The Tampa Bay Bloggers had an opportunity to see Elf the Musical on opening night and as a new member I was thrilled at the chance to take part. Now as I am a new member I am not sure of the background of my fellow bloggers, but I do have a modest amount of training and experience in theater (www.bradminus.com), so I may be just a tad more specific especially on the acting, but nevertheless I hope my review will be informative enough to help you decide whether to see it or not. Just a little foreshadowing….go see it.
Elf the Musical is based on the 2003 holiday movie Elf starring Will Farrell about a human baby who found his way into Santa’s bag during his Christmas visit to a local orphanage. Since the boy was already an orphan, Santa and his elves decided to raise the child at the north pole just as they would any elf child. The problem was Buddy, the human boy, grew to be over six feet tall. After a small slip of the tongue by one of the other elves, Buddy learns that he is indeed human and asks Santa about his parents. It is then that Buddy decides to go and find his father in the big city of New York.
NETwork Presentations LLC’s production of this family Christmas musical was alive with high energy musical numbers, colorful set pieces and smooth transitions from scene to scene. In the past decade or two, Broadway and national tours have started to move toward high tech sets and stage work which include hgh intensive set changes, creative light and sound effects, and even some pyrotechnics. Very recently I have noticed a small shift back to a more classical route where the set pieces are simple but painted well, the lighting is simple and the music and sound are achieved by a live orchestra instead of musical tracks. This musical is a perfect example. This simpler style has shifted the responsibility of the quality of productions back to the performers and less to the designers of sets, sound and lighting. In my opinion it makes for a better show, but I may be a little biased.
The play opens up with Santa (Gordon Gray) sitting in his living room fighting with his television set. He opens the fourth wall and greets the audience as if we were sitting on the floor right in his living room. After subtly turning off his cell phone, he opens a book and prepares to tell us the story of Buddy the Elf. At the point the living room is whisked away to Santa’s workshop where the elves are preparing for Christmas. Gordon’s depiction of Santa throughout the play is wonderful. His energy and boastfulness helped me to get lost in the show and actually believe I was at the north pole.
Matt Kopec’s characterization of Buddy is spot on as his high energy, child like characterization makes the audience believe this six-foot boy really does believe he is an elf and is horrified when he finds out he is actually human. Matt’s singing voice is pure musical theater and was a joy to hear every time he opened his mouth. I found myself waiting impatiently for his next number.
The real treat came from the character of Jovie (Kae Hennies), who captures Buddy’s heart the moment he sees her in the office of his biological father, Walter Hobbs (Drew Culver). Jovie has to be coaxed in to singing during the number “A Christmas Song”, but when she finally decides to sing out, her voice beautifully resonates throughout the theatre and when paired with Buddy’s the duo create pure musical brilliance for any ear.
Other notable performances were by Michael, Buddy’s half brother played by Connor Barth who even as a young actor, had a mature voice for his age. He tended to get a little pitchy in the upper registers, but because of his characterization was easily missed and forgivable. Julia Louise Hosack played Emily Hobbs, Buddy’s step mother, also had a fantastic musical voice and she was able to lead Michael into musical duets that gave me the “warm fuzzies”. The connection and chemistry between these two well trained actors allowed me to believe they were really mother and son.
The only drawback of this production that tugged me out of my holiday nirvana, was the voice of Drew Pulver whom played Walter Hobbs, Buddy’s father. His performance was not inferior, it just did not mix well the rest of the ensemble in my humble opinion. It was obvious to the audience that most of the ensemble were trained in contemporary music or musical theater When Walter sang it was clearly operatic, to a point where the words were garbled and I couldn’t make out the lyrics. Unfortunately, every time he sang it was distracting and his voice did not meld with the rest of the ensemble.
This show is classical musical theatre with simply painted sets, wonderful acting, and is sure to bring a smile to you and your family should you decide to see it. It is a true Holiday treat.
Elf the Musical is playing at
Straz Center for the Performing Arts
1010 North W.C. MacInnes Place
Tampa, Florida 33602
Wed. 7:30 p.m.
