After a very long drive from Fredrichshafen (during which we had to change busses, since our bus was 1 meter too long to meet Swiss requirements) we arrived in Basel just in time to change our Deutsche Marks into Swiss Francs and get a quick bite to eat before the show. We had been asked to meet in the hotel lobby before walking over to the theater, and during the meeting, we were told that our stage manager had been fired, and would not be replaced. This upset many of us who viewed his dismissal as scapegoating on the part of the producers to "fix" problems with the show that had existed since opening night (and in many cases created by our director in a series of last-minute decisions that most of us disagreed with). Compounding the problem were the lighting and sound technicians who refused to answer to the stage manager. There had also been some severe personality conflicts between the Technical Director, Company Manager and Stage manager, and while I was not happy with the outcome, the only surprise was that things had gone on for so long before reaching a breaking point.
We had been told for weeks that the first show in Basel was very important because there were a number of presenters, especially from Italy, coming to check out the show for their spring seasons. It ended up being a wonderful show. Indeed, all of the shows in Basel were excellent: Faced with new responsibility and the knowledge that the producers were watching, all of the notes that the stage manager had been giving in the prior weeks were miraculously fixed: The lights were finally mostly right, the set changes finally worked, the sound was good, and by the end of those four days, cast morale had dramatically improved. We had all gotten so tired of watching talented cast doing a well-crafted piece of music theater, only to see it artistically sabotaged by embarrassing technical gaffes. The only thing that worries me is that now no-one is watching the show to keep the actors in check -- during a long run like this, performances invariably get larger and with a cast this young (I am one of the "older" cast members. Go figure.) the process is accelerated.
After the show, the producers took us all out for a few drinks with the Italian presenters. Obviously they liked the show and as far as I know, negotiations are underway at this point. It is very strange for me to be doing a tour with the dates not pretty much locked before we start, and not knowing how much money I can count on coming in, or even dealing with the rumors that have been floating around that the tour will close early is a little disconcerting. Still, The news from Milan is looking good, and beyond that everything is pure speculation.
Basel itself is a charming city. Our hotel and theater are across the river from the Altstadt (Old City) in a swath of much newer buildings containing the convention center, several luxury hotels and our theater. Functional, but in no way attractive. Interestingly, in this part of town there are no stoplights. Even where two busy boulevards intersect, the cars treat everything as a four-way stop. Also, pedestrians always have right of way -- it took a while to get used to just stepping out into the crosswalk next to an intersection that looked like chaos all the time.
Included in our hotel welcome packet was a free pass for all public transportation in the city, and one of the main stops for all of the streetcar lines was right in front of our Hotel. A short ride across the Rhine took us to the heart of the city. On the first full day in Basel it was gloomy and raining, so we did little more than go the main train station to buy our tickets for Paris for the upcoming 3-day break, go the English-language bookstore (BA and I had exhausted ours and each other's book supplies, and we needed something new to read during the second act of the show, where we both have most of the act off) and then eat again before the show.
The next day was glorious, however, and after a late start we set out into the city.Basel is right on the banks of the Rhine (indeed, many of the older buildings jut out over the river, in what we were told was an attempt to allow fresh air into these homes by keeping them away from the dirty streets in the pre-sewer days), and covers two hills, with the main square in the valley between them. Just walking down these twisting medieval streets brought us back in time - since Switzerland has been neutral in all of the wars of this century, nothing has been destroyed at all, and the effect is wonderful. The cathedral is at this time undergoing an external renovation, but the inside was breathtaking. The Rathaus is a bold red color and most of the roofs of the older buildings share a common green/red diamond pattern. I never found out the reason for this, but it covers the Rathaus, the Cathedral, several of the old city gatehouses, and many other important buildings. Near the main square was another small square in front of a church, and this is where the Christmas market was being held. After a sausage in a roll and a glass of Gluhwein, we explored a little. The prices of everything in Switzerland was about double (which we had been warned about) but for the first time we finally saw some of the hand-made wooden ornaments that I had remembered from childhood. Nearby was a fountain in front of a theater that had about 10 metal "contraptions" paddling, squirting and spraying water in a very animal-like manner, which we found very amusing.
A few other members of the cast took the day to go up to Mt. Titless, about a 3 hour train ride away, to go sledding and explore the glacier - the sledding run wasn't open yet that early in the season, but those who went said that walking through the glacier alone was worth the trip, and they had a wonderful lunch at the top of the mountain and felt literally on top of the world. I would have enjoyed that experience, but cash was running low (only 3 shows the week before) and I knew I was going to Paris in two days.
