Thursday, April 24, 2014

Family time and a heartwarming welcome back to another home away from home

An osprey on Sanibel Island

The Sanibel Island lighthouse

Our theatre for the week, The Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall

A witty way to label my dressing room

Thomas A. Edison statue beneath a banyan tree, Edison and Ford Winter Estates

Henry Ford

New spring training home of the Boston Red Sox

Teddy "Ballgame" Williams

Go Sox!!!

My parents and I at one of our favorite spots, Mel's Diner

Mmm.  Skyline Chili cheese coney's

Mr. Lee Ferris, in the flesh

The Homer and maple bacon donuts from Bennetts

My dad resting under the shade of some beautiful palms

The boys and I got to do some hitting!

Everyone loves my guitar check outfit.  Don't you?

Our amazing wall tag, thanks to Corey Kloos

Hello everyone!  Welcome to my blog about an overdue week long stay in (can you believe it???) one city, and a LONG overdue trip back to Fort Myers, FL.  It was a pretty busy week with 8 shows, press, my parents in town, and also some visits with some old friends.  So, without further ado, let's get crackalackin'!!!

We took a short flight from Norfolk, VA into the all too familiar RSW Airport; Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, FL.  It had warmed up for the last few days we were in the moderate south, but stepping off the plane in Fort Myers was like walking into paradise.  It had been such an awfully long winter for all of us, and the warmth and sunshine was very welcoming to our travel-weary bones.  We took the short drive to the hotel, and I was immediately overcome with memory upon memory of years past.  Since there are some reading this blog who may not know a lot about my theatre past, I will explain.  I spent the better part of 4 years working for the Prather Entertainment Group at their 3 theatres in Lancaster, PA, Mesa, AZ and Fort Myers (I have mentioned the other 2 theatres in previous blogs; see my recaps of my weeks in AZ doing my solo Cash show, as well as our week in Hershey, PA last year).  I did countless shows at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, and even developed my guitar playing and Johnny Cash vocals while working at the theatre; I also did a 1 man cabaret of Johnny's songs to promote my stint in Ring of Fire at the theatre on what would have been Johnny's 78th birthday.  So, in other words, I have had quite a history in Fort Myers.  And this was my first trip back since the summer of 2011, just days after I had been cast in MDQ; wait....I take that back.  I was also there for a few days over Christmas that same year when I played Johnny for the first time in Naples, FL.  Anyway.......we got to our hotel, and not long afterward, I headed with Lee and Robby to get some groceries and dinner at the Publix supermarket I had shopped in probably 1,000 times.  And after being in town for a mere 2 hours, I actually saw someone I knew there.  Go figure.  Kelly had been nice enough to plan a dinner for the cast and crew at the Lan'i Kai on Fort Myers Beach that evening due to a friend of hers from Chicago being the head chef (I had a hard time trying to picture a classy dinner there, as I associated the place with drunken frat boys on spring break), but I had decided to opt out of it, as my parents were slated to arrive from Maine as the dinner was starting.  However, having found out that they would be delayed for a few hours, I decided to make the trip by myself to meet the cast at the get together.  I drove past all of my old haunts, and arrived beach side (where I had been stung by a stingray in 2007; but that is a story for another time).  I was quite surprised to find that the restaurant where the dinner was being held was very classy indeed, and my pals were already eating and being merry when I arrived.  I had a cup of clam chowder, chatted for a bit, and then made my way back to our hotel to await my parent's arrival.  I was finally able to meet up with them around 11 pm, and it was so great to see them!  It had been since just after Christmas when they came to Lowell, MA that I had seen them, and I was so glad to have them in a warm climate after the awful winter they had experienced.  They were pretty tired from their overly long travel day, so I left them to their own devices, and headed to meet some of the cast next door at one of my old cast party haunts, the Fort Myers Ale House.  We had a pretty good time chatting and hanging out, and after getting some late night eats at the close by 7/11, I turned in for the night.  

