Monday, September 17, 2012

Leaving Tokyo is such sweet sorrow.....

The excitement continues!!!!  Our trip to Japan has been a whirlwind, but an amazing one.  It’s hard to believe we’ve only been here two weeks; I think most of us could be here for a month or more with no problem.  But, without further ado, on to the events of the second week in Tokyo!

Things started off strong on Monday.  After a very late night bowling and singing, we woke up very early and made the trek on the train out to watch Grand Sumo at Ryogoku Kokugikan.  What an amazing experience!  There were very few people there, but that allowed us the ability to sit together as a large group and witness a sport that we know very little about and talk about it together.  They also had the most amazing soft serve ice cream any of us have ever had…..vanilla and mocha swirl.  That was my lunch. 

After watching for a few hours, the majority of us headed home to rest a bit.  I went to lunch with David at my favorite Ramen place, and we headed to find a chopstick store that Rie had told us about.  Only one stop away on the train, it was pretty easy to find….eventually.  We took a bit of a wrong turn (my fault) and stumbled upon this amazing dessert place.  I noticed it because the façade had a large candelabra with what looked like donuts dripping icing hanging from it….mmmm…..donuts…..David and I sure like donuts, so we stopped by the place; Live Sweets.  We found that though they LOOKED like donuts, they were actually custard.  Regardless, it was amazing.  We back tracked and found the chopstick store, Ginza Natsuno.  With a huge array of chopsticks in various sizes, materials, colors and prices, David and I shopped for over an hour.  Following our shopping spree we headed home so that I could do some laundry and rest a bit; only to find out that I would be going on for Johnny Cash that evening!!!  My Japan debut!  It’s hard to describe how I felt that night.  I was on stage in Japan for the first time, and it had been almost 2 months since last I had performed.  I got to perform with all of my buddies in the cast, with the addition of Levi Kreiss, who won the Tony for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis on Broadway.  That was enough to make it a special evening….add to that the fact that I went out to greet our fans with Eddie (our Elvis), and it just happened to all be on the eve of the 1 year anniversary of us starting rehearsals for tour.  It was truly an exceptional night.  Though, I could tell I was starting to get sick….

Tuesday was our day off, so we all met very early and headed out to Tokyo Disney Sea!  There is so much to tell about this park, but it’s so hard to describe.  The sheer scale of the park is what is so amazing.  It’s just so huge.  And all of the buildings are actual size.  The park is so clean and so detailed.  The food is fantastic, and the rides were so much fun.  My favorites were certainly 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Storm Riders, The Tower Of Terror and Indiana Jones.  I took more pictures there than I have ever taken at an amusement park.  I walked around in awe all day.  I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing!  I felt about 5 years old again, and it was great.  We had a long, tiring but fantastic day, and headed back home to rest up for more adventures. 

By Wednesday morning I had a full-on cold.  But, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from having fun.  I had a hot bowl of Ramen before the matinee, and after the show David, Jam, Austin, Katie, Kelly and I went to a place called Nabezo for Shabu-Shabu and sukiyaki; similar to yakiniku, you cook your meat yourself.  However, it is boiled in either a soup-like broth, or in a sweet soy mixture.  It was fantastic.  Though, it took us a while to figure out what we were doing because we didn’t have Rie to help us this time.  Later, we visited the Tokyo Tower, where we were able to ride an elevator up the highest observatory…..250 meters in the air.  You cannot imagine how expansive Tokyo is.  I mean, we all knew it was a big city, but we didn’t realize it was THAT big.  It took as many pictures as I could, though some didn’t come out all that well because we were there at night. 

Thursday came, and I still wasn’t feeling much better.  After a hot bowl of soup and the matinee, I took a nap before a small group of us headed to the ACT Theatre to see the tour of Chicago.  I had a few friends in the show, so it was great to see a show I had never seen, and to hang out with them afterward.  It was a great night, overall. 

I slept in a bit on Friday and met Jam, Kelly, Katie and Lee for breakfast in our building at a place called Jean Francois; a nice little French bakery with delicious pastries and iced coffee.  Once we were fueled and ready to go, we took the Ginza line train all the way to the last stop: Asakusa. 

