Oz Down Under
By Steve Herte
Things worked out nicely this week. I had to reschedule my dinner and a movie night to slot in a reunion of my Barbershop quartet, The Majestics. It’s difficult enough to get this group together when one lives in Cos Cob, Connecticut, one in Yonkers, one in Queens, and the fourth in Eastern Long Island. But it’s such a joy singing with them and we don’t limit ourselves to the standard Barbershop style. We sang some Gospel, some Jazz and touch of Rock and Roll and some Doo Wop. It seems we were making really good sounds in the Atrium in White Plains between Whole Foods Market, Morton’s Steakhouse and the Cheesecake Factory. I heard, “You guys are awesome!” at least seven or eight times. We felt it too. Just to give you an idea of what kind of songs we sing, we went from “How Great Thou Art” to “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to “My Juanita” to the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” to “This Joint Is Jumpin’,” to “Old Saint Louie” and “Stardust.”
This is just a sampling of our over 100-song repertoire. Our “Danny Boy” makes Irishmen cry. Our “This Is The Moment” and “Music of The Night” have Broadway fans on their feet applauding. The highlight of the evening was when this charming young lady asked us if we could sing “Happy Birthday” to her Dad as a surprise for his 79th birthday. We agreed and when he came out of Morton’s with the family he had no idea what was waiting for him. They were amazed and asked for another song. We instantly responded with a swinging version of “Slow Boat to China” and he danced to it with his wife. Passers-by stopped to watch and listen. It was great. Then we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, and entertained more people there. At the end of the evening we always finish with a Barbershop standard, “That Old Quartet of Mine” because it makes us realize how special our group is to make many people happy. One of the most poignant lines in this song is, “And if someday we ever meet again, I will smile and stand in line, just to sing one song, just one more time, with that old quartet of mine.” Kind of makes you misty, doesn’t it?
This re-scheduling made Thursday my night out and it was a good move. The movie was a big surprise and the restaurant a place that would be packed on a Friday night, but wasn’t when I was there. Enjoy!
Legends of Oz – Dorothy’s Return (Clarius Entertinment, 2014) - Directors: Will Finn, Dan St. Pierre. Writers: Adam Balsam & Randi Barnes (s/p), Roger S. Baum (novel). Voices: Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi, Kelsey Grammer, Lea Michele, Tacey Adams, Michael Krawic, Martin Short, Bernadette Peters, Randi Soyland, Oliver Platt, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Dancy, Brian Blessed, Megan Hilty, Douglas Hodge, Debi Derryberry, & Randy Crenshaw. Animated, Color, 92 minutes.
When the trailers did not give away the whole story and made the film look silly to me, I initially had no intention of seeing this one. But it’s a good thing I did see it, as it was very well done. The tale, from a novel written by Roger S. Baum (great-grandson of L. Frank Baum), picks up where the Wizard of Oz leaves off. Dorothy (voiced by Michele) wakes up in her tornado-wrecked house and sees the damage the funnel cloud inflicted on her neighbors. She, Aunty Em, Uncle Henry and Toto are OK, as are the rest of the people living in her area, but the houses and barns all around are broken in various ways. There is also a sleazy, fast-talking “real estate” appraiser (Short) handing out condemnation notices to everyone and telling them to move out. Of course, Dorothy is outraged.
Meanwhile in Oz, the Jester (also Short), brother of the Wicked Witch of the West, has stolen her broomstick from the Emerald City and topped it with a crystal ball, making it into a magic scepter and giving him power to imprison all major characters in Oz as his marionettes, including Glinda (Peters). The Scarecrow (Aykroyd) fires up a “Rainbow Portal Generator” to call Dorothy back to Oz to help battle the Jester but as it sweeps up Dorothy and Toto a troop of winged monkeys attack. He, the Tin Man (Grammer), and the Lion (Belushi) are captured and flown to the Jester’s castle. The rainbow drops Dorothy and Toto off in the middle of a spiral garden somewhere in Oz she’s never been and she’s lost. The Yellow Brick Road is nowhere in sight.
The only character in view is an enormously fat owl named Wiser (Platt) whose chest feathers look like an argyle vest and who talks incessantly (and admits it). He knows approximately where the Yellow Brick Road is and joins her on her quest. Their journey takes them through Candyland and Wiser warns Dorothy to obey the signs. However, the Jester has already changed them from “Do Not Eat the Candy” to “Please Eat the Candy,” and the two go on a binge (along with Toto). They are arrested by chocolate soldiers under the leadership of Marshall Mallow (Dancy) a man made up completely of (can you guess?). They are led into town and taken to the court to be tried by Judge Jawbreaker (Blessed). Just when it seems they are sentenced to death it is revealed that she is Dorothy Gale, the witch-slayer, and their sentence is commuted.
Marshal Mallow cannot leave their side because he’s under orders from General Candyapple (he doesn’t know the Jester’s already captured the General), and he accompanies them on their journey. This takes them to an extensive wall of delicate teacups and towers of fine dinnerware, which causes Wiser to exclaim, “What a Great Wall of China!” (There are several moments like this.) The gate, however, is locked and the gatekeeper will not allow them to have an audience with the China Princess (Hilty) because she’s interviewing suitors. After Dorothy convinces the guard that Marshall Mallow is a suitor, they gain access. In the throne room the princess is turning down one suitor after another until Mallow steps up. At first he stammers nervously and she mocks him. Then he starts singing his proposal in an incredibly rich-toned voice and she’s stunned into silence and admiration.