Fri. 2 and 8 p.m.
Sat. 2 and 8 p.m.
Sun. 1 and 6:30 p.m.
There is on aspect of competing in triathlon that is consistent among all courses, distances and brands; racing is lonely. Obviously, during the swim it is hard enough to breathe let alone talk. USAT regulations state that you keep four bike lengths between competitors unless one is passing and even at that point it must be done in 20 seconds, so accept for a “hey”, “hello” or an “on your left” there is not much conversation going on there. The run can be more interactive, but after a long swim and bike, most competitors are already hypoxic or have a certain aerobic pace that doesn’t allow for a lot conversation their either. It does happen though where athletes find new connections or meet with old and finish the run together, but it is rare, at least from what I have seen. The common denominator is the people whom you share the race experience with, or the support that accompanies you. After some logistics issues otherwise cancelled some of my support and fellow athletes, I was still fortunate enough to be surrounded by a small group of A-Trainers that made the entire experience a memory that will not fade.
On Friday we met up at Celeste’s home which was centrally located and began the caravan up to Georgia. We started with three suv’s and a car with seven athletes. Most of knew each other from other races and workouts, so the dynamic of the group was anxious but friendly. The ride down was full of group texting, slight a couple of rather “adventurous” maneuvers, the lost and found of some of the caravan, but all-in-all safe and successful.
Luckily, we arrived early enough to drive to the expo and check-in, providing us the option of sleeping a little longer in the morning without the inconvenience of long lines which are typical to this race. I was mentioning to one of my cohorts, that the previous year we arrived at check-in at 6am, coffee in hand, so we were in a prime spot when the activities started at 7. I enjoyed this experience much more as there were no lines and even the expo was fairly empty enough to allow us to shop for any possibly extras we may need or want for the race. Of course after an eight hour drive, unpacking gear, checking-in and shopping we were all tired and hungry. We decided to walk down Broad Street, the main downtown strip, and see some of the nightlife on our way to Mellow Mushroom. The thought of pizza from Mellow Mushroom made Celeste and myself excited with anticipation, but unfortunately, when we arrived there was a long wait and the other places we discovered just did not have the selection the group needed. Even splitting up, Celeste and I picking up the pizza, while Beth, Bruce, Chris and Jessica retrieved the cars from the hotel proved to allot too much time between eating and allowing sleep to overcome us. On the way back to the hotel, we settled on the next best choice which was have another pizza joint deliver food while we headed back. The conversation seemed to stay on the race, sleeping and television while we plowed through two pizzas and 20 wings, which were actually a lot hotter than I expected, before we all finally retired for the night.
Saturday, brought on another level of excitement, renewed energy and the freedom of knowing the only task we needed to accomplish was to stow our bikes in transition for the next day’s big event. I set the alarm for 7 o’clock thinking that would be the latest I slept in a while, but nevertheless my eyes popped open at 6:30 wide awake and ready for the excitement of the day. Amy, my coach, had planned for me to do 15 minutes of each event as a precursor to the following day, however, emails had been sent from Ironman, announcing no swimming in the river would be allowed prior to race day. Swimming the day before the race is usually used to double check the wet suit and understand the conditions of the body of water. For me this was not a big deal, as I had already completed the race the year prior, but it could have been for the rest of the group of whom not only was this the first time competing in Ironman Augusta, it was also their very first 70.3 distance triathlon ever. With all of set on that fact, a few of us headed out for a run, which was surprisingly hilly, but interesting and fun due tot he southern cultural differences and the rare sighting of a fox. Afterwards, we grabbed our bikes and headed out the opposite way and ended up in a very nice neighborhood with a couple of steep climbs. I was grateful for that in order to test my bike, which had been recently pulled apart, cleaned tuned and re-assembled, and my legs. Everything seemed to be in working order which pleased me just fine.
