Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Healthy Eating Challenge Update

Hi everyone,

I'm halfway through my healthy-eating challenge, which I started on February 15. Since then, I've noticed more frequent brighter mornings, fully energized days, and a different kind of fullness that has me thinking of food only when I'm actually hungry. Imagine that magic! 

The hardest part of sticking to the challenge is time management. You spend so much more time at the grocery store reading ingredients on all labels and shopping for fresh produce, and then there's the cooking itself. I'm a slow chopper. 

But it's worth it! Here's some deliciousness, courtesy of Ebeth Johnson, Healthy Eating Specialist at Whole Foods, P Street: 
  • Green Banana Almond Smoothie
  • Ebeth's Veggie Stir Fry
  • Romaine Salad with Pine Nuts 

A perfect way to get your daily serving of raw greens in by starting your morning off with a smoothie.  

Green Banana Almond Smoothie
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
2 cups baby spinach 
4 medjool dates, pitted 
2 very ripe bananas
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of cinnamon 

Combine all ingredients (with ice, if you want) until smooth. 

My experience: Instead of spinach, I used kale and I reduced the number of dates to three. Four was too sweet for me: can you believe it? The only problem I've encountered while making this smoothie is that the dates never get fully chopped, so I get some chunks of sweetness in my sips. My blender may be causing this problem, and it's not a bad problem to have in any case, but you might try soaking the dates in water for a while to soften them up before blending. See if that makes a difference. 

My breakfasts consist of oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This week, I've tried some recommended challenge-approved cold cereal called Engine 2 (with almond or soy milk, of course). It's good, filling cereal, but I like my hot oatmeal better.  Lately, I've been hooked on clementines and grab a couple to snack every day.  

For dinner, I've tried a couple of dishes. For this fantastic oil-free veggie stir fry, it's all about the glaze.

Ebeth's Veggie Stir Fry and Peach-Tamari Glaze 
Serves 4

For the glaze: 
1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup all-fruit peach preserves
3 tablespoons low-sodium tamari
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

For the stir fry:
1 medium red onion, sliced into half moons
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, minced
1 cup red bell pepper strips
1 cup bite-sized broccoli florets
1 cup bite-sized cauliflower florets
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup halved Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup sliced carrots

1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of one lime
1/4 cup roughly chopped macadamia or cashew nuts

In a small bowl, combine all glaze ingredients. Using a whisk, mix well to combine. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of water or vegetable stock over a medium-high flame. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno. Cook, stirring for about 5 minutes. Add remaining vegetables one at a time, in the order given, allowing 30 seconds between each addition and tossing well to combine. When all vegetables are added and they are still fairly crisp, add the sauce, stirring to combine. Cook 5-7 minutes until sauce thickens. Just before serving, add cilantro and lime juice and mix well to combine. Transfer to a serving platter and top with chopped nuts. Serve with brown rice, quinoa, or brown rice noodles. 

My experience: You can use whatever veggies that you like or happen to have on hand in this dish. (You can even use pre-cut frozen veggies to save time.) I skipped including the jalapeno pepper and Brussels sprouts in my version. You can also choose a different kind of fruit preserves for a new flavor. I've used all fruit preserves, orange marmalade, and rasberry preserves before. (Peach is still my favorite.)  

Ebeth demonstrated how to make this easy salad during our Glorious Greens class that kicked off our healthy-eating challenge. I was nearly as quick recreating it at home, where I paired it with a light carrot soup. 

Romaine Salad with Pine Nuts
4 cups shredded romaine
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup raisins
1 avocado, halved, pitted and cut into chunks
Juice of one lemon (more or less to taste)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt 
dash of cayenne pepper

In a serving bowl, combine all ingredients. Using clean hands, mix well to combine until avocado becomes a bit creamy. Serve and enjoy! 

My experience: The avocado and lemon make the yummy dressing for this salad, and I don't have the flavors down yet. On my first try, the dressing was too sour and not as creamy as I like. Next time, I'll try a little less lemon and a little more avocado, but yours is up to your taste.

Give these yummy recipes a try and let me know how they turn out! 


Friday, February 21, 2014

Make way for The Last Ship!

Hi everyone,

Did you know that Sting came out with an album of brand-new music last September? I couldn't find it in any local stores the day it was released, ended up ordering the CD online, and paced the floors like Daffy Duck waiting for the latest edition of his Duck Tracy comic book to arrive. Did other Sting fans encounter this problem? Record stores, I miss you!

