For my first weekend back in New York, I was lucky to have some special out of town visitors and the closing of my first NYC theatre-go. Though not something I can come to expect every weekend, this was a nice ease back into the city, back on track, back to the life I left Indiana for in order to pursue my dreams. Aunt Nancy (she and Mom are tied at two visits a piece) and her friend Liz (a.k.a. Mrs. Shauver, my high school geometry teacher) paid a visit to the Big Apple to see my little musical revue and take a well-deserved break from New Castle. We had a really nice time together, and I think it was just as good for her to make this trip as it was for me to have her here. Shortly after arriving, I met them at their Soho hotel for a night of East Village theatre and dining. We hustled out the door of the Hampton Inn and were able to sneak a bite to eat at The Smith, a new favorite restaurant of mine. I dined on a delicious pot of steamed mussels accompanied by crispy roasted Brussels sprouts and a carafe of velvety Cote du Rhone. Aunt Nancy had the salmon, Liz the cod, seafood and fun all around. After the show (which went much better than Thursday for me), I tucked the weary travelers into bed in preparation for another big day in the city. The next morning, we met up on 47th street in search of more good theatre. We most definitely found it at the Walter Kerr Theater on 48th street, current home of the new revival of Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece A Little Night Music, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury. Before the show, we hopped on the train for a little chocolate and breakfast at Max Brenner's, my place of choice for visitors. Buzzed with chocolate, we returned to the Theatre District and settled in for an afternoon's show. Seated right in the middle of the action, center orchestra in the first and second rows, aka the spit section, we braced ourselves for the forthcoming show. This slimmed-down production of the Sondheim classic was phenomenal. The direction, the music, the movement & choreography, costumes, and lights all flowed together marvelously, telling this story in a truthful, clever manner. I think this show's success is not only due to the director and talented cast (more on them later), but most importantly to Sondheim's (and Hugh Wheeler's) brilliant material. This musical is truly about music, words, and action, relying on the story and the way it is told rather than lush theatrics or exhausting choreography. It no doubt ranks as one of my favorite musicals, second only to Gypsy (my favorite) and possibly a couple others (don't ask me which!). It is clever, smart, ironic, sexy, and sophisticated. Ms. Zeta-Jones was quite stunning in her Broadway debut, and she is really is that beautiful. Though her performance certainly read a little Velma-ish (Chicago), I think she succeeded in this most sought after role, Desiree, the fading and fraternizing stage beauty. Unlike others of similar Hollywood caliber, her acting works onstage, her presence is big enough to fill the house (though not big enough to trump Ms. Lansbury's god-like persona), she can sing well enough for the part (she's not supposed to have that great of pipes), and moves gracefully across the stage. Though she did seem a bit out of her element in a few of the musical numbers, her book scenes were real zingers, hitting the beats on the dot, holding the audience in her hand. Her sly, sexy smiles helped to play Desiree's clever humor, attempting to manipulate all those around her, but took away from the sincerity and vulnerability necessary to the role, as if this whole episode was just another well-acted scene. Angela Lansbury, first lady of the theatre, did not disappoint as the crotchety, vain, at times forgetful Madame Armfield, Desiree's mother. Her comedic timing and mastery of the stage still rings true and easily devours the younger actors around her, gladly spitting them out with that world-weary, bothered sneer she wore for most of the show, showing just the slightest bit of gest. Her "Liasions" was completely her own, different from the original I have listened to so many times, acting the piece brilliantly, taking us with her as she visits each juicy affair (and its spoils) in her mind. The most remarkable aspect of her performance was her ability to equally play the comedy of the first act and half as well as the sentimentality and truth of her final scenes. More of a caricature than the other characters in the play, Lansbury still found Madame Armfield's inner humanity, guarded as it is in sass and disagreeability. I also highly enjoyed the performances of the Count and Countess, he the pea-brained stud (think Gaston), she the bitter, sharp-tongued snow queen. Following the show, we ventured into once-dangerous Alphabet City for some yummy Italian food at Gnocco Cucina, another great find from the weekend. To start, we enjoyed a nice cheese plate with pears and honey, accompanied by a spicy Pinot Nero. My main event was a pumpkin filled ravioli, creamy and rich and sage-y, very comforting and warm, just what I needed before another big show. We successfully closed "If This Ain't It," playing some nice houses despite less than stellar reviews. I am so glad to have been able to close this show out, transitioning me back into my New York world, finding an outlet for the millions of emotions running through my veins. This weeks bodes a trip back to Locale, back to the grind, to perusing Backstage, and hunting my next big project. I am excited and ready to dive back into my work, chasing the dreams that brought me to this wonderful city.