Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Little Laughter Makes Everything Better: The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

When I decided to attend American University for college over six years ago, one of the first things my dad said to me was, "You'll get to see a Presidential Inauguration! How cool!"

As an individual who has never been too into politics and sees our democracy more as something that tears people apart than brings them together, the whole "seeing a Presidential Inauguration" didn't seem too cool at the time. The history nerd dwelling deep inside my cerebral cortex, however, was running rampant with eager excitement.

"A chance to see living history," my inner-self proclaimed, "sign me up!"

Unfortunately, my father passed away days before President Obama's inauguration during my senior year of college and his funeral was on Inauguration Day. I never saw the inauguration live like my dad said I would. Instead, I spent that special day in Chicago with the man who told me how cool my first presidential inauguration in DC was going to be -- while at his funeral.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was my first foray into attending a major event on the National Mall. For several of my friends, this was far more fun than the historic inauguration due to miserably frigid winter temperatures during Obama's speech. For me, it was the perfect introduction to how many people in this country actually know how to chill out and have a good time.

And to think I almost didn't go because I was tired. That seems so silly in retrospect:

It took nearly an hour and a half to commute from Tenleytown in NW DC to reach the site of the rally. After three packed-to-capacity rail cars passed the hundreds of people impatiently waiting to step foot onto a train, my friends and I hopped on a train headed toward Maryland, got off four stops later, and then waited about another 20 minutes for a train back into the city. Along the way, we made a few “friends” from out of town. One even over heard me asking my friends for a piece of gum and a complete stranger asked me if I would like a piece. Everyone was in such high spirits. I think Jon Stewart’s goal of getting America to chill out a little was the tone set for all in attendance. I’ve never seen more people in one place in my entire life. The National Mall was a sea of people that felt like a never-ending mosh pit. There was an overall jolly atmosphere surrounding Washington. Everyone, as far as I could tell, was having fun. I think that’s the most important thing to take away from the rally itself — that we really can all get along sometimes if we just take a minute to chill out and have a good laugh.
-- Excerpt from "We Love Rallies: We Love DC Reactions to the Rally To Restore Sanity" on We Love DC.

After trying to push our way through the crowd for over an hour, my friends and I fled the mall and walked through the streets of Washington with wonder while people-watching for the rest of the day.

Thanks Comedy Central for entertaining District residents and the country this weekend, it was a nice reminder to relax and enjoy the fact that we can even host such rallies. The fact that our country and government allows for such a farce of a rally to even occur is living proof that we're pretty awesome here in America.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Idina Menzel...

I had the privaledge of attending Tony award winner Idina Menzel's opening show of a three-day set worth of Pops performances with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall Thursday night.

For both Menzel and myself, it was our second time ever setting foot in the Kennedy Center ... well my second time as a patron and Menzel's second time as a performer. Her first time was to pay homage to her idol Barbra Stresisand when she was honored for her for lifetime achievement in the performing arts. My first time was for an opera during college as part of my music minor.

I've taken the liberty of reveiwing the evening on We Love DC and my full column can be found there, however, I wanted to take a moment to mention Ms. Menzel's greatest attribute -- her gratitude.

Her voice and stage presence speak for themselves. She is a musical force to be reckoned with and is one talented fire-cracker of a woman. She's funny. She seems slightly scattered brained but in a good way. And even with all of her professional success and good family life, she still manages to not only stay grounded but express her gratitude with sheer sincerity.

Musical performance aside, one memory I will always associate with the evening is her extending her deepest gratitude for showing up and supporting a girl whose life long dream was to sing.

She thanked her mom for playing babysitter for her while on this trip to D.C. Menzel and husband Taye Diggs have a 13-month-old son named Walker who accompanied mommy and grandma to the District this week. She even dedicated her encore performance of "Tomorrow" from Annie to dear old mom. If that's not saying "Thanks" then I don't know what else could.

She sang some of the songs written with Diggs while taking care of the baby as an "I love you" to Walker.

She credited her successful career to the late Jonathan Larson who wrote Rent (which was Menzel's professional debut on Broadway).

She spoke more than highly of her husband. It sounds like those two have something really special and she knows how lucky she is to have him in her life.

And she sang a rendition of "For Good" (from Wicked) that brought tears to my eyes:
The evening’s finest moment wasn’t an expected show-ending rendition of Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” or an encore performance of Annie’s “Tomorrow.” Both were fantastic routines with a genuine voice backing up the song’s sentiments, but Menzel took it upon herself to garnish the night with a spine-tingling surprise gift for her audience.

Before the orchestra started “Defying Gravity,” Menzel removed her in-ear monitors. “I think I can do this without these in,” she mumbled. Then she put her microphone down.

No one knew what she was trying to do. Conductor Marvin Hamlisch looked confused. Menzel appeared to be nervous. It looked like she was ready to exit the stage. Then, she opened her mouth and started singing.

“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason,” she began. Those are the opening lines to a song from Wicked titled “For Good.” It is a heart-wrenching song describing the relationship between the witches of Oz.

Never in my life have I heard such an organic performance from a singer of her caliber. Menzel, in that moment, was mesmerizing. Her voice filled the room without any assistance from a microphone. She’s that powerful of a musical force.

Some people say “Thank You” by filling out generic cards they bought at a CVS Pharmacy. Idina Menzel says “Thank You” by singing a song that means the world to her a Capaella at the Kennedy Center.

For that, Ms. Menzel, this singer/writer would like to say just one word: thanks.
-- Excerpt from "We Love Music: A Date with Idina Menzel & The NSO Pops" seen on We Love DC.
Idina Menzel strikes me as the kind of person I have always striven to be. Grateful, happy, stressed by work but all the better for it because hard work is always worth it, in love with what I do for a living, singing, surrounded by music, and always working on making myself a better person.

Based on her presence at the Kennedy Center Thursday I feel confident in saying Idina Menzel is a treasure in the musical community because she means every word she sings and is a model human being. I'm sure she's flawed, as are we all, but there's really just something special about Idina Menzel.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

NEW SHOW ANNOUNCED: Rachel Levitin Live at Ebenezers Coffeehouse

Rachel Levitin Live

Ebenezers Coffeehouse, Thurs. 10/21

201 F Street NE, Washington D.C.

A couple blocks from the Union Station Red Line Metro Station

The Singer-Songwriter-Showdown

4 acts, 1 stage, 1 winner, all ages

Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 7:30 p.m.