Sting hasn't released any albums of new material since 2003's Sacred Love. He kept busy with other projects, among them albums of reworked Sting songs and albums for which he sings other people's songs, an autobiography, a book of song lyrics, and tours, tours, and more tours. As excited as I was about all these things, I had a nagging worry that Sting was on the verge of retirement.

All this time, though, he worked on writing a musical based on The Soul Cages, his emotional 1990 album that dealt with the death of his parents and his own mortality. Getting my hands on The Soul Cages was very exciting to me, not only because it was so personal but because it ended Sting's nearly 4-year bout of writer's block. "The Soul Cages was my attempt at elegy, the least loved, least understood of all my recorded efforts," he says. "But despite that cold reception, it did establish a select and loyal constituency of listeners who I only half-jokingly refer to as 'the recently bereaved' or similarly haunted. Not the most cheerful club, it must be admitted, but a thoughtful bunch nonetheless." I guess I am among them because The Soul Cages is my all-time favorite Sting album.

Years later, the musical inspired by The Soul Cages is finally coming to fruition with a world premiere in Chicago this June and a run on Broadway to follow in the Fall! The Last Ship has morphed from being about Sting's own soul cages to being about his hometown of Wallsend and the people who live there. In this rough ship-building town in Northern England, Sting remembers watching from his bedroom window the ships being built at the end of his street. These giant masses of steel would eventually grow so large, they'd block out the sunshine and eventually leave port, never to return.

To whet our appetites for The Last Ship, the musical, Sting released an album of its songs well in advance of the show. Days after the album's release, he made a few TV appearances to promote it. Devastated that I didn't have my copy yet, I first heard one of Sting's new songs on the Today show. Before he sang it, he told Matt Lauer and company how important it was to him that the songs get out now so that people are familiar with them by the time they go to see the musical. He imagines audiences being invested the characters and singing along to the songs during the show. The song "What Have We Got?" followed. Sting sang it with his friend Jimmy Nail and a feisty group of musicians playing and yelling along behind them. It was a like a joyous Irish jig, complete with fiddles and stomping. The instrumentation in this song is clearly amazing, with a full-bodied sound that plops you on that ship amid the crowd of crew members.

When he sang this song on Late Night with David Letterman a few days later, Dave exclaimed at the end, "It sounds like a musical!" It really does and that excites me!

But I am doubtful that Sting can successfully hook fans on The Last Ship based on that song. When I first heard it, I didn't get it. 

But then my CD arrived in the mail. Can you believe I had to work that day? Before heading to work, I ripped open the packaging, read the liner notes, and put the 17 shiny new songs on my iPod. (Of course, I bought the 2-CD deluxe version of The Last Ship. It's the only way to go.)

The Last Ship is an amazing piece of work, again exploring life and mortality but through different characters who have fully-realized stories behind their voices. "What Have We Got?", which depicts  ship builders who are stuck but content in their station in life, fits perfectly among these songs. I get it! Other songs explore a vast number of other characters, including a drifter ("And Yet"), a quiet loner ("August Winds"), a tough, yearning teenager ("The Night the Pugilist Learned How to Dance"), a rejected lover ("I Love Her But She Loves Someone Else"), a middle-aged man facing his mortality ("Practical Arrangement"), and a dying man in "So To Speak." Some characters noted in the CD booklet didn't even fit on the CD, so we have even more to look forward to in the stage production. "Once I set out on this course, of speaking in voices other than my own, of expressing points of view that were perhaps different from mine, I realized that the muse had somehow been set free," Sting explains, remembering how he broke through his nearly 10-year-long writer's block. "A kind of creative 'projectile vomiting' ensued, where characters, stories, a myriad of voices spewed out on the page. It was staggering how much of this stuff cam out of me, and how quickly, and all because I'd gotten out of the way, and allowed these other voices to speak through me." 

Sting brought in several friends and musicians from his hometown to join him on this journey. Of all the guest musicians on this album, the most exciting to me was Brian Jones, lead singer of AC/DC. I was secretly hoping for a duet of "Back in Black" but Brian Jones, who assumes one of the musical's characters, sings other songs. These songs show that he's actually an impressive singer, something you can't really tell when he's screaming those great AC/DC anthems.

