Lottery

When I was about seven or eight, I was obsessed with the musical CATS. Like, properly obsessed – I used to watch it every day after school, knew all the words to the songs (even though I didn’t know what half of them meant), and dreamed that I could be one of the characters onstage someday. Seeing as I can’t sing or dance, this was a lofty – and unreachable – ambition. But child Allie kept on dreaming. And my favorite cat was Skimbleshanks (the Railway cat), if you were wondering.

I loved it so much, my mom took me on a bus trip to NYC to see the show on Broadway. I was psyched. It felt like my dreams were coming true – what could possibly be better than seeing CATS on Broadway?

The day of the trip, the bus was full. Lots of dancin’ feline lovin’ folks, but I was easily the youngest by a significant margin, and definitely the only person whose age was still in the single digits. Also this was circa, like… 1999, for reference. This was the original Broadway run of CATS. To pass the time on the bus, the people who organized the trip arranged for us to play a game. A lottery-type game.

So, everyone who wanted to participate would put in $1 into a pool, and then everyone who put money in would write their name onto a slip of paper and put it into a bucket to be drawn. The last name drawn would win the entire pool. My mom added a dollar on my behalf, as well as for herself, so my entry into this contest was legit.

I think you can tell where this story is going.

One by one, the names were read out, occasionally accompanied by a groan or a sigh of disappointment. The slips of paper in the bucket began to dwindle. My mother’s name was read out, but I kept waiting for mine, until there were only two names left. Needless to say, I won, which upset many of the other passengers, but my mom made sure to shield me from disapproving glares and grumbles, so I wasn’t really cognizant of that.

I won $45, which, to a seven year old in the year of our lord 1999, might as well have been six figures. My mom kept it safe for me since we were going to see the show first, but we would have some shopping time afterward, and I had plans for that cash.

The show was incredible, of course – CATS really opened my eyes to the wonderful and expansive world of musical theater. I still can’t sing or dance, but I love watching other people do it. They also let the kids climb onstage and explore a bit during the intermission, because the show was a big hit with the younger crowd. But after loving the music and watching the VHS over, and over, and over again, it was a total dream come true for child Allie to see it live. I also get to be smug and brag about how I got to see it during the original, previously record-breaking Broadway run. And Skimbleshanks is still my favorite.

After the show, we got some pizza at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and then… it was time for the next stop on our trip. A little place called FAO Schwarz. For those unfamiliar, it’s the toy store in the movie Big where Tom Hanks plays the giant floor piano. It’s not open any more, but it was insane, like a Toys-R-Us (R.I.P.) on steroids. And I was a child with $45 in my velcro wallet.

I’ll give my mom a lot of credit – she didn’t try to rein me in. I was a kid with whims, and I wasn’t about to put that money in the piggy bank to save for something like college. No, that didn’t even cross my mind. If there was anything at that point in my life that I loved as much as CATS… it was Pokemon.

I spent all the money – and I mean all – on Pokemon stuff.

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To be fair, twenty years later, I still have some of it. I have five talking figurines and a couple of plushies. I also bought a poster of the original 151 Pokemon to hang above my bed, because that’s the only Pokemon that existed at the time – it started at Bulbasaur and ended with Mew. The picture is of the figurines, which currently stand guard on my bookshelf, and sneaky peek of Raichu’s head. Squirtle also only speaks Japanese for reasons beyond my comprehension.

Was this the most responsible use of that money? Probably not. But I was young and $45 was a treat for me. It was like winning the lottery. If I won $45 now, I would probably put it toward bills. Either my car payment or my student loans. Because I’m 27 now, not 7. I can’t just toss money away on a whim.

Though it would be very tempting to spend it on Pokemon stuff…

Tale As Old As Time

Some stories contain a message so pure – so resoundingly true, and profound, even in their simplicity – that the words withstand the trials of time, and echo in the hearts and minds of dreamers and believers of all ages.

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Front balcony seats ftw!

I was never much of a “girly-girl” growing up. My older sister played with Barbie dolls, while my favorite was Scuba-Diving Ken. He lost his head in a tragic snorkeling accident and I didn’t much bother with dolls after that. But a part of me has always had a soft spot for fairy-tales, particularly those re-imagined by Disney.  And Disney’s 1991’s animated masterpiece is one of my favorite films of all time, a timeless tale of love and redemption – so when I had an opportunity to get tickets for the stage show, I dove on it.

