"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mary Poppins On Stage

Outside the DPAC before the show
We didn't make it to Broadway for this one, but the next best thing came to us. Or kinda sorta close to us. Ok, a 3 1/2 hour drive away from us that required a vacation day to make work, but it was totally worth it. A couple weekends ago the lovely and talented Miss Lisa and I made a weekend out of going to see Mary Poppins the musical at the Durham Performing Arts Center, and it was a spectacular experience. I'm not at all qualified to "review" a Broadway style show, but I can tell you about what an awesome experience the whole weekend turned out to be.

This whole adventure started on a whim, like many Stites activities tend to. Lisa bought me the DVD of Mary Poppins for my birthday and one of the extras was a documentary on the making of the musical. I started out watching it by myself, but before long all three of us were glued to it and talking about how much we were able to appreciate better what went into putting on a show after our family's experience in Oz over the summer. During the rooftop chimney sweep scene, the musical features a bit of technical wizardry that had all of us floored. Bert takes a walk up the side of the set, across the top upside down and back down the other side. It's a really impressive piece of work and after seeing that we all decided it would be really cool to go see this show. Lisa wandered off and came back a few minutes later with the news that as luck would have it, Mary Poppins was coming to Durham in February and tickets were still available, but only a very few. We found a few seats for a Sunday night show, the final show as it turned out, and ordered them up.

Our trip went from being a family adventure to a couple's getaway after John's church youth group retreat got rescheduled for the same weekend. We were disappointed but found we'd crossed some sort of threshold in the parenting world. The morning of our last day in Durham we admitted to each other that this time we really didn't find ourselves missing John. That sounds terrible, I know, but it isn't a bad thing at all really. We were in touch with him and he with us all weekend. We were sharing our experiences, though different ones. He was having a blast in the mountains and wasn't missing us one bit either. We are all growing up and I find that it actually feels good. We had a great time as a couple, just us two, and it was perfect that way. I guess it's nice to have it pointed out so clearly that we haven't turned into one of those marriages that stays together for the kids' sake. We'll be OK, more than OK, for a long long, long time, and that feels great.

All it needed was a monorail running through it
So on with our little couple's excursion. Our show was on Sunday night, but since we were without kid from Friday morning to Monday afternoon, we decided to make a weekend out of it. We didn't go nuts and get up early on Saturday or anything, we just left about lunchtime and headed North toward our one bedroom suite just outside Durham. Lisa found that deal as well, a huge suite with a king bed and kitchen for about $85 a night. The girl is good. It was a fun drive through a very rare North Carolina snowstorm. We arrived without incident and found that our hotel looked like the Contemporary Resort in Disney World, without the monorail. Strange, but it amused the Hell out of us. The room turned out to be great, the hotel very nice and situated near a rather large mall/outdoor shopping complex. Off we went in search of dinner and amusement. We found both and spent the night laughing and talking and exploring.

Our show wasn't until 6:30 Sunday evening, so we had plenty of time to explore that day, too. We started the day with a morning bubble in the hot tub, and decided once again that we REALLY need to get one for the house, then headed out to see what we could see. We ended up on the Duke University campus and took in the cathedral (beautiful), some geocaching (unsuccessful), and the gardens. We even tried to find a spot in the gardens to play Pooh Sticks, but there was a sad lack of water in the creek beds. Oh well. Then we headed "into town" for an early dinner.

Oh my. Let me just say that if you go to Durham and are anywhere near the DPAC and don't stop into Bull City Burger and Brewery you must simply hate yourself. The place is awesome. It's a brewpub and they have taken the "sustainable restaurant" thing to new heights. These folks make their own bacon out of pigs fed on the leftover barley mash used to brew the beer. Their website explains it well, and despite it all being very "hipster," I was pretty impressed. And the food is not only delicious, but creative. I had a "bowl of pickled stuff" as an appetizer. Yep. It was like they knew I was coming and designed a menu just for me. We also tried their Bull Nuts, peanuts cooked up with bacon and sugar and rosemary and who knows what else. If you invite us to a party and ask us to bring a munchy, we are going to try making this, just so you know. The burgers were great, using beef from cows raised on a farm just outside the city and served on homemade buns. They probably grew the wheat on the roof or something. The condiments were even homemade. And the beer. Wow. I love beer and this place made me a very happy Jeffrey. We tried barley wine, which is a highly alcoholic, very slowly crafted brew served in a snifter so you feel all fancy-like drinking it. Let me just say that Youngen Horny Barley Wine is one of God's great gifts to humanity.

Nosebleeds, baby! :)
After dinner we were in fine spirits and walked the few short blocks to the beautiful Durham Performing Arts Center. This place was really cool and run very well. It was a sold out show, but the number of people never intruded on our experience. That may just as well be because we were having such a great time with each other that nothing was going to intrude, but the place was run with great precision. Our seats were in the back, the second to the last row of the very top balcony to be exact. We could have had better seats, honestly, but we could have had worse. I didn't mind at all, as being so high gave me a great look at the technical aspects of the show. A bird's eye view, I guess. I helped move sets on and off stage during our production of Wizard of Oz and wondered if I would see little dudes dressed all in black running on and off stage. Lisa said, no, she thought not. But we did, once! And we were very happy.

Mary Poppins was simply breathtaking. The music is terrific and the sets are incredible and the actors sang and danced and acted their hearts out (see, I told you I was not qualified to write a theater review). The Banks house slid onto the stage and opened up like a dollhouse. It was amazing. We were convinced this touring company wouldn't do the Bert walking upside down thing because we didn't see the framework they used in the show we saw on the dvd. Boy, were we wrong. They didn't need a frame, this Bert just walked up the side of the stage and across the top, dancing and singing all the way. We were speechless. Lisa and I are still singing songs from this show all day long, they are that good. All around a lovely experience.

We had taken off work on Monday after the show which turned out to be a good idea as we'd have gotten home really very late. As it was, we just rolled back to the hotel a few miles away, slept a nice night away and headed home at our leisure Monday morning.

Perfect weekend :)

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