After a shower, a hearty breakfast, compliments of the Comfort Inn, and a quick jaunt to the bike store, we all loaded up our bikes and headed back to transition and race headquarters to drop our bikes in transition and explore the expo one last time. Transporting our bikes to transition was uneventful with the exception that as we walked our bikes to transition, we noticed athletes with wet suits coming up out of the water. When we inquired about it, they had no idea that there was an email warning of the disqualification if swimming in river prior to the race. As a matter of fact the athletes we did talk with all mentioned the overabundance of people that were actually swimming, of which was confirmed by our own eyes. We were all a little disappointed about that, however we shook it off not allowing it to crush our “high” of pre-race emotions.
Something I said to Chris, as we were walking into the expo that afternoon, may explain my last statement. I expressed to him that I enjoyed the events of race weekend almost as much as the race itself. The positive energy of all the athletes there to compete, seems to quell and increase allowing everyone to share in it. Every expo I have attended from 5k races, marathons and mud runs to half and full Ironman triathlons, they all have never disappointed with the positive aura and energy collected and passed by runners, athletes and support staff. It is one of my favorite parts of the weekend and this expo was just as exciting.
After buying a sample pack of a new natural energy drink called Zip Fizz, which tastes like grape and orange soda by the way, I was walking back to the main hall when I saw someone I have been wanting to meet for a long time. He was not only someone I had read about in countless articles but he was a friend of Lisa Jamison, my extraordinary massage therapist and friend. This gentlemen did something that would be a first and would motivate a whole new generation of people to overcome the obstacles in their life and challenge themselves to live up to their own dreams. Scott Rigsby, was the first double amputee to complete the Ironman World Championships in Kona, and I believe the first to finish a full Ironman period. I was elated to meet Scott and I was shocked to watch him stand up and sit down as he was signing posters and books. He moved up and down smoother than a lot of people I know whom have natural legs. After a few words of conversation, a picture and him signing his book for me, I realized why he was so successful. They guy just oozes positive mental attitude and strength. Somehow, I believe that whether or not he lost his legs he would have still found a way to be a role model for people. I wish I would have had the chance to read his book prior to the expo and would have been able to talk with him more about it.
Incredibly, I walked into the main hall and right there was another guy I admired. John Pyle. A vet whom had ran across America, flag in hand, for wounded veterans everywhere. I had talked with John before where I coach at Fit2Run, and even then I noted his air of strength. John is a little more grounded then Scott, not to mention a little older. He reminds me of that guy in the motorcycle movies whom hangs out in the biker bars but is not part of the gang. The character whom always ends up getting hit over the head with something on accident and then ends up taking out the whole gang. Very cool, positive, respectful and passionate about his cause, but to be on his bad side seems like somewhere I would not want to be.
I completed my purchases and I headed to the hotel restaurant because I was starving. I didn’t want anything to heavy because of our dinner plans that night, but I needed a snack and Bonk Breakers, Honey Stinger Waffles or any other race supplement was not going to do it for me. As I sat at the bar, the beer taps floated past my field of vision and my mouth started to water. Really? I wanted a beer? Now? “Well, you only live once”, I thought to myself. Thinking about my friend Dom (whom conquered the Chicago Marathon while stopping in the middle for a beer), I ordered a Guiness, and the Salmon with vegetables and it was awesome. It was even plated beautifully. While I was eating a very interesting couple sat down next to me. The wife was an Xterra triathlete and trail runner hopefully bound for the World Championships and he was doing his first 70.3 the next day. The dynamic had them supporting each other for races, but never doing the same race. After the pleasantries and initial info gathering the conversation turned to running where I was impressed to hear after a long career of running she had started focusing on a new form to help her run more efficiently. Was this a sign? Running form is what I teach, coach and mentor athletes on and love doing so, and this athlete just so happens to let me know she has been looking at changing her form. Kismet! Of course as always I mentioned the group I coach at Fit2Run, my back story of how I became a form advocate, my results and then proceeded to ask her about her experiences changing her form and what she was looking to do. We right on the same wavelength and she even asked my my opinion on a couple of things. Needless to say, it was an outstanding feeling.