This album has a little bit of everything, somehow recognizably Sting but also completely unexpected. As usual, Sting raises the bar with his odd time signatures, interesting melodies, and random atmospheric sounds. (I love the church bells and seagulls.) Beautifully written lyrics tell the story of fully realized characters in each song so clearly that you can picture it all like a movie. We'll see if the musical lives up to what I've already envisioned! I can't wait to hear "Show Some Respect," which explores the camaraderie of the ship builders as they work on their latest project. From the first second I heard it, I thought I was on Broadway already with Joel Grey's Cabaret character emceeing this musical to a rousing finish!  

By the end of the first day of listening to The Last Ship, I figured that it was the best stuff Sting's ever written. I unintentionally listened to it for nearly 3 months straight. I woke with the songs in my head and found myself humming them in the middle of the day. (I know. That sounds insane even to me.) But, Sting, I know the songs pretty well now.

Here's another taste of what you can expect from Sting's exciting new project, the title song "The Last Ship."


Don't you feel like this is the start of something good? Are you pacing the floors to see this thing like I am? If you are not convinced yet and want to hear more, check out Sting on Great Performances tonight on PBS for a concert recorded at New York's Public Theater (check your local listings). He'll explain the genesis of this ambitious project and sing plenty of songs from it.

Get ready for a treat because The Last Ship is bound for a grand voyage!  


Copyright credits: All Sting song and images © Sting, and Today show video © NBC.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Health Starts Here...and Now

Hi everyone,

Courtesy of Whole Foods Market
For a while now, I've been participating in healthy-eating classes and challenges at Whole Foods, P Street, run by the wonderful Healthy Eating Specialist Ebeth Johnson. These free events introduce me to new foods and easy recipes, encouraging the healthy, economical habit of cooking at home. This is just what I was looking for to expand my typical menu, which included broccoli and clam sauce over linguine, macaroni and cheese with peas, and fish sticks with edamame. 

Actually, I thought I ate pretty well with my daily bowls of Cream of Wheat, granola-bar snacks, and vegetarian meals, but these classes have opened my eyes to what I have been eating and what I should be eating. You'd be amazed by the amount of sugar hidden in seemingly healthy snacks and drinks! The challenges have shown me the difference, given me tools to keep myself in check, and provided the variety I craved in my meals. 

Since another Whole Foods 21-Day Healthy Eating & Living Challenge begins today (and continues through March 8), it's a great time for me to start posting recipes here on my blog. Look for some healthy deliciousness coming soon.  

But, first, here are the challenge rules:
  • Eat more veggies. This should be 3 cups of raw veggies and 2 cups of cooked leafy greens/green veggies every day.
  • Eat less meat. Have no more than 3 ounces of meat or fish three times a week. (This is about the size of a stack of playing cards.) An egg counts as 3 ounces of meat.
  • Get fit. Move to warm up your body and break a little sweat for at least 10 minutes every day. (Previous challenges have offered free yoga classes at local studios, and this one provides a free local gym membership for the length of the challenge.)
  • Kick bad habits. 
    • Use low-salt or no-sodium products. (Salt your foods only at the table rather than while cooking.) 
    • Cook without oil. Heat your pan and use water at first to get your veggies sizzling. (You'll know the pan is hot enough when you splash it with water and the drops look like bouncing beads.) Soon, the natural sugars in your food will allow you to cook without any of it sticking to the pan. It works!
    • Choose dairy-free alternatives. I've been using almond, coconut, hemp, and soy milks. I'm excited to try some nut-based cheeses during this challenge.
    • Be caffeine and alcohol free. This is the best opportunity for me to use up all the herbal teas in my cabinet. 
    • Tame your sweet tooth. The only allowed sweetener is (preferably raw) honey, fresh and dried fruits, fruit juices, and fruit juice concentrates. Be sure to check the ingredients of your juices to ensure that no refined sugars have been added. 
  • Show yourself love. Your words create your reality. Use them wisely to create a loving, nurturing environment and aura around yourself. Speak to yourself and others using positive, supportive language. 
You may think that the challenge is asking for too much change, but I've found that once you establish some good habits, such as setting aside time on Sundays to cook meals for the week, it's not very hard to keep up. This challenge aims to reset your body, diminishing toxins to create a cleaner slate. You'll be surprised by how quickly your body adjusts and how much better you feel. 

I need this challenge! Since Thanksgiving, I've had a random diet of pizza, baked sweets, candy, and (at least dairy-free) ice cream. This week, I'll start fresh! Join me if you'd like, or just follow along, enjoy the recipes, and wish me luck because I'm craving nothing but hot chocolate right now. 