Last night, my mom, sister, and I went to see the touring production of Beauty & the Beast while it was in York, PA, at the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center. As a fan of both Disney and Broadway musicals, I was extremely excited to see one of my favorite stories brought to life onstage. I’d seen the touring production when it came to Baltimore over a decade ago, but the only thing I remember about that is getting lost on my way back from the bathroom and missing several minutes of the show. Then again, I was seven. I still have my souvenir rose from that production.

Now, I’m twenty-three. I don’t believe in fairy-tales, and don’t particularly want to be a princess. But there’s something inherently magical about a story like Beauty & The Beast that attracts a variety of different people. While I’m not a fan of children, it was pretty cute to see all the little kids there, excited for the show – and there were lots of little girls in Belle / princess costumes. There were a loads of twenty-somethings, older couples, groups of friends, theater kids, and families.

The theater itself is beautiful, with decent acoustics, and we were lucky to get tickets on the front balcony, so I (a dwarfish 5’3″) would not have to crane my neck to see the performance. By the time the lights went out and first notes of the Overture began, I knew I was in for something special.

During the show, my expectations were met, then exceeded. The musical remains true to the heart of the Disney film, retaining many of the songs, lines, and dialogue, while adding several new elements and expanding on certain aspects that were not a major factor in the film version. There are new songs that help convey the emotions of the characters, and expand upon the humorous, egotistical attitude of Gaston (‘Me‘,) the plight of the cursed objects (‘Human Again,’ originally intended for the film,) the turmoil of the Beast (‘If I Can’t Love Her‘ and ‘How Long Must This Go On?‘,) and an altered version of ‘Something There‘ that expands the romantic development between Belle and Beast.

Each actor/actress suited their role, remaining true to the original characterization while adding their own spirit to the already-familiar quirks of each character. For me, the highlights were Belle (Brooke Quintana), who nailed the ‘Belle – Reprise’ and gave me chills during ‘Home‘, Beast (Sam Hartley) who performed a moving rendition of ‘If I Can’t Love Her,’ my favorite song in the show, Gaston (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) who balanced humor, narcissism, and villainy while delivering some of the funniest moments (“I’m especially good at expectorating” is my favorite line, not sure why…), Lumiere (Ryan N. Phillips,), Cogsworth (Sam Shurtleff,) Mrs. Potts (Stephanie Gray,) Babette (Melissa Jones) and Madame de la Grand Bouche (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) as the Beast’s often-hilarious “family” and support system as he tries to become a real “gentleman” and prove himself as a worthy match to Belle. The entire cast, every singing plate, dancing carpet, townsperson, and living statue, enhanced the experience and helped bring the magic of the story alive onstage.

The familiar songs were wonderful, especially ‘Gaston’ with a pretty amazing synchronized cup-clinking interlude, and ‘Be Our Guest‘ which ended in an explosion of streamers. Quite the nostalgia trip. We saw what I believe to be a more ‘streamlined’ version of the musical, as ‘No Matter What‘ and ‘Maison Des Lunes‘ were cut, but that didn’t detract from the production, as there were plenty of songs, both new and old, to enjoy. The orchestra was brilliant, the overall set design was impressive, especially the puppets for the wolves/Enchantress and all of the elaborate moving set-pieces, and the costumes (in particular, for the enchanted objects) were incredible. Even with the changes, the message of the story itself, that beauty comes from within, remains at the core – and shines through each aspect of the show. Also, the dancing rug was a major highlight. Could not stop laughing for a solid minute after he came onstage.

Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.

Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.

My sister isn’t as much of a musical buff as me or my mom (though she does like them), but Beauty & the Beast is her favorite Disney film. I looked over at her as the last notes of the finale rang out in the theater. I was a little teary-eyed, as I am during the finale of almost every musical, but that was nothing compared to my sister. She turns to me, tears coursing down her face, and says, “I’M *EXPLETIVE*-ING SOBBING.” I laughed. Heavily. Which helped prevent me from dissolving into a tearful mess myself. Even my mom got a little teary, which just goes to show the power that a story can have.

The tale of Beauty & the Beast is a simple one. That love can conquer seemingly unbeatable odds, beauty truly comes from within, and that it is never to late to change for the better. Sometimes, the simplest stories are the most memorable ones – the ones that echo in our hearts for years, like a well-loved song. And that is the reason why Beauty & the Beast, in all its forms, truly is a tale as old as time, and always will be.