After the last show in Basel, everyone was headed their own way, although it turned out that about half the cast and most of the crew were going to Paris. (Only a few cast members went with the bus to Saarbrucken: other destinations were Hamburg, Milan, Amsterdam, Lyon and Berlin). I traveled on the early train out of Basel with Patrick and Michael, Betty Ann and Rob. We arrived at
Gare du l'Est shortly after one o'clock in the afternoon, figured out the Metro system, found our hotel and checked in. On the advice of Christine's guidebook we had earlier booked two rooms at Hotel de Nevers, just off of the Place de la Republique. Not really a tourist destination, so the local restaurants were good and very reasonably priced, and every subway line seemed to stop there, which made it the perfect place for us, especially when combined with the price - for the triple that BA, Rob and I were sharing, it only cost us FF. 310 a night (which with the current exchange rate worked out to about $14 a person a night).
After checking in we found a little bistro near us that served up excellent escargot for BA and I, followed by duck for me, a great chicken dish for Rob and perfect onion soup for BA. Patrick and Michael headed off to Disneyland Paris almost as soon as we had arrived (it's a dream of Michael's to go to every Disneyland in the world), and after that we only met them once before we met again at the train station to go home.
After lunch and map consultation, we headed out for Notre Dame and the Ile de la Cite. We got off the metro in front of the Hotel de Ville, and as we walked around the corner and reached the Seine, Betty Ann burst out into tears (the first of many occasions, as it would turn out) at how beautiful the city was. We walked over the Seine just as the sun was beginning to set, and everything was bathed in a glorious pink light. I thought then and agree now: there is nothing I can possibly say that can capture the magic of walking through Paris - it is perhaps the most perfect city in the world. The entire time I was there I remembered many visits as child and how everything had seemed exhilarating, and impossibly magical. One night I remember saying to my parents (I must have been about 10) that the city had a pulse that I could feel, and that it just "fit". I feel the same now.
As we crossed the Seine, Rob (who had been in Paris about 3 years before) insisted we walk around the long way for our approach to Notre Dame, and he was right..as we rounded the corner, the cathedral was across the plaza, allowing us to stare and take it in as the last rays of the sun hit the facade. Since it was Sunday, the cathedral was mobbed with tourists and walking though was a highly unsatisfactory experience (they really could have been selling popcorn in there), so we got out as quickly as we could, and planned to come back another day. Instead we walked over to the left bank and walked along the river watching the lights come on on the bridges. BA had seen the top of the Eiffel Tower while were walking and asked to go there. Coming out of the subway, the tower wasn't visible, but when we rounded the corner, suddenly it was there in front of us and BA again burst into tears. We hadn't been planning on going up inside in favor of taking a ride on the Ferris Wheel in the Place de la Concorde, but without even asking each other, the three of us walked to the ticket line and got our tickets to the top. The elevator up was fascinating, but the crowds were very thick until we got to the very top, at which point it was much colder and the wind stronger - so only those who had dressed warmly enough were out on the viewing platform. Coming down, at the middle level the line for the elevator was so long (nearly an hour) that quickly decided to walk down. It only took about 10 minutes and provided us with an up-close view of the actual tower structure.
After that we were off to a restaurant that Michael Danek (our Julian Marsh) had recommended - he had lived in Paris for 4 months with Chorus Line and had honeymooned here in the past. Called Roger la Grenouille (Roger the Frog), we arrived just a few minutes late and after being playfully scolded by the owner he sat us in an empty room in the back - promising us that it would fill up quickly. After fighting hoards of tourists at the Eiffel tower, we didn't exactly mind being alone for a while to reflect. We ordered the frog legs, of course, and split a bottle of wine between the three of us. The frog legs were exquisite - prepared in a cream sauce - and just as we were finishing up (the room had by that point filled up with a number of couples) the owner came around and put silly hats on our heads, gave us streamers and noisemakers and proceeded to insult us all and entice us to throw the streamers at him. The music volume bumped up a little bit and we realized that the radio was playing American rock 'n' roll..sung in French: Doo Waa Diddy, etc. The atmosphere got crazier and crazier -- by the time desert came around we were all singing along and acting as if we had all had far more to drink than the third of a bottle. For desert we had Creme Caramel (except for BA, whom we made order the "Roger's surprise - for female frogs only" which was just as risqué as you'd imagine) and stayed for quite a while afterwards. I have been asked more times about this Restaurant than anything else on the tour, so I'm adding the address and telephone number: ROGER LA GRENOUILLE 28 rue des Grands-Augustins TÚl.: 01.43.26.10.55.