Sunday, February 09, 2014

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #41--Rango (2011)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

It's interesting how far we've come, that Johnny Depp playing a talking lizard is now totally normal. It'd be weird if he wasn't playing a talking lizard..... 
Ignatiy Vishnevestsky, Ebert Presents At the Movies/

This lizard is a chameleon in more ways than one.
While on the road in the back of a Volkswagen, an aquatic chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) passes his time with thespian pursuits, using the props in his fish tank. A sudden swerve on the highway causes his home to crash to the pavement, and the lizard finds himself lost on the side of the road. The armadillo who caused the accident sends him on a journey through the desert to a town called Dirt to find the water he (being an aquatic chameleon) desperately needs.

In an effort to blend in with Dirt's desert citizens, the lizard impresses them all in his most adventurous role yet. As Rango, he invents a gun-slinging past that wins him the position of sheriff in charge of solving the mystery behind the town's dwindling water supply. With sparkling animation and an impressive cast of voices, Rango is Gore Verbinski's salute to Spaghetti Westerns, a hilarious tale about finding your own way through life.

Life in the desert is better than it seems.
When I heard that Johnny and Gore Verbinski were considering doing an animated feature with Johnny as a lizard, I thought they must be getting loopy spending so much time together on the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. Johnny figures that his director got the idea of this role for him because of all the lizard-running-on-water Captain Jack did in the Pirates movies. (Watch Captain Jack run, and you'll see what I mean; a running lizard really was Johnny's inspiration.) "It sounded so strange because the only element that existed at that time was his idea of a lizard who is on an existential, spiritual sojourn. I only knew that it's going to take place in the Wild West...It made so little sense then that I thought, 'I want to see this,'" Johnny says of hearing about the role of Rango for the first time. "Gore has an extremely sick mind. He can really go out there with various ideas, and I have a tendency to travel pretty distant myself with these kinds of absurdist ideas. He's been an incredible collaborator all the way up to now."

For me, a cartoon about reptiles in the desert did not sound appealing. I prepared to be squirming in my seat, watching snakes, tarantulas, and scorpions. I didn't pay much attention as they worked on this project and suddenly it was nearly completed. I noticed their progress when I saw this ad for it on TV:

This animated feature - the first from George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic - was shot like a live-action film, an idea I fell in love with immediately! To me, somehow, Rango looked exactly like the kind of lizard Johnny would be. These desert creatures were actually cute (in their own worn, grimy way), and so many great actors (Bill Nighy, Alfred Molina, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, and others) were providing the characters' voices. Upon seeing this goofy trailer, my doubts disappeared instantly, and I bouncing off the walls to see this thing! Typical.

Get ready to laugh.
Since Johnny had already done great voice work for Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride years before, I couldn't understand why critics were so shocked by how fantastic he was as Rango. I suppose, compared to bashful Victor, his character in The Corpse Bride, he had more freedom in Rango as a lost, theatre-loving chameleon. "The fact that he's a lizard attempting to adapt to his surroundings and assume these characters to be accepted is very, very fitting," Johnny says of the role.

The beginning of the film grabs you, showcasing the lizard's wild imagination as he makes up stories within the confines of his fish tank. Then, when the aquatic chameleon is faced with the desert (where aquatic chameleons aren't expected to survive), he has a real adventure at his feet. Arriving in Dirt, he stands out as the obvious stranger, with his bright green skin and red flower-pattern shirt. He creates Rango on the spot, assuming the character to instill fear and gain the respect of the town's weary citizens.

This wonderful script, but John Logan, is packed great lines, jokes, broad comedy, and pop-culture references that can be enjoyed by the whole family. "You can be 3 and you can be 93 and virtually get the same charge out of it," Johnny says of Rango. Kids will like the bright colors, amazing detail, and textures in each frame; the slapstick comedy; and Rango's charismatic personality. "This part was designed for Johnny," Gore Verbinski says about the starring role. "There is no movie without Johnny." In Rango, Johnny's great sense of humor comes through in just the way he says certain phrases, and I'm sure that some of the jokes are his own. He must have contributed to the script; he always does. The cameo by Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo may be the first clue. Adults should recognize and appreciate other salutes to such classic films as High Noon, Dirty Harry, Chinatown, and even Star Wars.