Not only had we had a short travel day and very little else on Sunday, we had an official day off on Monday.  This was perfect to spend the entirety of my day with my parents.  So, we headed out for a little breakfast at Starbucks where we ran into some of the cast.  My parents met Stephanie for the first time, and saw Frace for the first time in 12 years.  We made our way through Fort Myers and headed over the long bridge to the pristine white sands of Sanibel Island.  We had made a few trips out there before, but it was still a lovely place for us to spend the day.  First, we stopped at She Sells Sea Shells, a great little store with all sorts of sea shells harvested from the island's beaches, t shirts, and a lot of other island gifts. We even stopped by the Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theatre, where I starred as Harry Witherspoon in Lucky Stiff nearly 7 years before. We drove through the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge once we had made our way through a copious amount of Snow Bird traffic.  The last time we had driven through, it was ungodly hot, overcast, and we could see no signs of life; this time, however, we were able to see brown pelicans, snowy egrets, cranes, herons, and a ton of other birds.  My father and I took a ton of pictures, and we had a wonderful time driving around as a family.  Once we exited the refuge, we were all pretty hungry.  We headed back down Periwinkle Way, and stopped in at a restaurant I had never been to, the Fish House. My parents were very pleased with their food, and my grouper reuben was pretty darn amazing.  We had been on the island for quite a while, but we had a few more things to see before we headed back to the hotel.  We headed to the other end of the island to take in the sights at the fishing pier, and the light house (above).  As always, we were able to see some osprey (also above) in their nest high above the beach.  After some walking around and even more pictures taken, we headed back over the bridge to our hotel.  We went our separate ways for a bit, before regrouping that evening to talk and hang out in my parent's room.  After a huge late lunch, we opted not to get dinner, but instead stay in the confines of our hotel.  They went off to bed, and Tyler accompanied me to one of my old favorite bars in downtown FM, Cigar Bar.  We sat and talked for hours, and then made our way back to the hotel to rest before our opening day.  

The plan for my day with my parents was to head to a train museum my father had seen some information about.  Unfortunately, it was very small and really geared toward small children.  So, we opted instead to head to one of my favorite lunch stops, Skyline Chili.  A favorite of mine and fellow cast member David Sonneborn, I reacquainted my parents with the joys of their unique, Cincinnati born delicacy.  MMMM. Chili cheese coneys..... After another big lunch, we headed home so that my mother could rest, my father could go to the pool, and I could chill on my own before I had to head to the theatre with the boys.  It was pretty crazy to walk into the BB Mann (above) after having previously played there on my last tour with A Christmas Carol, and also where I threw the party for Matty Kamprath's 20th year of tour (see my Omaha blog if you have no clue what I am talking about).  I was a bit nervous to return to the stage in a place I had spent so much time in, knowing that my parents and countless friends, colleagues, and past theatre-goers of the Palm would most likely be out there.  But, we had a fantastic opening night, and I was glad to ride home with my parents and talk about the show.  I spent a while with them, and then headed to meet the cast at the Ale House for a bit.  

The boys and I dressed up and headed to the theatre to do a little press on Wednesday morning.  After a pretty long interview, we played the same medley I played with the Thunderstudies in Denver, and we were on our way back to the hotel.  A few minutes later, I left with my parents and Tyler to head to the Broadway Palm.  My old boss and owner of the Prather Entertainment Group, Will Prather, offered free tickets to anyone in my cast and crew who wanted to see Les Miserables.  So, Maia and Jason joined the three of us for an all to familiar buffet, and to see the show.  It had been nearly 3 years since I had stepped through the doors of the theatre I had done hundreds of performances in.  No sooner had I walked through the door, that I was greeted by a slew of old cast mates and friends waiting with hugs and well wishes.  Sigh.  It felt good to be "home".  After catching up with a few people I headed into the theatre with my crew and had a wonderful meal before sitting down to a stunningly wonderful performance of Les Mis.  I mean, having done countless shows in that theatre, I had high hopes; but my hopes were totally surpassed with the quality of the voices, orchestra and production values.  I really was blown away.  And my friends were pleasantly surprised as well.  It is my favorite show, afterall.  So, to see it done so well made me very proud of my former home theatre.  After a short time at home, the boys and I headed to the theatre for yet another great show while my parents spent the evening in the quiet of their room.  I joined Vince and Lee at Ale House to talk/watch/geek out on baseball for a few hours, get a bite, and eventually head to bed.  

