For those of you lurching on tenterhooks (I know you're out there...right?) you can breathe a sweet, sweet sigh of relief. Tim and I went to Levin, got back safely, and the show was excellent- well worth the enormous effort it took to get there. I can't tell you how exciting it was to finally see Rent on stage - truly, I can't express it. Some blogger I am. Unbelievably, this performance has no review (at least online) so I shall offer my own thoughts on it - at the end of this post. It's very long, it's repetitive (there are only so many adjectives for "nice") and it's only my opinion, but for what it's worth, keep reading. For those of you who are sick of my fangirl dribblings, you can just read the foodie bits that follow tout de suite.
Above: Today is ANZAC day in New Zealand and Australia, which commemmorates the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought in WWI. I won't give you a massive rundown of what it is about, as I'll just be pasting large chunks from Wikipedia, but it is quite a special day for New Zealand. In 2005 I spent some time exploring the battlefields of Northern France and Belgium, and I was struck with the rows upon rows of white crosses or gravestones everywhere we went. There were enormous memorials enscribed with unfathomable lists of names of the fallen soldiers. Not only was it sobering, it was chilling, horrifying even - what on earth is worth that much loss? And of course, it didn't stop at WWI...
We left Levin at 5.30am today, and once I got back to the flat (after leaving Tim at Starbucks to start work) and fortified myself with a cup of tea, I decided to make ANZAC biscuits. Oaty, golden syrupy, and chewy with tradition, these biscuits have been made for generations in New Zealand but were first shipped out to the troops in battle by caring mothers because they were economical and travelled well. I used a recipe of the redoubtable, late aunt-of-the-nation Aunt Daisy's, bolstered by comparisons with Alison Holst's (because I was too lazy to translate from old fashioned ounces and such into metric.)
2 T golden syrup
1 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 t baking soda, dissolved in 1 T boiling water.
Melt the butter and golden syrup gently together. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir carefully till it coheres. Roll into balls and place onto baking paper lined trays, allowing for some spreading. Bake at 170 C for 10-15 minutes. I got two trays out of this, there would have been more but I have to admit I did eat an awful lot of the mixture. It's pretty seductive in its oaty way...
Above: Now for something completely different: pasta salad. From the same Meditteranean Vegetarian cookbook as the baked tomato pasta, and entirely addictive, in spite of - perhaps because of - the unorthodox (well, to me) inclusion of chopped dates in the recipe. I didn't have all the ingredients but I did have dates, so I improvised on the rest and this is what I came up with.
Meditteranean Pasta Salad
250g penne or short pasta
3 T pine nuts
2 T pumpkin seeds
2 T salt-packed capers, rinsed
1 red capsicum, diced finely
1/3 cup dates (I didn't really measure this, just grabbed a small handful) chopped
2 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta till tender. While this is happening, dry-fry the nuts and seeds carefully in a pan till browned and waftingly fragrant. Drain the pasta and run cold water over it. Toss with all the other ingredients, and blanket with chopped mint and parsely. I couldn't get this effect because I only have a few valiant shoots of each respective herb, but I think it would be good with more, frankly. Also more nuts wouldn't go amiss - the recipe in the book recommends pecans, which I think would be delish. This serves two generously, but simply increase proportions to feed more.
Above: I was going to make some rice paper rolls using a recipe from my new Jill Dupleix book, but I had almost none of the required ingredients (apart from, of course, rice paper sheets themselves.) So I kinda improvised with carrot, cucumber and grapefruit. The grapefruit was a schmeer bitter for my liking, but once they had been liberally doused in dipping sauce (fish sauce, lemon juice, palm sugar, sesame oil, maybe something else, it was a couple of days ago now) they tasted lovely, fresh and healthy. Which I've learned can be a good thing...
Above: Our giant bag of feijoas from Hawkes Bay was starting to get all bruisy and soft so, after checking out Linda's blog, I swiped her recipe for Chocolate Feijoa Cake. If you have a glut of this marvelous fruit, by all means see the recipe on her page.
This cake has an intriguing flavour, and the chocolate really complements the feijoas, the inclusion of which keeps everything dense and moist. I can imagine this being really, really good with vanilla ice cream...
Tonight's dinner - fish and chips from the new chippy down the road. Tim's reward for going to see Rent. Well, not "reward" as such, he's not four years old (thank goodness) but an incentive to make nice, anyway - we never get take-out (not because I'm a miser, but because I get really grumpy if my dinner-cooking duties are usurped.)
Which leads us into - my thoughts on last night's show, put on by the Levin Performing Arts Society. Anyone truly not interested, this is your cue to exit (perhaps stopping by the comments box to spit irately "I thought this was a food blog!") First of all I'd like to point out that Tim did enjoy himself, and not only did he concede that the character of Collins gets to sing "wicked" parts, he even mooed during "Over The Moon"! (the audience is supposed to moo, so this was a good sign, O uninitiated ones.) However when asked today what he thought of it, he only cagily said that it was "exponentially beneficial" to his wellbeing. Hmph. I think he enjoyed it more than he'd like to admit.