There we shopped for a while on historic Nakamise Street, and visited the Senso-ji Temple, one of the oldest and most important in Tokyo.  Once again I took a million pictures and got my pilgrimage book stamped.  It was a very warm day, but totally worth it to see the temple and the HUGE pagoda nearby.  And, to get some gifts for family and friends.  On our way back home, we stopped at the chopstick store again, AND, I got to get a couple of pins to add to my tour jacket from the Hard Rock Café in Roppongi!!!!

After the show that evening, the Thunderstudies and I were asked to take part in what became not only one of the highlights of tour, but also a truly lifechanging event.  We were asked to speak to a group of 70 students who are learning English.  They had all seen the show that evening, and were so excited to meet us.  We sat on a small stage and introduced ourselves, and then mingled through the crowd, talking to large groups of people, and getting to know one another.  Within moments, the language barrier completely broke down.  They were excited to use their English when speaking to us, and we were excited to use what little Japanese we know to speak to them!  They offered us pizza and Kirin beer…..but, most of us didn’t even care to eat or drink because we were having so much fun talking.  We posed for a bunch of pictures, and were even given a gift: pigeon cookies (see the picture here of one of the students presenting me mine).  Very famous in Tokyo, and they come from Kamakura, where we had been only a few days before.  Eventually we had to leave, but none of us really wanted to.  It was so nice to connect with these people, and to see the pure excitement on their faces that we had taken the time to come and talk to them.  Just incredible. 


Time was growing short in Tokyo, and we were all starting to realize how much we really didn’t want to leave.  On Saturday, Billy got the chance to go on as Elvis at the matinee, and the theatre was nice enough to provide us with some amazing pork cutlet sandwiches from Maisen, another popular place in Tokyo.  Following the eveing show, we were invited to try a few different varieties of sake. 

In between shows on Sunday, we were cooked an amazing meal.  Noodles, octopus, dumplings, and even some KFC.  And yes, even THAT is better here.  They also made us an MDQ cake!


 Before the evening show we all gathered on stage and were presented a series of gifts from our presenters and the theatre staff.  Most important of which, is an MDQ t-shirt with the names of every single cast and crew member, including the local crew!  It’s something I will treasure for a very long time. 

Well, we just finished our final show here in Tokyo, and our final night awaits.  Tomorrow we will be heading to Osaka on the bullet train, and though we are excited for a new adventure, it’s hard to leave Tokyo.  These people have given us so much, and there’s no way to repay all of the kindness they have shown us. 

I hope you enjoy the updates from the road, and please stay tuned for more news from Osaka!!!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Our amazing first week in Tokyo

Hello, all!  It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but I’m going to try to pack a lot into these next few blogs.  Currently we are in Tokyo, Japan, and we are seeing so much that I’ve been having to keep track of what I do on a daily basis in order to report back what it is that we’ve been seeing!  But first, I will start with our brief time in New York City for rehearsals…..

Since it had been almost a full year since I had been in NYC, I made it a point to see a few shows while I was there.  We were only in town for 4 nights, and I saw 3 shows; not a bad average.  We rehearsed in a dance studio (Gibney Dance Studio) during the day on Wednesday and Thursday after arriving in town on Tuesday.  It was a bit of a whirlwind, but I had a great time.  Rehearsals were quick, painless and productive, leaving me the evenings to catch up on seeing some theatre.  I got tickets to see Once on Wednesday….and let me tell you, it was worth the wait.  John Michael, Austin and I all went up on stage before the show started to grab a beer at the bar onstage.  And then, I stood mere feet away from my friend Mike Zygo as he and the cast played some amazing “pre show” Irish folk songs.  We were completely blown away by the show.  And I couldn’t have been more proud of Mike.  After the show he took us backstage for a little tour.  I got to hang out quite a bit with him and his wife Jill over my time in NYC, and it was really awesome to see them again.  On Thursday night I had the pleasure of seeing Into The Woods at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.  Tickets are very hard to come by; you basically have to camp out in the park and wait until the box office opens the following day.  Tickets are free, but go very quickly.  So, my friend Robin camped out, and we headed to the show that evening.  An amazing concept, and a fantastic production overall.  And it was a real treat to be able to see Dennis O’hare, Amy Adams and most importantly, Donna Murphy in person.  On Friday morning, I took a trek out to Brooklyn to get my hair cut at Tomcats, a rockabilly barber shop.  I was in need of a trim, and what a rad little place.  It was well worth the trip out there.  I got a few errands done during the day, and chose to see something completely different that evening: Silence! The Musical.  A ridiculously bawdy and hilarious spoof on the movie Silence Of The Lambs.  I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.  Completely ridiculous, but brilliant and very entertaining. 

