Archive for November, 2009

“My Wonderful Day” in NYC Theater

November 30, 2009
Playwright Alan Ayckbourn

British Playwright Alan Ayckbourn in NYC for his play "My Wonderful Day." © 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures

“My Wonderful Day” in NYC Theater has inspired me to travel to Yorkshire, England.

 What is the connection, you might wonder?

 “My Wonderful Day” is a play written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn, who comes from Yorkshire, England. He came to the 59E59 Theater in mid-Manhattan, where the play is being staged through Dec. 13, to participate in a fascinating “Conversation with Alan Ayckbourn.”  The be-knighted playwright discussed his inspirations, his technique for playwriting and directing.

 He is also an unofficial Ambassador for his hometown of Scarborough in Yorkshire, England, and the Yorkshire Travel Bureau used the occasion to invite travel press. Over lunch, I became intrigued to experience the landscape, coastline, people, history, art and culture. The region is about 2 hours by train north of London, half-way to Edinburgh (

 I became most intrigued to experience Harewood, Yorkshire’s visitor attraction of the year, which celebrated its 250th anniversary this year. Harewood House, in Leeds, is a fabulous mansion home built in 1759, which offers tours of its state rooms, its “below stairs” experience, gardens, an Adventure Playground and planetarium, art exhibits and theater, cultural events and festivals (the VW Festival in August offers caravan and camping);

 In the interim, to get a British fix here in the Big Apple, a number of English themed properties that have opened recently in NYC; Crosby Street Hotel in Soho – Firmdale Hotels ( first property outside of London, Brit-owned new restaurant Le Caprice at the Pierre Hotel, The Spotted Pig’s Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield’s new restaurant Breslin at the Ace Hotel (, The Clerkenwell in the Lower East Side – named after London’s Clerkenwell (where the first gastropub appeared) and Brinkley’s, recently opened gastropub in Soho ( New York Magazine ran a piece just last week on the rise of the English breakfast ( and traditional English afternoon tea has long been a trend in NYC. Other English exports include Tea & Sympathy (, the “quintessential corner of England in the heart of Greenwich Village” and Myers of Keswick ( traditional English shop on Hudson Street, and of course the theatre – “Brits off Broadway” (which runs until January 3, 2010) and Sienna Miller is currently staring in After Miss Julie on Broadway while Jude Law is in Hamlet.

 For more destination features, visit



Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Opryland!

November 21, 2009

The “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” that just opened here at Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, is truly that: if anything “spectacular” is an understatement.
A tradition in New York City’s Radio City Music Hall for 75 years, some years ago, Radio City created touring troupes. This show at Gaylord’s Grand Ole Opry has been part of Opryland’s “A Country Christmas” now for four years.

The Rockettes numbers were perfection – keeping the tradition but making everything fresh and contemporary. These dancers are of course the pinnacle of sophistication and grace – and then you see them in this delightfully charming Rag Doll routine.

The Rockettes are legendary for their precision and I could hardly breathe as I watched them do the number that I remembered so well from my childhood: the Toy Soldiers. I was standing exactly in the middle, and you could only see two soldiers, that are actually 2 dozen – that is how

Radio City Rockettes

Radio City Rockettes performing their legendary "Toy Soldiers" ©2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures

precise they are. It was thrilling to see.

Their routines smack of the stunning stage craft of Ziegfield or Busby Berkeley, and strike just the right balance with entertainment that will delights children and adults alike.


As phenomenal as the Rockettes are, the rest of the show is marvelous as well, with creative routines and costumes and choreography that is pure enchantment by a cast and crew of almost 100 (including camel, donkey, sheep who are part of the Living Nativity that closes the show).

The choreography, the costumes, the sets and lighting, the music and the performances are top quality. There is even a bit of a fancifully done Nutcracker Ballet, with a charming little “Clara” who dances on point brilliantly and sings (in other numbers) divinely.

The “Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes” is a not to be missed production that makes the Gaylord Opryland “A Country Christmas” that much more spectacular – this is one of several exquisite holiday activities that make for the most enchanting family Christmas anywhere.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes plays at the Grand Ole Opry from Nov. 20 to Dec. 27.

“Ice – A Charlie Brown Christmas” is another that is not to be believed (see blog).

Tickets to both are included in A Country Christmas Package, starting at $339 for a two-night stay at Gaylord Opryland Resort (a fantasy come true). Call 888-OPRY-872 or visit
More information about Gaylord’s “A Country Christmas,” Gaylord’s Opryland Resort, Grand Ole Opry and Nashville at

Radio City Rockettes

The famed precision dancers, Radio City Rockettes highlight the Christmas show at Grand Ole Opry, Nashville ©2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures

Radio City Xmas "Nutcracker"

A touch of "Nutcracker" at Radio City Christmas Spectacular ©2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures

Sneak Peak at “Ice: A Charlie Brown Christmas” with Charles M. Schulz’ Family

November 20, 2009

Amazing! Just got back from a sneak peak at “Ice: A Charlie Brown Christmas” with Charles M. Schulz’ family – his wife, Jeannie Schulz, son Craig, Daughter Jill, and the producer of “Charlie Brown Christmas” and the other Peanuts television specials, Lee Mendelson.
I had seen the ice carvers from Harbin, China, as they were just three days into a 40-day process that turned two million pounds of ice into eight scenes (you can see pictures at an earlier blog). To see it now, this amazing cartoon world come to “life” in ice, is indescribable.
We are all given special parkas before we enter this 9-degree “world”, and are immediately dazzled by life-sized, colorful, three-dimensional re-creations of the Peanuts characters. It is as if they had come to life, in ice.