Michael and Patrick returned from Disney about this time, and together the five of us went in search of a piano bar that our music director had told us was a must. Piano Zinc is just a few blocks east of the Pompidou Center which looks wholly unimpressive both outside and downstairs in the tiny basement piano room. Obviously 11 o'clock at night was too early because the place was mostly empty until around midnight - the first person singing when we walked in was dreadful, and we were about to drink down our two drink minimum and then get out of there, but then the dreadful singer finished and a wonderful woman singing American jazz standards got up and sang a set (as it turned out, each singer sang a set of four songs). When she finished, Betty Ann approached her to talk to her - she had started singing a few years before as an incentive to herself to not smoke anymore...and within two years, she was making her living as a singer in France. After a while a young doctor that had been talking to us got up to sing, and as the piano started in to "New York, New York" BA sang a little of the melody in happy recognition, and was over heard by this young man who then insisted that she sing it instead -- she ended up singing several songs over the course of the evening..including half of the score of "Hello Dolly". During the evening my French had been flooding back, and I ended up translating all of the songs sung in French for the rest of our group. By the time we had left, we'd made friends with most of the people in the room, listened to every one sing (one young Frenchman insisted on singing "Tits & Ass" from A CHORUS LINE with a feather boa and a bowler hat) and all of us had sung at least one song. BA and I made our way back to the hotel just before 3AM, and the other three made it home closer to 5AM.
The next morning, we set out to the Louvre to get in as soon as they opened the doors. We had bought upon arrival at the train station a three-day museum pass that allowed us to visit all the museums, monuments and churches in Paris for one price, and also allowed us to skip every line (this pass more than paid for itself by the time we left). I remember going to the Louvre as a child, walking to the center of the room, declaring each wall "boring" and then moping around on the benches until my parents caught up with me. This time, I didn't find it boring at all. We spent about 2 hours there, knowing that there were several days of exploration in the museum left for another time. Most impressive to us were the classical and renaissance sculptures and the building itself. After that we headed off to the Musee d'Orangerie to see the two oval rooms with Monet's Waterlillies painted all around. BA burst into tears for the second time that day (the first had been in front of the Venus de Milo) and I echoed her sentiments, if not the tears.
After that it was time for our walking tour -- Maxim's, Le Madeleine, the Paris Opera, down to see the windows in St. Chapelle, back to the Latin Quarter for a late lunch then up into the tower of Notre Dame -- where the view was breathtaking and the gargoyles particularly whimsical. This was the evening that we finally made it to the Bateaux Mouche for a twilight river ride before dinner. Something in my lunch didn't agree with me, and I went back to the hotel to rest, while BA and Rob went to a classic Bistro (supposedly Joel Grey's favorite, according to Michael Danek) and had a wonderful dinner. Michael Ursua and Patrick made it in time for dessert and a drink and then the boys went out on the town while Betty Ann came back to the hotel to rest.
I was feeling fine again by morning, and we all stumbled out of bed early for our last day in Paris. We checked out of our hotel (where the entire staff had been delightful during our entire stay), stashed our suitcases in a side room and headed out for breakfast at a little patisserie right around the corner that came highly recommended by our hotel staff. Then it was off to the Pere Lachaise cemetery to visit the graves of several of the artistic and literary luminaries buried there: Sara Berhnardt, Edith Piaf, Pissaro, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrisson, Chopin, Maria Callas and George Seurat among many, many others. The cemetary was on its own quite beautiful, and we were especailly impressed with the large family tombs that looked like little chapels with a small altar for rememberances, and many with little stained glass windows in the back.
After that we headed to the north side of the city to walk from the Moulin Rouge (we had tried to get tickets for a show there, but they had closed to rehearse their christmas can-can show, and didn't start up again until a week after we left) up towards Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. Sacre Coeur sits atop the tallest hill in Paris, and as beautiful as it is to look at from the outside, the inside is also extremely beautiful. The fresco above the altar brought BA to tears again; she said that from the pew she sat in, it was like Jesus was right there within reach, and she felt her parents in Heaven were right there again with her.
We then took a short walk throught the hilltop neighborhood of Montmartre, where there is a little square with painters all trying to paint the tourists for a small fee -- when it began to rain lightly, they stayed put and just put up large umbrellas over their easels. We walked around for a short while picking a restaurant for lunch. We settled for a little place called Chez Ma Cousine, where we sat on the ground floor, and listened to the Cabaret upstairs -- it was obvously Matinee day, and the crowd was appropriately elderly. After our last meal in Paris we made our way back to the hotel and then to the train station to catch our train back to Saarbrucken. A number of the other cast members stayed one more night, but we decided to go ahead and get a good night's sleep before the next show.
After arriving back in Saarbrucken, it was hard to be excited about being in Germany again. As beautiful and interesting as this country is, I have never seen anything that rivals Paris in beauty or vitality. Saarbrucken is a mostly industrial town with very little of its original architecture left since the war. I rose late, wandered throught the town for a little while, ate lunch and then came back to the hotel in time to do the show.