We called ahead to Carraba’s because of course most of the triathlete world wants pasta to carb load the night before. Being on a 90% paleo diet I now forgo the pasta rituals and more prefer meat and vegetables. I had a combo of steak marsala, chicken brian and vegetables with a couple of glasses of sangria to help me sleep. It was perfect and the fact we did not wait for anything made it even better. So, it was back to the hotel, to double check the gear, lay out clothes for the next day and off to bed.
My race night ritual usually always includes the following; lay out my gear, go over the race in my head to include transitions and nutrition, pack everything up, double check my list one more time, lay out my clothes bib, shoes, hat and glasses in some odd way, take a picture, post it to Facebook, set my alarm and do whatever I can to get to sleep. The latter is the hard part. I end up so anxious that I do not usually drift off for a couple of hours. This night was no exception except I made a small error that revealed itself way too late.
My eyes popped open the next morning and I was ready for the day. The alarm hadn’t gone off so I thought there was no problem with just lying around for a bit to get my bearings. As I turned over, to turn off the alarm, my eyes cleared up on the face of the clock; 4:25am it read. WHAT??? 4:25?? I was supposed to be up at 3:30 so I had an hour to gear myself up for the race before I was supposed to be downstairs at 4:30am. SON OF A MONKEY”S UNCLE!! (That may have not been my exact vernacular.) I couldn’t believe I overslept. I immediately jumped up disrobed, put on my tri shorts an shirt, took my vitamins, put in my contacts, gathered my stuff and was down in the lobby by 4:30am awaiting the rest of the crew. No hygiene, no pre-race glide, no pre-race meal and of course what I disliked the most, the fear I would have to use a porta potty for a bowel movement. OH-EM-Freakin -GEE! My head was a wreck and I knew I had to get it together. I was so lucky, I ended up driving myself to the race because I needed a little time to pull myself together.
I finally accepted the inevitable when we parked the cars fairly near to transition. This was a huge plus as last year we ended up walking over a mile and then dragging our bikes and gear back. Each moment started to bring on more and more positive energy. Not that I wasn’t still anxious, but everything was starting to align. Setting up transition was easy breezy. A couple of weekends prior Amy had me running through my transition setup a few times to make sure I knew what was the most efficient for me, so it was just like putting puzzle pieces together; towel, shoes, cletes, race belt run, race belt bike, helmet and glasses. Attach the bottles, ditch the bag and my transition was officially setup. I ran up to it once and jumped in my cletes and mimed through my first transition as a quick check and at that point I was confident at least my bike and gear were ready. I grabbed my wet suit, a honey stinger waffle and headed to the bus for a ride back to the swim start.
Everything continued to align as the bus’s speaker roared to life with the announcement that there would be two stops. The first being the swim start and the second being the host hotel. “Wait!” I thought. “Did he just say the host hotel? Really?” Shut the front door! I was going to be able to use a real bathroom prior to the race. Awesome! While the rest of the crew decided to go straight to the swim start, Jessica and I continued on to the hotel. The thought of using a bathroom that was not a porta potty for…well…uh…number 2, elated me. Not to mention, the idea I may be able to actually get that cup of coffee I was expecting in the hour I planned to have prior to leaving. YAY!!! Jessica seemed to be just as happy about the chance to have a cup of coffee as well.
After we both accomplished what we set out for we headed out to the River Walk and headed to the swim start. The sky had this purple hue as the orange sun started to peak through the sky. It was gorgeous. I was also really happy to have a few spare moments to spend with Jessica. She had taken the trip with us specifically to be a motivator and sherpa for Beth, and I could tell that she really appreciated Jessica being here. Beth is this type A personality that while excitable always exhibits this aura of sunshine no matter how she is feeling. Jessica, is extremely positive, but a little more laid back, but can definitely take her Cuban persona to a higher level when provoked. Luckily, I only experienced it positively provoked spilling sunshine and rainbows. I found her to be charming, caring and nurturing to everyone and luckily she was there because we all needed that grounding.
