“Miss Saigon” on stage at DPAC Through Sunday!

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The National Touring Company of Miss Saigon (Photo Matthew Murphy)

Although it has been around for almost 30 years now, this past Tuesday at DPAC was my first time seeing “Miss Saigon“.  As I understand it, the musical has been updated a bit by current director Laurence Connor so you may notice a few changes if you are familiar with the original production by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg. However, the central story, inspired by “Madam Butterfly” remains the same.

The musical tells a love story with a tragic path, set in war torn Vietnam. It revolves around the relationship between Kim, a Vietnamese villager (played by the talented Emily Bautista) who has made her way from the country to Saigon after the death of her family. Kim ends up working at a brothel “Dreamland” under the management of “The Engineer” serving US soldiers. It is here that Kim meets a Marine named Chris (played by Anthony Festa). The two form an unlikely bond and fall in love only to be torn apart by the fall of Saigon and the evacuation of Americans from the country. Fast forward 3 years and Kim is struggling to survive having been left behind and left to raise Chris’s son that he doesn’t even know exists.

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The National Touring Company of Miss Saigon (Photo Matthew Murphy)

I don’t want to give away too much of the story from the second act and spoil it for others. Needles to say, this is not a particularly happy story, but it does have moments highlighting the enduring human spirit and the will to survive and provide a better life for those that we love. I’ll admit the brothel scenes are a bit brutal and degrading at times when you let it sink in that this sort of human trafficking was very real during the way, but your spirit is lifted with the focus on the love that develops between Chris and Kim when they first meet.

While the actors do a commendable job playing challenging roles and  with the vocals, the real highlight of this production are the elaborate sets and lighting. With its big budget sets and flashy designs that one would expect of a Broadway spectacular,  complete with a helicopter scene depicting the evacuation from the American Embassy when Saigon Falls.

Miss Saigon can certainly make you uncomfortable at times. Exploitation, abuse, and prostitution are hardly common fodder for entertainment. But if you go into theater with an open mind and look at this production as a cautionary tale you just may see the beauty in the tragic portrayal of human nature even with all its warts exposed.

“Miss Saigon” has performs through Sunday, January 27th at The Durham Performing Arts Center. For more information and to get tickets visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/miss-saigon

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Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls to Open in North Hills

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Today North Hills announced that Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls, a seafood restaurant offering Maine lobster and shrimp rolls, will be opening in the Main District at North Hills. It will be Located between Bartaco and the Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel, and is the is projected to open sometime this year.

Dan Beck founded Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls in 2014. Working as a seafood buyer in the restaurant business, Beck paid regular visits to Maine, getting to know the lobstermen there. He was inspired by their centuries-old values and traditions, and learned to respect the ways of Maine’s waters. Six stores later, he still insists that the lobster rolls he serves be authentic in every respect. As Dan likes to say, “You can’t fake genuine.” Mason’s menu includes lobster and shrimp rolls, lobster bisque, clam chowder, lobster grilled cheese and much more.

The North Hills location will be their first restaurant in North Carolina and the franchise will be owned by a local couple who is excited to bring Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls to North Hills. Mason’s has other locations in Maryland, South Carolina, Delaware and Virginia.

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“Fiddler on the Roof” Opens at DPAC Tonight!

Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof (photo by Joan Marcus)

This Tuesday night at DPAC Tony-winning director Bartlett Sher brings his fresh take on a beloved masterpiece to life with “Fiddler on the Roof” direct from Broadway. With a wonderful cast and a lavish orchestra this show is full of classic songs and universal themes as It tells  the heartwarming story of fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, and the timeless traditions that define faith and family.

Based on tales by Sholem Aleichem, the story revolves around Tevye a poor milkman living in the small Russian village in 1905. With five daughters, a demanding wife, and the threat religious persecution a struggle emerges to balance religious beliefs and traditions against the ever changing realities of family and community.