One of the actors hadn't yet made it back from Barcelona and hadn't bothered to call the company manager. Patrick Clayton, his understudy, was ready and just spend the bus ride to the theater (about 45 minutes away) reviewing traffic patterns during the Ballet -- just as he finished, the company manager got word that our wayward actor had gotten back from the airport, and was in a cab on the way to the theater. False alarm for Patrick, but we all knew that he was ready to go on.
Our next show and town was a blur - Billingen - in the middle of the black forest. I slept most of the day in the hotel, and only ventured out for food at the restaurant attached to the theater. After that was Stuttgart, where we were sitting for 2 days, but had only one show. On the first day, we went in for a late lunch atop the TV tower, which sits high on a hill above the city and can only be reached by car or by a little cog railroad that gives a delightful view of the city on the way up. We watched the sun go down and the lights go on in the city below as we ate a delicious meal and drank some of the local wine - a very light and slightly tart red which was perfect with the regional cooking. Stuttgart produces several varieties of wine, but because the output is so low, virtually all of it is consumed locally. After that it was back down into the city, where we found a beer hall that appealed to us - it was at one point an Orphanage, and then a Military Morgue before becoming a brewery in the Mid 1800's. We drank quite a lot of the local brew, before going out to a club (which wouldn't let Michael or Patrick in because they were wearing sneakers) and taking the last train home just after midnight.
The next day, I stayed around the hotel and did some shopping and a little laundry before the show. I finished the book I had bought in Basel, and started looking for a new one. The show was fun that night, and afterwards, Brad Veith had bought a few bottles of Bordeaux that day, and BA, Myself and Rob went up to his room for cheese, cold cuts and a little wine.
The next day we were off to Munich, beer capital of the world. We arrived at the hotel late -- stuck in traffic again on the Autobahn -- and barely had time to eat before the show. After the show, the hotel bar was decorated in full Bavarian kitch, and the waitress was wearing the traditional Bavarian garb. And also true to Bavaria, the beer was excellent and only served by the liter. I was able to call home before I started the beer, which was probably a good idea, since I wasn't too coherent after the liter was finished. Because we had the next two days off, the stage crew was able to stay in the same hotel as us, instead of sleeping in their bunks on the bus travelling to the next venue, and it was a lot of fun to hang out with them.
The next day we went into Munchen (Munich for Americans -- why did we change the pronunciation??) around 11, and what had started out as a small group grew quickly to almost 20 by the time we got to the tram into town. Too many for my taste, and things were taking too long, so our bus driver, Erwin, offered to show BA, Rob and myself around the city and we agreed to meet the rest of the group at the Hoffbrauhaus at 5 PM. Munich is a beautiful city, and the main square reminds me a lot of the Grand Place in Brussels, with its hugh gothic Rathaus dominating the plaza. The Christmas market was in full swing and we did a little shopping before climbing the steps of the steeple of the Alt St. Peter church to look over the town. The real architectural highlights of Munchen seem to be the churches - there are several major churches right in the center of town, each breathtaking in its own way and from its own period: Roccoco, Baroque, Renaissance, and the very spare Frauenkirche, with it's twin domes visible all over the city. We had intended to have lunch at the Hoffbrauhaus as well, but Erwin insisted that the food there was terrible, and instead took us to what looked like a little out of the way dive, but inside was a glorious traditional Bavarian restaurant. It turned out to be the main restaurant for the Paulaner Brewery, and we had a wonderful meal there (and of course, sampled the house beer).
On the way back to the Hoffbrauhaus, we passed by the windows of the Karstadt department store, and just like Macy's, the windows were decorated for the holidays. It was really charming to watch the children pressed up against the glass watching life-sized dolls playing in the cotton snow. At the Hoffbrauhaus, we met the rest of our group (there was a group that set out at 10AM to visit every major beer hall in Munchen, and seemed to have come close to succeding by the way they staggered in..after all, beer is only served by the liter here and there are ove 100 breweries in the city limits) and had a few beers in what our bus driver called the "most famous restaurant in the world". While I'm not so sure about that, the place was certainly crowded, and we learned that the very first meeting of the Nazi party was held in that room, when Hitler was selected to head the party. The room itself was huge, and the huge steins of beer never seemed to stop flowing.These mugs were nearly the size of our heads, and full to the brim. In the center of the room, what must have been the world's drunkest oom-pah band was playing in the middle. Christine Nevins asked me to Polka, and so we did...which made Mayumi jealous, and so I had to Polka her around the restaurant aisles as well. After about an hour or two there, our group broke down into smaller units again to bar-hop before heading back to the hotel relatively early -- since we had an early call and an 12 hour bus ride waiting for us the next day.
I was relatively sober when I got home, but there were still a few who were still drunk when they crawled onto the bus the next morning. We were off to Cloppenburg, way up in the north, and the beginning of a solid week of shows, with somewhat long drives every day.