The next morning, Saturday, we began our trek to Japan.  Vans picked us up at our hotel on 40th between 8th and 9th, and drove us to LaGuardia.  I was REALLY not looking forward to the 14 hour flight ahead….but I have to say, it really wasn’t that bad.  We got dinner, breakfast, a couple of snacks, hot tea, water, coffee, free drinks, AND, I watched three movies on board.  Most people feel that you should try and stay up for a few hours on the plane, sleep close to a normal night’s sleep, and then be awake for the last couple of hours on the plane; in the hopes that you will be more acclimated to the time change.  After leaving at 12:30 PM on Saturday, and a 14 hour flight, we arrived in Tokyo where it was 3:35 PM on Sunday…..yes, that’s right.  Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of EST.  That night was kind of a blur.  A group of us walked around a bit to find food, and then most of us crashed very early.  But for the next few days, of course, we woke up extremely early, feeling groggy and not quite adjusted. 

 On our first full day in Tokyo, a group of us ventured out on our first adventure in Tokyo, and our first use of the subway system.  It is quite impressive.  It may be big and confusing at times, but it is also extremely clean and efficient.  We took the Ginza Line to Ouen station, where we planned to walk around Ouen park.  It was quite beautiful.  Acres and acres of green jungle-like forest in the middle of skyscrapers.  We visited two Buddhist temples while we were there.  The first was the Kiyomizo Kannon-do, and the second was Bentendo.  These temples sell what are called “pilgrimage books”, that you can have stamped by monks there, as well as have them do a page of personalized calligraphy for you for a small fee.  I bought my book and had my first two pages done that day.  They are quite amazing, and something I will cherish long after this trip is over.  We walked the grounds of the park taking tons of pictures and exploring some of what it had to offer.  There was a zoo and a 5 story pagota there, but both were closed to the public on that Monday.  We had one of our first meals within the confines of the park, and we were all quite impressed.  Ordering was a bit of a challenge at first, but we’ve certainly gotten the hang of it. 

We left the park and walked around a shopping area not far from the train station, taking in all of the sights and smells that area had to offer.  It became very clear right away that we were not in Kansas anymore……

On Tuesday I went to lunch with Chuck and a few other people at a Ramen place called Kuorokuaen.  I’ve been back several times for their inexpensive yet delicious Ramen and pork dumplings.  A bit later in the day, the entire cast met in the lobby with all of our interpreters and presenters and trekked to our first Shinto shrine, Mitake Shrine.  To see this age old shrine juxtaposed against skyscrapers was a pretty amazing sight.  They invited us to take part in the blessing, and even gave us an offering afterward.  A small rake that symbolizes money, fame and “raking it in”. 

We then had some time to rest, and headed to the theatre for our first tech run.  The building is quite amazing.  The theatre itself (Tokyo Theatre ORB) is in the middle of a skyscraper, about 15 stories up.  We are surrounded by a shopping mall and quite a few restaurants.  The theatre is quite new, so most everything is automated.  It’s really a pleasure to be here.  After rehearsal, a few of us went to a very American looking pub called the Abbot House, where we met a new friend, Pokke who took very good care of us. 

Wednesday was opening day, so it was pretty darn busy.  A small group of us headed out for breakfast and on Jam’s suggestion stopped at a place called Choco Cro.  They had great, strong iced coffee, chocolate croissants, and some French toast-like breakfast sandwiches.  At 12:30 we attended a Shinto blessing of our stage, performed by one of the same priests as the day before.  Later, we took the elevator down to the delicatessen below the theatre and wandered around looking at all of the enormous fruit, beautiful displays, and smelling the sweet smells.  Most of us got sushi and brought it back to the theatre to enjoy during the invited dress rehearsal.  After a break, we came back to open the show.  We were excited and nervous to see how the crowd would react to our show….but we were surprised to find that they were really quite vocal!  They were clapping along to almost every song, and really getting into it.  Following the performance, the entire cast and crew were escorted to the lobby to take part in the opening night festivities.  There were a series of speeches made by the people sponsoring the show, and our hosts at the Tokyo Theatre ORB.  Interestingly enough, the biggest sponsor was Suntori, known for multiple products, but made famous by Bill Murray in Lost In Translation, when he was selling their Suntori beer.  They also distribute Orangina, and strangely enough, Glen Fydich.  In fact, that is how they came to sponsor our show.  Because they are the Japanese distributor for Glen, and because it is so prominently displayed in our show, they found it to be a win win situation.  Following the party a few of us headed to an Irish bar, the Dubliner.  Nearby was a clothing store called….Moreau.  Yes, I took a ton of pictures. 

