “Prayer of St. Francis” but soon blends into a Jewish prayer and then a Muslim prayer as different passengers pray. The entire cast was excellent but two stand-outs were “Me and the Sky” sung by Jenn Colella and the female cast members and “I Am Here” sung by Tamika Lawrence.

I didn’t think a play with 9/11 as part of the plot could be funny but it is. And, of course, there are a few tears. The play moves fast with one song almost leading into another. There is no intermission and there’s never a slow section. When it ended, the audience jumped up as one person to applaud the cast and they came out for two curtain calls. Afterwards, the musicians came to the edge of the stage and played for the audience.

It’s a true story – interviews were done by Irene Sankoff and David Hein (book, music, and lyrics) during the tenth anniversary reunion and some stories were merged and others stories were used directly for the musical.

The cast was Petrina Bromley (Bonnie and others); Geno Carr (Oz and others); Jenn Colella (Beverly, Annette, and others); Alex Finke (Janice and others); De’lon Grant (Bob and others); Joel Hatch (Claude and others); Chad Kimball (Kevin T., Garth, and others); Tamika Lawrence (Hannah and others); Lee MacDougall (Nick, Doug, and others); Caesar Samayoa (Kevin J., Ali, and others); Astrid Van Wieren (Beulah and others); and Sharon Wheatley (Diane and others). (A special shout-out to Lawrence, who was an understudy. I haven’t seen Q. Smith’s performance but Lawrence did such an excellent job that I cannot imagine anyone else in that role.)

The musical is brilliantly directed by Tony award winner Christopher Ashley. The simple and ultilitarian scenic design was by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, the effective lighting design by Howell Brinkley, and sound design by Gareth Owen. Dialect coach Joel Goldes did an excellent job as did the cast as they switched from accent to accent. Dance captain was Josh Breckenridge and assistant dance captain was Caesar Samayoa.

The band was Ian Eisendrath (arranger/conductor/keyboard/accordion/harmonium); Ben Power (whistles/Irish flute/uilleann pipes); Caitlin Warbelow (fiddle); Alec Berlin (electric/acoustic guitars); Nate Lueck (acoustic guitar/mandolins/bouzouki); Carl Carter (electric/acoustic basses); Romano Di Nillo (bodhran/percussion); and Larry Lelli (drums/percussion). Associate music director was Chris Ranney, music coordinator was David Lai, and electronic music design was by Andrew Barrett. Orchestrations were by August Eriksmoen.

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“I’m thinking it may be the last trip around the country,” [Tom] Petty told Rolling Stone shortly before [the 40th Anniversary Tour] began. “It’s very likely we’ll keep playing, but will we take on 50 shows in one tour? I don’t think so. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one. We’re all on the backside of our sixties. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road.”

There are current Fall for Dance shows, the New Yorker Festival events, a play, plus the summer and winter shows I haven’t written up yet. But Tom Petty’s death earlier last week reminded me that I still haven’t written up one of my favorite shows of the summer and it was time to give him his due.

rtb and I were excited to get tickets for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 40th Anniversary Tour. Along for the ride were Joanna and Tim. This would be my first time seeing him. The venue would be Forest Hills Stadium and we’d be sitting up in the last row but it’s a great stadium where every seat is a good seat.

There was a little disappointment when rtb and I realized we would be missing an Okkervil River show at Joe’s Pub that was announced later in the year and would be the same night but now I’m so glad that we chose to see Tom Petty.

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AXS has some kind of proprietary ticketing system that I mistakenly chose (it’s the default and I actually wanted the tickets mailed to me) and it’s set-up so that you have to show up with your credit card or driver’s license and the tickets are printed for you at the gate by a handheld machine. It seems a good way to stop scalpers but then it should be mandatory.

Walking up the stairs from the ground into the stadium, I noticed that the sound really is as dead in the stairwell as the signs claim. Once my head peaked up into the venue there was a blast of sound that was Peter Wolf. I was sad to see that the room wasn’t full yet.

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When MTV was new (and you had to have cable to have it, which still wasn’t available in my part of Queens), I was visiting a boyfriend’s friend on Long Island and we were watching MTV. And there was “Centerfold” with that great shot of the drummer’s stick coming down on the drum and splashing up liquid. I already loved J Geils Band the recording artists. Now I loved the MTV stars.

Wolf was wearing a black sequin jacket and making exactly the same dance moves that I had seen him do when I saw the J Geils Band at a Schaefer (or Dr Pepper) concert in Central Park many years ago. He was also chugging from a bottle of wine. The man hasn’t missed a beat. He performed several J Geils Band songs including “Cry One More Time,” which was recorded by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Wolf was trying to get the small crowd to clap along and it was difficult but he never gave up trying and gave it his all. Before “Must of Got Lost” he gave us a long story about a cheating girlfriend. He ended with The Valentinos’ “Lookin’ for a Love” because who doesn’t love Bobby Womack?

The Midnight Travelers are Duke Levine and Kevin Barry on guitars, Marty Ballou on bass, Tom West on keyboards, and Tom Arey on drums.