"The humor in the movie is very funny and irreverent but underneath that, there is a deeper, darker story and theme," Actress Isla Fisher (the voice of Beans) says. This lizard has issues; while endlessly entertaining, using his own imagination, he doesn't know his own purpose in life. Director Gore Verbinski explains the dilemma of finding one's own identity: "Who are you if you just spend your life pretending to be other things? At the core of that is, really, who doesn't want to be loved? Who doesn't want to blend in? Who doesn't want to feel like they belong?" The chameleon has to stop changing, learn to be himself, and figure out who he wants to be - an important lesson that kids can take with them after they've had a good laugh.

Enjoy the visual feast!
I figured Johnny would not disappoint as Rango. Aside from his work and the clever script, the ingredient that surprises and impresses me most about Rango is the artwork. "There's a kind of beauty to this very dry place," Johnny says of the desert. Rango proves it with dazzling animation that brings these reptiles, birds, and other creatures to life. As ridiculous as this sounds, at times, I actually forgot I was watching a cartoon when I first saw it. Everything looks so textured and realistic. "We decided we were going to really push the level of detail and level of textures and level of heightened realism that came with these characters," Story/Character Designer James Ward Byrkit says. Although all the characters are animals, I couldn't always tell what animals they were meant to be. Rather than cute and fuzzy, these animals were rough and dirty, some with bad manners, inadequate personal hygiene, blood-shot eyes, and past injuries. While the crew knew they had to populate Dirt with desert creatures, they had the freedom to invent looks based on the characters' personalities. "There were no rules, just creatures from the desert and characters from our Western genre," Director Gore Verbinski says. You can tell that these characters have been built for survival in the harsh desert environment, and they've all fallen on hard times as the drought worsens.

How'd they do that?
As you could see from the trailer, unlike traditional animated features, for which actors record their  characters' dialogue alone in a recording booth, Rango required the entire cast to act out every scene, interacting with each other while being recorded. They even used costumes and props to help them realize their characters.

"Normally, what we'd do is we'd film ourselves doing various scenes and use that as reference," Associate Animation Supervisor Kevin Martel explains. "But if we can reference Johnny Depp's behavior and the quirks that he has, I mean, it's just going to help the animation so much more. It's just going to form the character a lot better." In the end, the design of the animated character focused on the whole package - the expressions and features of the real animal they were drawing from, the actor's own expressions and personality, and ideas for the character's overall look and outfit. "It's a completely different thing that hasn't been seen before," Character Designer Eugene Yelchin says about the approach. "You kind of invent as you go along. You invent every single thing."

Having the actors so involved in preproduction seemed to bring new energy and level of detail to the final product. "What we're doing on this project that's different is we've got all the actors together ensemble, interacting with one another, trying to get that magic that happens when the actors are together," Animation Director Hal Hinckel explains. "So we're getting a lot of improv and interesting accidents and things that you don't get in a recording studio with a single actor." Drawing from his film-directing experience, Gore Verbinski had no qualms about having the entire cast acting on the set for Rango. "Animation's not a genre; it's a technique for telling a story. So, why abandon the things that you've kind of relied on in your career? When making a film, you've got everybody on set and everybody gets on their game because there's another actor. They're reacting to each other."

The cast and crew found this atmosphere hugely beneficial. "Gore and Johnny have no reservations about playing, and it sort of frees everyone up or gives us permission to really physicalize and vocalize the lives of these characters," actor Lew Temple (the voice of Furgus and Hitch) explains. Isla Fisher agrees: "Just the interaction you get from the other performers, it's so much more creative and so much more rewarding, really, as a performer."

The unorthodox production and hard work paid off. Among other honors, Rango won the Oscar for best animated feature! (Johnny earned Teen and People's Choice Awards for his efforts; only Johnny could win our hearts as a lizard.)

Gordon can adapt to life in the desert too.
I thought this drawing was going to be so easy - a single split image of Gordon as Johnny in the studio, talking for the character of Rango on one side, and Rango acting it out on the other side. After watching Rango for Johnny Kitties, though, I wanted to draw every frame of the movie to capture the amazing animation, and write every line to capture the quick-witted humor. Well, I can only fit so much on a page (and still my scanner is not big enough), so here's a teaser of a few scenes, drawn as slices of film strips.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #41. Rango (2011) [December 11, 2013]

In the first row, the armadillo sends the lizard on his journey. The next row shows the stranger trying his best to mimic and fit in with Dirt's locals. The remaining rows recount the scene during which the chameleon introduces Rango, inventing his character's backstory on the spot after receiving a chilly reception from the town's residents in the local bar. (Here, you will find Simon, Norman, Comet, B.J. and the newest member of Melissa's Kitties, Tyrone, among Dirt's citizens.)

