Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Even a weak 'Olympic' menion is enough to pull out pics of a shirtless Phelps...

Buying a car should be considered an Olympic sport.

Those who excel at negotiation with the dreaded car salesman are ethereal: They scoff at the thought of paying sticker price, getting every possible amenity and package on the vehicle, all while sitting pretty. Most of us would rather endure hours of bottle-blonde Nancy Grace than deal with the back-and-forth that comes with purchasing a new vehicle.


For the past two weeks, I’ve been going through this hell. Percentage rates are at an all-time high for financing and dealer incentives for anything more expensive than a Kia are practically nonexistent. I’m trying to trade up to the new 2007 Infiniti G35 sedan. It’s been a tough deal since the car is a new model design (80% redesigned), dealers aren’t discounting much from the MSRP and Infiniti is selling these things faster than the factory can make them.

Needless to say, I didn’t (yet) purchase the Infiniti. Although I did spend an incredible 18 straight hours in the dealership, making small chat with the receptionist and foraging for food in their vending machines when the sales manager wasn’t looking. Just four more hours there and I could have legally changed my address, possibly getting tax breaks...

Getting back to the Earls Court neighborhood of Central London always feels quite a bit like coming home. It was one of the first places I was familiarized with when visiting and it’s got that bohemian, come-as-you-are feeling that Knightsbridge, Piccadilly and Kensington never really did. It’s the place where a rentboy mixes anonymously with the business traveler, both never knowing each other’s plight, but brought together by the familiarity of Star Indian Cuisine. Anything that’s open until 5am in London is bound to gain semi-legendary status, especially when they serve an incredible lamb curry. Don’t forget to try the fried nan...

This trip put me back at the K+K George, an always-reliable and close-to-the-Underground hotel property that’s currently in the final stages of a really nice (and surprisingly modern) renovation. Now that most of London is already adhering to the upcoming smoke-free regulations, it makes for sitting in their bar a much more enjoyable experience. It’s also one of the few hotels in London that provides free, and very fast, high-speed internet connection in-room. Overall, the K+K has only changed for the better.

Dreary weather was no deterrent: This was the UK, therefore I came prepared for the worst, which luckily only turned out to be a little rain and some chilly nights. My trusty Diesel leather jacket (a most amazing purchase in itself... The discount is still talked about in the Las Vegas location to this day) kept me warm, while I ended up taking a stroll through Leicester Square, knowing full well I had the afternoon to fill, but only half-faking my enthusiasm at what was up on the half-price theatre boards.

Lots to choose from that day: Avenue Q, Billy Elliot, Blood Brothers, The Producers, Caroline or Change, Guys and Dolls (starring Miss Vida Boehme herself, Patrick Swayze). So many American transfers. The new production, and soon coming to Broadway, of Evita caught my eye. I had heard good things about this show and its star Elena Rogers. I gave it a shot.

Yeah, I got her understudy. What do you expect from a matinee?

She wasn’t horrible, but she sure as hell didn’t have that throaty growl of a voice that Patti LuPone had. An impeccable dancer? Yes. She ended up flipping into a very weak head-voice for most of the vocal score that required a strong supported belt. The understudy aside, the show was strong, featuring a ensemble who not only could handle the music, but could also handle the new choreography, making this version of Evita one of the liveliest I’ve ever seen. Thrilling in-fact.

The actor playing Che was OUTSTANDING. Perfect accent, perfect look, great diction (a real trouble spot for Antonio Banderas in the film version) and the most insane set of veneers I’ve seen on an actor in a long time. His teeth came close to upstaging his whole performance and when it came time for the curtain call, I wanted his cosmetic dentist to take the bow for him.

That evening I caught Mamma Mia, which continues to astound me as a nightly sellout in Vegas, Broadway and the West End. It’s the jukebox musical that won’t die!

No, it’s not a terrible show. I can’t say that, as it’s efforts to entertain are almost merciless. At some point, the show will get your shoe tapping if not just for the sheer fun of what’s happening on-stage. Loads of young guys in various states of undress, tap dancing with what appear to be day-glo flippers. Yeah, it’s like a Fellini film on Rohypnol.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the vocals in the show, as after seeing the Vegas cast (who are spot-on in really belting out the ABBA hits), the London group seemed a little timid by comparison. Lots of thin voices that were overly miked.

Like I said before: Just concentrate of the legs and asses of the male dancers and the show will remain more than entertaining.

Day Two: The group of us decided that since we all hadn’t been to Tussauds together before, that we’d head over and check it out. Madame Tussauds is an insanely famous tourist trap that features some of the most life-like wax figures in the world. Yes, standing around for hours, watching wax, doesn’t sound like the best time, but it’s really quite amazing how interactive and detailed Tussauds is.