The Princess won’t let the travelers go through her kingdom unless she joins them and they are forced to agree. They come to a huge gap in the Yellow Brick Road where a bridge once spanned the river that flows to the Emerald City and decide they must build a boat. But the trees won’t let them have the wood (especially remembering the apples Dorothy stole from their relative the last time she was in Oz). One old, gnarled tree however agrees to supply his wood and, after a marvelous production number becomes the Tugg (Stewart), the boat that takes them to the Emerald City.
From there it’s a battle to get the scepter from the Jester and bring things back to normal and send Dorothy home again. Legends of Oz – Dorothy’s Return is a beautifully animated movie. The characters are three-dimensional (even when not in 3D) and their movements smooth and natural. Particular attention was paid to the China Princess, who in close-ups reflected light off of her china skin, a very nice special effect. The only character to suffer from the designer’s pen was Glinda: Her comical hair-do and ridiculous gown detracted from her believability and actually “flattened” her. In general, the eyes of all the characters were a little too large for my tastes. I would imagine to make them endearing.
Frozen must have set a standard however, because for the third time in a row of three animated films, the music blew me away in its grandeur, back-tempos, harmony and orchestration. The music department includes Bryan Adams as one of the songwriters and it shows. My personal favorite song, “Even Then” written by Tift Merritt is poignant, haunting and lavishly arranged and sung with great feeling by Hugh Dancy, Lea Michele and Megan Hilty.
Bring the kids to this one! The jokes they don’t understand you will, and the visuals are bright enough and comically varied enough to keep their attention.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.
162 Avenue A (11th Street), New York
“Modern Australian Cuisine” was the hook that drew me to this two-month-old boȋte at the beginning of Alphabet City. This cozy little place is decorated in dark wood, with shades of silver, black and grey. Single bulb swags hang from the ceiling and a well-stocked bar is on one wall; an impressive wine rack on the opposite wall, and tables separated by a brick wall in between. I sat at one of the three circular marble-topped tables in the front windows choosing the bench rather than the chair because it had a cushion. The young man at the tiny Captain’s Station warned me that the seat rocked a bit but I found no problem when I sat down. I discovered later what he meant, for every time the front door opened, the bench leaned back a little bit. Quaint, I thought, but endurable.
Flinders Lane in Melbourne, Australia, is similar to our Greenwich Village; it’s a place where artists and avant-garde types go to dine and meet. Here, graffiti is an art form, with several walls covered in brightly colored scenes. The restaurant has a photomural on one wall to illustrate this.
My waiter, Alan, brought me the menu and wine/drink list (basically a sheaf of papers stapled together) and asked if tap water was my preference. I told him yes. I saw two Australian beers on the drink menu and decided to try the James Boag’s Premium Ale. It had a full flavor, a good head of foam and made for a refreshing start without being too heavy.
Alan listed the specials of the day by simply reading them from the blackboard over the bar, making side comments on each, and leaving me to my thoughts. The menu is a single page entitled “Food” with no subtitles or divisions. The dishes are listed in order of size rather than purpose and Alan helped me discover where the dividing line was between small, medium and large. From the wine list I chose the 2012 Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir from Australia, a semi-dry ruby red table wine whose fruity flavor accented but didn’t interfere with any of my dishes.
As is my wont I chose three dishes and Alan approved with raised eyebrow. First on my list was Oysters Kilpatrick – served on the half-shell with Chinese pork sausage, garlic, chives and Worcestershire dressing. It was a little messy to eat but an explosion of flavor when you were able to get all of the ingredients onto the tiny oyster fork and into your mouth. In fact, the flavor of the oysters themselves was almost masked by the dressing.
My next dish was my way of helping Australia to diminish its “pest” problem (Alan chuckled at this excuse). The Tandoori Rabbit – sliced with pickled green mango, Peshawari Nan (a Pakistani flatbread) and spiced yoghurt – tasted as if it genuinely came out of an Indian Tandoor oven, but Alan assured me it was grilled. The chef has a knack for creating this illusion and it was tender and delicious.
I told Alan that no one is going to believe me when I say I had a soup (essentially) as a main course. The Curry Laksa – a wonderful Southeast Asian fusion of flavors in a Thai curry coconut broth, with grilled shrimp, bean curd, lemon grass, rice noodles and Vietnamese Cilantro – was like having a party in my mouth. The spices tingled while the coconut soothed and the net effect was the flavor of butter. I commented on this in my wonder knowing there was no butter in it at all. The shrimp was a large one and served with head on, so if you order this dish take into consideration a necessary decapitation.
With absolutely nothing left on any of my plates it was dessert time. Alan listed the available selections commenting that the last one was typically “English.” I stated that I did not come to Flinders Lane to be “English” but to be “Australian” and chose the Ice Cream Sampler.
The four scoops were arranged on a plate and Alan explained which was which and where to start. The first was a light lemon sorbet, refreshing and very cold. The second was a “cookies and cream” ice cream, chocolate based, very good. The third was definitely an Indian Kulfi – an ice cream without ice or cream. It’s made with evaporated and sweetened condensed milk, bread and little cardamom, wonderful. The last was the most intriguing of all – a homemade ice cream with the delicate flavor of Myrtle (Yes the flowering bush! I was astounded). It tasted like eating a forest in springtime - a delicate, green flavor much lighter than green tea ice cream. What an experience!
Then Alan became the tempter. Deducing from what I’ve ordered he suggested an after-dinner drink, Pineau Des Charentes – a French “vin de liqueur” from the Cognac region of western France. It was sweet, strong and a delightful finish to my meal. It was fortunate indeed that I had to change my schedule this week. Alan told me that if I tried coming on a Friday the restaurant would be packed with customers. Keeping that in mind I will time my return visit to Flinders Lane accordingly.
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