Peanuts characters on ice, in ice

Peanuts characters on ice, in ice at Opryland Country Christmas © 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures

Jeannie Shulz, Charles’ wife from 1965 until he died, was most moved to the last room where Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Christmas tree are surrounded by all the Peanuts characters, as you hear them singing, “Hark the Angels Sing”.

Jeannie Schultz with Charlie Brown

Jeannie Schultz with Charlie Brown at Opryland's "Ice" © 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures

Most amazing, and fun for all, is this enormous room with four ice slides that you get to come down. Jeannie Schulz did it. So did Snoopy and Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown ice slide

Charlie Brown goes down ice slide, where Snoopy, Jeannie Schultz wait © 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures

You will be dazzled by how the famous scenes from the 1965 television classic, from the first scene on the ice-skating pond to the transformation of Charlie Brown’s tree are transformed into three dimensions.
The figures are five feet tall, fully formed and with all their color and nuanced expression, not to mention the incredible details in the wood flooring, leaves on trees, wreaths, streetlamp all made of ice – artistic marvels. It is uncanny, indescribable in words or pictures. It is magical. An icy wonderland.
Jeannie, as well as Charlie Brown and Snoopy also went down the ice slide in another room that is jaw-dropping awesome.

Charlie Brown Christmas

Charlie Brown and Linus recreated with amazing detail at "Ice" © 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures

This is a phenomenon that must be seen, but it is only one element of Gaylord Opryland’s “A Country Christmas”.  Other key attractions include the RadioCity Christmas Spectacular starring world-famous Radio City Rockettes; Louise Mandrell’s ‘Joy to the World’ Christmas Dinner & Show; and General Jackson showboat.

Ice is on view daily, from Nov. 20, 2009 through Jan. 2, 2010, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. depending on the day of the week. Ticket prices range from $13 (child) to $24 (adult), depending on the day. Children ages 3 and under are admitted free.

Two-night package at Gaylord Opryland Resort featuring room, ticket to Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Ice, Louise Mandrell, starts at $339 pp/double. For info, go to or call 888-OPRY-872.

More complete story, photos at

Getaway With Surprises to Red Bank on the New Jersey Shore

November 5, 2009

We just discovered a fabulous getaway destination a mere 1½ hours south of Manhattan: Red Bank on the New Jersey shore. We found one of the most fabulous 7-mile biking trails on Sandy Hook, part of Gateway National Park, that is so scenic and so interesting, and even more so because of a long history as a fort (you can see battlements that were revolutionary in their day, from 1890s and buildings that housed soldiers) that spanned the eras from the mid-1800s, through World War II, the Cold War and the Missile Age. It also has Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse, dating from 1764, not to mention gorgeous sandy beaches, water on both sides, and a popular destination for fishermen and birdwatchers.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Sandy Hook Lighthouse dates from 1764 - just one of many surprises on the Sandy Hook bike trail (c) 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures

After biking, we went into historic Highlands, enjoyed a delightful lunch on the water at the Inlet Café, before exploring Twin Lights, a phenomenal lighthouse which turns out to be the first place where Fresnel’s lens was used (and after that, Congress made it the standard illumination for all lighthouses). It’s also where Marconi demonstrated his wireless invention. The structure is fascinating, and you can climb to the top for an amazing view – in fact, it is the highest point (we are told), on the Eastern shore – and for that reason, has been an observation post for military and commercial reasons since Colonial times.

Twin Lights

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the riverfront Oyster Point Hotel – recently renovated and thoroughly contemporary and charming. We especially loved the patio with plush sofas and pillows, where we could enjoy morning coffee and croissant. It also has a fitness center, beautiful lounge. The views of the river (especially from our room, 510, on the highest floor), are just glorious (


Its sister property, the Molly Pitcher Inn, just around the corner, is completely different in style – it dates from 1928 and is very traditional, but shares the same quality of excellent service and elegant guest amenities. It also has an outdoor swimming pool (in season).


The village of Red Bank is charming with red brick sidewalks, planters, and whole blocks of Victorian buildings dating from the second half of the 1800s, and lovely cafes with outdoor dining. We were surprised to see two music shops – Jack’s Music Shoppe, and a guitar store and all sorts of boutiques, not to mention various and sundry investment banks and brokerages that are very telling about who lives in the neighborhood (hint: Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi).


What is more, you can reach Red Bank and the Atlantic Highlands without a car – take a ferry from Manhattan (, or by North Jersey Coastline train from Penn Station (

 Check out the full story and photos at