Jessica and I walked up to our crew sitting on a curb gabbing while a few of the other athletes we knew all started passing by. We said our good lucks and gave hugs, high fives and fist bumps all the while suffering from own anxiety. Beth is the one who turned me on to blogging more regularly and she has also forged connections with other fitness and running bloggers whom I have read. One is Swim, Bike, Mom whom is very motivating and just so happened to not only be competing but was standing not to far from a group of bloggers that Beth was acquainted with. I was really excited to see her there. I don’t know what it was, but I was enthralled. Maybe because she puts a lot of her personal feelings into her blog that I felt like I knew her, but I was sincerely happy to see and meet her in person.
I looked at my watch and noticed it was 7:15, so I did some of my Dave Scott exercises, lunges and stretches and sat down to struggle with my wet suit. As each leg went on the anxiety increased to another level. “Just get me past the swim”, I kept saying to myself. “Get me on the bike and everything will be just fine.” One more glance at my watch. 7:28am. I had no idea what I was thinking when the first gun went off and the announcer shouted that the Pro Men were off. I went up to the barrier and and waited for them to swim by. They were fast and looked as though they hardly were expending any energy. If I could just figure that out before my wave start everything would be ok, but if I didn’t have it now, I wasn’t going to have it by then. I decided I would trust my training and just do my best to keep straight by sighting every five strokes, kick as lightly as possible and just swim till I was done. After that, what I thought, was a quick meditation my watch said 7:46. I said goodbye and good luck to my crew and headed for the start.
I completed the Hogwild Mud Run this last weekend. To tell you the absolute truth it was a combination of fun and frustration. While I did enjoy the race, there were a couple of issues that would have made the experience better. Let me share my experience with you.
I arrived at the venue in Dover, a little outside of Plant city, around 11 am, following the advice of the email I received. Since my heat wasn’t until 12 pm the hour I had was more than enough time for me. I say “for me” because since I picked up my packet at Fit2Run the day before, which turned out to be smart. When I arrived, I walked up and saw this long line, so I jumped in and started talking to some of the other contestants in front of me. A group that had camouflage bandannas that had the word “FUBAR” on them(F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition), which I thought was totally cool. After realizing the line wasn’t really moving I asked a volunteer what was going on and was told the organization at the sign-in/registration table was really unorganized. It turned out since I already had my number I did not need to wait, I could go to a different table and just pick up my chip. Whew! There was no way I wanted to wait in that line in the 90-degree heat. I picked up my chip and headed back to my car since I also found there was no bag check. I dropped my shirt, put on my chip, grabbed my gloves and headed to the “expo” since I had plenty of time before my heat.
The “expo” wasn’t much but a few product vendors, the beer tent, and some food trucks, so I just decided to proceed to the start line with a quick stop at the porta potties. The start line was nowhere near as prominent as the Finish line and I almost had to ask where it was. Without issue, I found this small, area of ribbons which held a table and the start mats. I warmed up and stretched a bit and then headed into the start chute. While hanging out I met a couple that was in the military and another veteran race couple who were very nice and conversational. One of the veterans and I agreed we would like to see what we could do with this race time-wise just for curiosity sake so I set my watch and was ready to run whenever I could at a decent clip. After a bit, the official finally stated we had a few seconds until our heat started to, be ready. He blew the start horn and we were off.
This was the first time I decided to run in my Vibram Five Fingers, so I was a little hesitant at first, but after a few strides, I realized I felt pretty light and sped up a bit. The first couple of obstacles included a mud crawl, a small hurdle and a jump into a creek. The water was somewhat cool which was refreshing but there wasn’t really any markings to tell us where to go from there. We could move up onto a trail, but previously we were told by an official to stay in the creek and move to our left, which was still kind of confusing. I decided to do just that and took the lead. The water felt pretty heavy with debris but I pushed through and wouldn’t you know it but there was an arrow pointing out of the creek about 400 meters in front of us. We jumped out and I started running through a trail. I felt pretty good at this point and I was running at pretty good speed and felt pretty light because my shoes didn’t hold any of the water. I thought I am really going to enjoy these shoes. It turned out running was a waste since my next obstacle was a fifteen-foot rope wall and it had a line of people waiting to get over it. There was one rope on the far end that no one was using. After talking to one of the military guys, we decided to try it. This was a rope and the wall, while the other three ropes had some thin pieces of wood nailed to the wall to help this one had nothing. I thought what the hell, I did this before, I can do this. I had my gloves and my shoes, no problem, right? Wrong! I climbed about halfway up before my grip slipped due to the rope being soaked. I wrapped my arm through the rope for a second try but I realized I didn’t have the grip strength to pull myself up. What a wuss. I ended up getting back in line and using the medium level rope with two thin boards only on my left side to get over. Of course, I had to go back to the end of the line and waited about 10 minutes to get to it.