I pinched Kylie Minogue’s butt, while marveling at how short Tom Cruise really is (all the figures are 100% proportionate to their real-life counterparts). I nearly had a ripe snogging session with Joanna Lumley (as Patsy Stone) as I wondered how many times the Tussauds artists had to redo the Michael Jackson effigy to keep up with his ever-evolving look. All of it was totally cheesy, but if you’re in the right mood, it’s also incredibly fun. A must-see for anyone who’s ever wanted to hump the leg of Brad Pitt (and yes, there were a few there that day).

Did some damage to the ol’ plastic in Knightsbridge, where the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping rush was in full swing. Luckily for me, the Brits have a whole other name for Turkey Day over there: Thursday. Just another day perhaps, but ‘Black Friday’ was a very real thing. I’d never seen two women try to strangle each other with Burberry scarves before that day. I can’t even begin to describe the chaos that was H&M across the street: I feel like a Vietnam vet when I start talking about it. There was ‘Viktor & Rolf’ carnage everywhere...

Tea at Harrods. If I had eaten any more clotted cream, I’d be running ads for Lipitor on the blog for a discount.

A real treat came in snagging great seats to the recently-opened Broadway transfer, Wicked. Idina Menzel, the Tony Award-winning actress is re-creating her lead role on the West End until the end of the year and I was excited to see how she’d fit into this all-British cast.

Yep. Got her understudy. On Thanksgiving night.

Luckily, her understudy (Kerry Ellis) was vocally better than Menzel and really made the character her own. Wicked has the ability to engulf its actors if they’re not really larger than life, as the show is incredibly huge in scale. The actors were up to the challenge, showing incredible energy, great vocals and the genuine excitement that comes with opening a brand-new, and very talked about, production.

This show has as much technical eye candy as it does soaring power ballads. Also look for some interesting new costume changes from the Broadway/Chicago/Touring company in the states.

The audience ate it all up. It was apparent that they were familiar with the score, as well as on the edge of their seats to cheer, yell, scream and clap. Definitely more akin to a rock concert than musical theatre experience. I felt yelling out ‘FREEBIRD!’ during one of the few quiet moments in the show would have been inappropriate.

Last show of the trip was the long-running Chicago The Musical. I worried about its condition, as the last time I had seen it on the West End, the cast was basically sleepwalking through the whole thing. It really blew. Added, the usual eye candy in the cast (muscular guys wearing very tight dance pants and usually shirtless) wasn’t there and most of the cast looked like it needed to be put out to pasture.

What a difference a year makes! Damn. This cast was THE best cast of Chicago I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Maybe Ann Reinking came into clean up the show recently, but everything was just perfect that night. Nary a dancer out-of-step, everyone popping things together and the band was just on fire.

As for the male dancers: They’re back to being the best looking bunch on the West End, with washboard abs, defined pecs and bulging... er... biceps galore. One guy in-particular looked straight out of the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch Quarterly. Just mind-numbingly good looking. It should be illegal to be that hot.

The one thing I noticed about this cast above everything else was that they all did good, if not great, jobs in doing Chicago accents. They were believable. It’s a nice touch to this UK show that usually ends up having a Roxie who sounds like she’s more from Leeds than Lombard.

Lisa Donmall as Velma Kelly was perfection, as was Josefina Gabrielle in the role of Roxie Hart. Impeccable timing, fantastic dancers and two women who really sold the show from head to toe. They played nice opposites, but both made for formidable performers when they shared the stage together. Brenda Edwards, a recent winner of the UK reality-show ‘X Factor,’ knocked my socks off as Mama Morton: I had feared she would be like most ‘celebs’ to get rotated into the show and just skim the surface of what the role really can be. Not Edwards. Her voice is a force of nature and reminded me of the stint that Jennifer Holiday did as ‘Mama’ a couple of years back on Broadway. Good stuff.

It's been awhile since I've posted up a new go-to-blow website, so let's fix that: I Cruise Perfect Men... blog. This, on recommendation from a highly regarded source, seems to be the end-all of Eye Candy. Enjoy the selection. I know I did :)

Okay, this edition is getting a little long, so let me wrap this week up with the ever-loved EYE CANDY. A semi-soft collection of man morsels for your viewing pleasure. Tune into the 15 next week for a wrap-up on my last week in Milan: Highlights will include the Georgio Armani snub heard ‘round the world, kvelling for cashmere, how Diesel flipped my whip and ding-dong the Duomo’s dead.

You’re not going to want to miss this one...


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