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Fiddler on the Roof (photo by Joan Marcus)

In preparation for opening night I had the honor to speak with Carol Beaugard who plays matchmaker Yente in the touring production. Beaugard has appeared in many off-Broadway roles, and worked in both film and television. Although she has always had the bug for acting she only started doing it full time a few years ago after three decades working in radio and Fiddler is her first experience in a touring cast. She was a  lot of fun to talk to and brings a lot of positive energy to this exciting production.

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How did you prepare for the role of Yente? 

The Yente character is the “matchmaker” of he village. Her job was to ensure families would continue. She is very proud and well respected in the community.The first several days of rehearsal we were immersed in history. The goal in this production is to play the characters realistically and be true to how people in those situations would behave during that time period. Our director Bartlett Sher talked to us about the history of Fiddler on the Roof and how it’s based on tales by Sholem Aleichem. I read historical books about the Jewish culture during 1905 and  worked closely with a dialect coach to develop Yente’s speaking style. 

How has your work in other roles prepared you for touring?
Working Off Broadway has given me the opportunity to work on great stages and often to create original characters in new works involving intense research and character development. Last year I made my Carnegie Hall debut in a work for actors with an orchestra portraying a Russian Jewish immigrant in Ellis Island, Dream of America. I also played a Jewish mother in the Off Broadway show Jackie Mason, the Musical.

What do you like to do during your downtime while on tour?
I love to immerse myself in every city we visit. I’m a history buff and love exploring the local history of each stop on the tour. But most of all I like to explore and meet everyday people everywhere we go and have conversations with them to broaden my horizons and experience the relationships and beauty wherever we go.

Why do you think Fiddler on the Roof remains such a popular musical?
This is a musical everyone knows and loves, because regardless of who you are or your background everyone can relate to the theme of love and family and we all struggle with the same problems. This show is both funny and serious but most of all it is on a mission of love.

“Fiddler on the Roof” has performances Tuesday, January 8th, through Sunday, January 13th at The Durham Performing Arts Center. For more information and to get tickets visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/fiddler-on-the-roof

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Cheers to 2018 and Thank You!

Best Local Blog of 2018

I don’t typically do end of year posts reflecting on all the stories I’ve shared throughout the previous twelve months, but I did want to take a moment to thank all of you who follow the blog for another great year of exploring the Triangle together. This past year was particularly special for me because of your wonderful support. Thanks to you, The Triangle Explorer blog was voted “Best Local Blog” of 2018 in the Independent Weekly’s annual “Best of the Triangle”.

I’ve been sharing my thoughts about things to do in the Triangle for 10 years now and I continue to enjoy exploring everything the Triangle has to offer. This blog is a labor of love for me and I truly appreciate all the support, comments, emails and tips everyone provided me throughout the year. So here’s to another great year of exploring the Triangle together in 2019! I hope you and yours have a healthy and prosperous New Year!

Cheers!!
– John

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Winter Solstice Lantern Walk in Hillsborough this Friday

Each December, the Winter Solstice marks the beginning of the winter season in the Northern Hemisphere, and the longest night of the year. This astronomical event is significant to many cultures, religions, and traditions, for many different reasons. For the Hillsborough, North Carolina community, it has become a beautiful evening to gather and recognize the peaceful quiet that the darker, colder months of the year can bring.

The Solstice Lantern Walk takes place at 5:45PM on December 21, 2018. It is a non-denominational winter event that encourages creativity and community participation. Individuals are asked to bring a handmade lantern that lights up (using LED lights), to guide them along the walk.

Participants will gather at the Farmer’s Market Pavilion and be led on a procession along the path of the Riverwalk in Hillsborough, looping around and ending at the Weaver Street Parking deck.

This event is free (donations encouraged), but the The Hillsborough Arts Council does require all participants to register in advance. REGISTER HERE.

For parking and more information about this event visit the official website here: https://www.hillsboroughartscouncil.org/lantern-walk

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