Setlist from setlist.fm

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There was a big crowd buying food and drinks during Wolf’s show and intermission.

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When Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers hit the stage, the room had filled up.

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The big ball lights on stage now danced around and moved up and down and all around while changing colors. It wasn’t the most elaborate stage show but Petty on stage seems as humble as he does in interviews. They opened with the first song from their first album, “Rockin’ Around (With You)” and took us on a journey of the band’s career. Mudcrutch (with lead guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist/pianist Benmont Tench) led to the Heartbreakers. Their debut wasn’t a great success but a re-release of “Breakdown” was popular. Their second album made the Top 40 and they were on their way.

Petty did a request (actually he was the one who requested it), “Walls (Circus).” He turned around and jumped back in surprise at the screen behind him and asked if that had been there the night before. Petty always sounds like he smoked a bowl and this night was no different.

Petty played acoustic guitar for “Wildflowers.” At the end of every song was a very effusive and sincere “thank you.” Before “Learning to Fly,” Petty said he didn’t remember which album the song was from. Petty played acoustic guitar and Campbell played mandolin. The audience sang the chorus while Petty ad-libbed. “I Should Have Known It” featured Petty and the Webb Sisters (Hattie and Charley on background vocals) looking good shaking tambourines off-mic.

The other Heartbreakers are Steve Ferrone on drums, Ron Blair on bass, and Scott Thurston on acoustic and electric guitar, horn, and organ. When introducing the band, Petty told us that Tench was a childhood friend and when Petty met Campbell they played “Johnny B Goode” together and Petty declared that Campbell needed to be in his band forever.

They encored with “American Girl,” which was a given since it hadn’t been played yet. They had to rush through it in order to be off the stage by curfew. There were so many other songs of Petty’s that I would have loved him to perform but I consider myself so lucky to have seen him on his final tour. The crowd was crazy for Tom Petty and it felt like he was just as crazy for us.

“As you’re coming up, you’re recognized song for song or album for album,” [Petty] told Esquire in 2006. “What’s changed these days is that the man who approaches me on the street is more or less thanking me for a body of work – the soundtrack to his life, as a lot of them say. And that’s a wonderful feeling. It’s all an artist can ask.”

Setlist from setlist.fm

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The Red Letter Plays: Signature Theatre Company 20 September 2017

September 27, 2017

There was a Facebook ad for a Suzan-Lori Parks play starring Christine Lahti and the ticket price was only $30. I thought that sounded like a good deal and when I went to the Signature Theatre Company website, I saw that there was a companion play. Parks had written two plays that riff off Nathaniel […]

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Dylan Moran: Theatre 80 St Marks 22 September 2017

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Dylan Moran was doing his stand-up at Theatre 80 St Marks and rtb and I were there. mollyT was supposed to join us but she had to work. I’m sorry she didn’t get to experience Moran’s brilliant sarcastic witty sense of humor. Theatre 80 St Marks is a small theater and it’s always nice to […]

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Glenn Tilbrook: City Winery 15 August 2017

September 20, 2017

Glenn Tilbrook always puts on a great show whether he’s solo or with Squeeze. For this outing at City Winery there was no opening act but Tilbrook did give up part of his show to his son, Leon. rtb and I were supposed to be joined by mollyT and Mrs. Devereaux but neither one could […]

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Macbeth: New York Classical Theatre 23 August 2017

September 20, 2017

After my day at the Central Park Zoo, I made my way to Brooklyn Bridge Park to meet rtb so we could see the New York Classical Theatre’s panoramic production of Macbeth. They do their plays at several locations throughout NYC and this was the last week we would be able to see it. I […]

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Lucero: Rocks Off Cruise 24 August 2017

September 19, 2017

Way back in May the tickets for Lucero on a Rocks Off Concert Cruise went on sale. This would be an East River cruise on the Liberty Belle. I couldn’t wait to spend a summer evening cruising NYC harbor with my boys. There were two short lines on the pier when I got there. Some […]

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Sturgill Simpson: Radio City Music Hall 14 September 2017

September 17, 2017

Earlier this year I was watching Saturday Night Live and, as usual, I was paying more attention to my computer than to the TV screen. The musical act was on and I was half-listening when suddenly my ears sent a message to my brain to get off the computer and pay attention to the music. […]

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Surprise! Posting again

September 7, 2017

No surprise – I’ve let myself fall way behind on posting again. One of the exciting things about fall is that at the end of September/beginning of October are three special NYC events – Fall for Dance (five programs of four/five dances a night for only $15 each night), The New Yorker Festival (interviews and […]

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Steve Earle/Lucero: Ryman Auditorium 21 July 2017

July 26, 2017

When Lucero announced a new show opening for Steve Earle at the Ryman Auditorium, I knew I had to be there somehow. Two of my favorite artists playing in an historical venue that I always wanted to visit. Plus, I’d get to visit Nashville. The Ryman (aka The Mother Church of Country Music) started as […]

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