The Levin Performing Arts Centre is seriously charming - instead of being in cold rows of fold-down seats, we were sat at tables, cafe-style. Tim and I had a table for two near the front, and there was quite a decent crowd, you know, for a Thursday night showing of Rent in Levin. Tim and I admired their dedication- there were "eviction" notices plastered on the walls, along with "Roger Davis at CBGBs" posters everywhere. Someone obviously knew what they were doing. All the front-of-house people were very friendly and welcoming, and the wine and beer was laughably cheap.
They began the musical with "Seasons of Love," as the film version does, which is quite a good idea in my opinion - it is such a wonderful song, everyone is on stage and it sets up various themes, as well as making you think "holy heck this is going to be amazing if the rest of the musical is anything like this song." The ensemble sounded incredible together - really beautifully harmonised, with excellent soloists. Seriously, my heart did a big damned flutter at hearing and seeing this song live.
The characters: Thank goodness, nobody was balding.
Mark Cohen: Nick O'Brien did a great job of evoking Mark and his awkwardness. He had a decent voice (though I'm hardly in a position to judge) and was likable but not smarmy - there's nothing worse than a smarmy Mark (I'm looking at you, Joey Fatone! Don't ask me how that got past the powers that be.) According to the programme it was his first time on stage - what a debut! My only real gripe - and it is a picky one - I think they could have got a better scarf for him. There, I said it. I didn't like his scarf.
Roger: Well with his throaty, Jon Bon Jovi-esque voice, (and I hope I'm not insulting him with the comparison) it's clear how Aaron James Henry got the role of Roger. Although he didn't seem to hit all the notes he looked great and played the part with real depth. He was highly impressive in the more emotional songs (which seem to be everything that Roger is in come to think of it!) I was impressed with his guitar playing, too, but then I have two left hands...
Mimi: Sera Devcich performed this role with aplomb, and had a wonderfully sweet voice which contrasted well with Roger's more gritty one. I personally think that "Out Tonight" could have benefited from using more of the original stage choreography, at times it seemed like what she was singing about and what she was doing were heading in two different directions...She definitely had energy though, and in slower songs like "Without You" her voice really shone and the fragility of the character came through.
Collins: Tim and I both agreed that Jordan Hudson was a really, really good Collins. He was likeable, which is important, and he had a fantastic voice. Great chemistry with Angel - with everyone in fact, and of course I am always impressed by that pole-twirly move in "Santa Fe." In "I'll Cover You" (the reprise) - he was amazing - seriously moving.
Angel: Obviously a challenging role - to be a believable drag queen - but Cliff Thompson was not only charming and hilarious, he could sing beautifully, too, and made the character more than just a camp characature. As soon as "You Okay Honey?" began I was relieved that they had cast someone that was going to do the part well. He was also very impressive in "Contact" although I was intrigued as to why everyone else had a backing track...
Maureen: As soon as Darlene Mohekey began singing "Over The Moon," I was like, well of course people will moo. She's brilliant! Seriously, the girl has got lungs. Anyone doing a role of Idina Menzel's has enormous shoes to fill, but she was fantastic, seemed to be having heaps of fun, and "Take Me Or Leave Me" with Joanne was dynamite...Lucky Levin to have her on their team.
Joanne: Fleur Cameron played Joanne and boy does she have a gorgeous voice. Her solo in "Seasons of Love" was just...okay I'm running outta adjectives but you know, it sounded really good. She was fun in numbers like "Tango:Maureen" and "We're Okay" but also did wonderfully in emotional songs like "I'll Cover You" (Reprise).
Benny: Mark Peni as Benjamin Coffin III looked fantastic - all smooth and imposing in his trenchcoat - but didn't seem to have the strongest voice. He did a very convincing job as Benny though, providing a polished and composed contrast to the rest of the characters. I thought he was particularly good in "Happy New Year B," which has pretty wordy lyrics, he carried it off well and it didn't lose any impact.
The rest of the company were excellent, always staying in character, clearly enjoying themselves, and filling the minor roles brilliantly. Considering how small Levin is, there is a heck of a lot of talent in this company. Everyone seemed to be having a great time on stage and looked to have researched their roles. The set was effective - I liked the use of shadows for the phone messages and the moving staircases - and the whole shebang was seriously impressive.
There only things I think they could consider improving - bit late now that it's nearly finished its run - I thought that though the chorus looked great in their coats and hats, but once they were in "La Vie Boheme" there could have been some more effort with the costumes to make them look a bit more Late 80s New York Boho (or whatever...just not halter tops and white skate shoes, you know?) It was fantastic to see "Christmas Bells" on stage - it's such an amazing song, full of syncopated and contrapuntal singing and while it was good it got a bit muddied towards the end which was disappointing. The programme definitely needed a detailed synopsis - the story can be confusing and not everyone is as sweatily obsessed as I am.
My real beef is - they killed off Mimi at the end! She's supposed to live! I was so surprised I nearly fell off my chair! I mean, if you went to see Romeo and Juliet and they both lived at the end, what would you think? Now the whole (non Renthead) audience will think that this is the actual story. I'd like to know their reasons for this decision...
Clearly it was a very momentous night for me and the Levin Performing Arts Society did a seriously brilliant job. But oh, how jealous I am of those lucky people who got to see it first time round with the original Broadway cast... Finally, I can wholeheartedly recommend the lovely, friendly Totara Lodge Motel if you ever find yourself needing accommodation in Levin (hey, it happened to me!)