On Thursday, I ventured out to buy socks.  Yes, socks.  I only packed so many long socks, and I had already gone through them all.  I was unsuccessful.  Oh well.  I did, however get a great burger at Freshness Burger.  Then, following the matinee, Jam and I walked around the Harajuku area.  We went to Pink Dragon, a store with a bunch of Japanese rockabilly clothing and accessories.  We also got some amazing French toast a la mode at Pain Petit Pas.  We stopped by one of the biggest and craziest toy stores I have ever seen, Kiddie Land.  Everything you could ever imagine might be in a Japanese toy store was there.  And more.  That evening, the cast of the Chicago tour came to see our show, and a bunch of us hung out afterward at a place called 82 Alehouse. 

Friday was an epic journey to Kamakura.  A vast area of temples, shrines, oceanfront, and rolling green hills.  Our first stop was to the see the Great Buddha, or Amita Buddha Daibatsu.  An awe inspiring sight.  Massive, beautiful, and hard to imagine it was built almost 1,000 years ago.  There was of course a temple there to get my pilgrimage book signed at.  After leaving the temple, we sat down at a great Chinese restaurant, and continued our adventure.  We made our way to Hasadera Temple, which houses a huge beautiful statue of Kamakura.  We explored the grounds for quite some time, taking in the sights, and the view of the ocean from our high vantage point.  We made our way down to the beach, and after walking for a bit, decided it was time to head home and rest before the show that evening.  The walk wouldn’t have been complete without a stop for a frozen treat though…..I got some white peach ice cream.  MMM.  We have not had ANYTHING to eat here that was less than spectacular. 

On Saturday I went back to my “Japanese Denny’s”, Kourakuen, for Ramen.  Following the matinee, Billy, Jam and I went to Tokyo Hands; a massive craft store with more things to see than you can possibly imagine.  We made our way back to the theatre early because the people selling our merchandise in the lobby were nice enough to set up a display for us to be able to order some to take home.  Billy took us to Pepper Lunch for a sizzling plate of cook it yourself beef, creamed corn soup and potato salad.  After the evening show ended, we went back to the hotel to enjoy a free drink at the hotel bar.  Then, Rosie, Billy, Jam and I decided to bar hop a bit.  We started at Abbot House, and then on a recommendation from our buddy Pokke, we went to Shot Bar Garasha, run by his friend Jum.  It was a bit awkward at first….but once he realized why we were there, the cultural and language differences melted away, and we all had an amazing time.  It’s truly interesting to see how people from very different backgrounds and cultures can find a common ground through music, theatre, and experience. 

We had been looking forward to Sunday all week.  Rie planned a very authentic dinner for us, so all we had to do was get through the day!  That afternoon I got sushi and pork dumplings downstairs in the theatre building for the umpteenth time.  When the food is this good everywhere, you really can’t go wrong.  Following the matinee, Katie, Kelly, Austin, Jam and I went to the Disney Store to buy tickets for our upcoming adventure to Tokyo Disney Sea in advance.  Then we met Rie and went to Jayn-ka for some yakiniku style dinner.  We removed our shoes and sat around a large table and were served tray after tray of Japanese vegetables and array of meats that we cooked in front of us over open flame.  It was great to experience something so new and different together, and to have Rie there to help us know what we were supposed to do.  We didn’t miss a beat, and left dinner, heading to a bowling alley with karaoke rooms upstairs.  We bowled with Rie, Yohe and his wife Nou.  Bowling was so much fun!  I always like bowling, but with this group of people it really was a blast.  And, I bowled 5 strikes….so, not too bad!  Then we headed upstairs to sing karaoke in a private room.  Comfy couches, drinks included and good company.  What could be better?? 

Well, that is the conclusion of the blog for my first week.  Trust me…..there is much more excitement to come……