It's the start of a grand adventure as the lizard falls deeper and deeper into his own lie. Rent the movie to see what happens next because it'd be hard to guess.

What's next?
Johnny reprises the role of Captain Jack Sparrow, this time on a quest for the fountain of youth, in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Image credits: All Rango animation and set images © Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount Pictures; illustration © Melissa Connolly

Thursday, February 06, 2014


The only time The Mother Kitty let herself be caught looking anything less than ladylike was the day she arrived at our house in the late '80s. (Back then, she was just The Kitty.) After years of living on the streets in Akron, she was in dire need of a bath (though she might not admit that). We didn't realize until afterward that we had a pure white extra-special cat living with us. You'd think her exotic eyes would have given us our first clue.

Exotic (February 5, 2014)
(Illustration Friday: January 31, 2014)

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Catching Some Stars

Hi everyone,

Whenever I go to the theatre, I leave wondering why I don't go more often. Theatre amazes me: some brave actors get on stage and tell you a story in the moment from only a few feet away! The cast and crew of each production transport you into their world for just a couple hours and leave you with the gift of a unique exhilarating experience.

I've seen two great shows recently that I can actually share with you before they close on February 16. (Look at me being all timely!) Catch these if you can!

Photo © Don Ipock, courtesy of Arena Stage
The Tallest Tree in the Forest. This play by Daniel Beaty explores the life of singer/actor Paul Robeson, whose increasing activism led to a life of difficult choices and constant struggle. Once considered the most popular African-American in the world, Paul Robeson is probably best known as the guy who sings "Ol' Man River" in the film adaptation of Show Boat. This play reveals the deeply thoughtful man behind that booming voice, who always spoke his mind and stood for what he believed.

Daniel Beaty's performance is a tour de force; he sings 14 songs and portrays more than 40 characters in this world-premiere production at Arena Stage! In the playbill, he explains what inspired him to create such an ambitious play honoring Paul Robeson: "When I found out the breadth of all he had done, I was both astonished and very upset that I had not learned about this giant figure. I feel like he epitomizes the artist activist. I wanted to find the right space and the right vehicle to bring him back to the social discourse, but to do it in a way that is as challenging and as complex and layered as he was." Carried by Daniel Beaty's powerful performance on a minimal set with few props and innovative staging, this one-man-show sheds light the key moments of Paul Robeson's life that informed his character. The Tallest Tree in the Forest captures the extraordinary life of a complicated man who should be remembered not only for his talent but for his heart.

And now for something completely different....(with some surprising similarities).

Photo © Jenny Anderson, courtesy of The Kennedy Center
Peter and the Starcatcher. Written by Rick Elice and based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher is a prequel to Peter Pan that explains how he became the boy who never grew up in a fantastical place called Neverland. When this play first started, I wondered what I was in for. Relying mainly on a decorative backdrop and a only a few essential props, your imagination is tested to envision this story, just as it should be for the tale of Peter Pan! If you believe...with some swift maneuvering of a string of white triangular flags, for example, you really can see the crocodile's threatening jaws and pointy teeth. Some rapid swishing of rope lines perfectly represents the waves of the sea, and as the ship creaks and cast members lean, you too feel the sway of the ship. It's clear why Peter and the Starcatcher is the winner of five Tonys, most of which recognize these kinds of technical strokes of genius (i.e., lighting, sound, scenic design). With only a dozen people in this talented cast, like The Tallest Tree in the Forest, many are tasked with multiple roles - this time culminating in more than 100 characters!  Actors easily transition from portraying a pirate ship crew member gambling on the deck to an inanimate wall or swinging door. The exciting inventiveness of this production is impressive and only adds to the charm of the show. And, with quick, clever dialogue and plenty of jokes, this Peter Pan story isn't just for the kids.

Currently playing at The Kennedy Center, Peter and the Starcatcher is on tour across the country. See it to learn the "real story" behind the myths and legends tied to Peter Pan and his eternal nemesis Captain Hook. Trust me, the captain's reaction to losing his hand is worth the price of the ticket. (It's not the crocodile's fault!)

For more information about The Tallest Tree in the Forest at Arena Stage, click here! For more information about Peter and the Starcatcher at The Kennedy Center, click here!

Treat yourself to a night out at the theatre and enjoy!