The next obstacle was a reverse ladder wall where the rungs where on an incline backward. It wasn’t hard for me and I got over it pretty quickly and since most people in front of me were adept to this one I only had to wait about five minutes to start. There were a couple of mud pits to run through a quick cargo wall and then a sandbag carry about a quarter mile around a lake, of which I actually ran. the bag was about 25 pounds give or take so I didn’t feel it was all that difficult. Awkward but not difficult. That ended with sliding down these tubes into deep water where you had to swim to the far end to get out. There were also ropes to pull yourself across if warranted, but seeing as though I needed to get in as much swimming as possible, I just swam it.
Continuing on from there was pretty fast. There were some trails in-between getting over barrels in the pond, another mud pit, and a haystack. I was surprised running after the obstacles. I expected to be somewhat winded but I was able to keep a pretty good pace running though. Of course, I was stopped dead at the monkey bars waiting another 15 minutes. The monkey bars were on an incline up and then back down. My arms were a bit exhausted, but I thought I had enough strength to get through. No such luck, 2 rungs to go and they gave out. Since I have been training more legs and core than anything else due to the triathlons, here is where I decided I need to get my upper body strength back, but I digress. back to the race.
Continuing on was a rope climb over a trash compactor, a very slippery hill, and another cargo net. The Vibram’s did not let me down during the climbs, when other athletes were slipping back I had no problem maintaining a grip in the mud. I was thinking how much of a believer I came to be in these shoes during those obstacles.
The next mile or so coming to the conclusion of the race included a long trail run with hills, moguls and a hay bale climb. I started passing people up during the run. I was really surprised how comfortable I felt out in the trails. It really felt like a nice change from the asphalt of Bayshore and Davis Island. I thought to myself about adding some trail runs to my training, just to break it up a bit.
The conclusion of the race ended with a muddy hill climb to a slide into a puddle, and finally a mud crawl under electrified barbed wire. The interesting part was the first ten feet, or so, was dry compacted dirt, but the last was wet, nasty, thick mud that clung to me like white on rice. I was caked and covered with this grimy, thick, gross mud that weighed me down as if I was carrying twenty-five-pound kettlebells. To make matters worse it smelled so bad I was wondering if maybe it was not mud at all.
I took a quick picture and headed to another line where there were some man-made showers where people were hosing off. That line didn’t move either, so I followed some other athletes back to the creek and jumped in. After the race, it was not only great to get the mud off, but the water was cool and felt so awesome I could have hung out there forever. All good things come to an end.
I was a little surprised that of all the races I participated in, this was the one race where I didn’t come across a single person I knew. It was kind of lonely actually. I must make a better effort to coordinate to run with friends next time.
On my way out of the park, back to my car, I did see something I never saw before. A bull decided to run right through the expo into the woods. Mooing and galloping like you see on TV but never in real life. He looked pretty majestic and strong with a brown and white coat and a full set of horns. I did see him through the trees trotting away until he stopped to graze a little. It was definitely an interesting experience.
Just a quick epilogue. The last heat was scheduled for 1 pm but at 1:30 as I was heading out I noticed a new heat just getting started. After talking with some other athletes, it turned out that if I had not picked up my packet early, I would have had to wait over two hours in that line. I would have missed my heat and had to start much later.
Due to the waiting, I ended up with a time of 91 minutes and change. Not the best. I will have to sign up a little earlier for the next mud run and obtain an earlier heat in order to actually compete and find what I could actually do. I do, however, encourage all my running and triathlon friends to give these mud runs a chance. They are really a lot of fun despite the 45-minute shower needed afterward.