On Thursday morning, my parents and I headed toward downtown and stopped at one of my favorite coffee shops, Bennetts.  They have great coffee, but what I go for is the phenomenal donuts.  (Pictured above) My favorite donut is the maple bacon, but a close second is now the Homer donut.  MMMM. Donuts.  My parents enjoyed them as well; my mom got a classic glazed, and my father got an orange crunch.  We enjoyed our breakfast in the bakery for a bit, and then headed further toward downtown to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates (multiple pictures above).  My parents have been there quite a few times, but we have had never been in the spring.  The houses and grounds are always decorated differently, so it was really nice to see it all in a new season.  It was a great way to be out in the sunshine and to take a bunch of pictures with my parents.  It is certainly one of our favorite places to go in Fort Myers, and given the recent rain and nice weather, the vegetation was quite lush and beautiful.  We even got to see a few Model T's and Model A's as we drove up to the grounds; unfortunately they left the parking lot before my father and I could get any pictures.  We left the property and drove further downtown so I could point out a few other houses that I had seen in my travels, and then headed back to the hotel so my parents could have a little downtime, and so that I could run a few errands before the show.  I met up with the boys and drove to the theatre for another great show that night.  In attendance was Will Prather, my former boss, who loved the show.  He and his parents had seen it in Naples when we were there shortly before Christmas in 2011, but he was impressed with the "new" version of the show.  It was great to see him and catch up a bit, as it had been quite a while.  I value my time with the Prather Entertainment Group, and it was nice to know that he, his employees and my former cast mates did too.  I went to the Ale House again for a bite to eat and then adjourned to my room. 

There is a great batting cage complex in Fort Myers, so I encouraged some of the boys to join me for some hitting on Friday.  Tyler, Frace, Lee and Vince all joined me for a smoothie at Smoothie King before heading to hit for a while (pictures above).  It had been a while since any of us had been in a cage, but you really wouldn't have guessed it the way we were hitting.  I was glad to have gone back there, and to share that with my boys.  We got back in the mid afternoon, and I met up with my parents to grab a late lunch back at Skyline.  We then took a trip toward the airport to see the Red Sox's new spring training stadium, JetBlue Park (pictures above).  What a beautiful stadium.  I loved City of Palms Stadium, but this park was quite a bit different.  A huge team store (that I, of course spent quite a bit at, but thankfully everything was 50% off), a nice "garden" of sorts with huge 3D numbers of players whose Red Sox jerseys had been retired (as well as number 42, Jackie Robinson, whose number is retired throughout the major leagues).  We walked around taking pictures, and then made our way back to the hotel.  I was able to see quite a few people at the show that evening, including long time Prather friends Keara and Kristen, and patrons whom I met while I was performing Ring Of Fire, Lorraine and her husband John.  They had also seen my first performance as Cash all the way back in December 2011, so it was wonderful to reunite with them. Another great show that night was followed by me taking a few of my boys to the Broadway Palm in order for them to meet and me to say goodbye to Busty Lanza, long time bartender at the Palm.  It was great to see him after such a long time, and I was glad to be able to wish him well as after 20 years there, he was set to retire the next week.  

Saturday was set to be a busy day with 2 shows, and my parents seeing the show that evening.  My parents and I headed back to Mel's for a great breakfast before I headed to the theatre for the matinee.  Another great show (I sound like a broken record) was followed by me and Lee heading to FedEx to ship boxes of our now obsolete (thank God) winter clothing back home.  I met up with my parents for a bit again, and we went next door to have dinner at, you guessed it, the Ale House.  Tyler wasn't feeling particularly well, so Robby went on that night as Elvis, and my parents got to see him perform for the first time.  Following the show I went back at talked to my parents for a while before heading to Busty's again to see a few more friends.  

I woke up early on Sunday to say goodbye and safe travels to my parents, and then promptly went back to bed.  Another two show day to look forward to, and also a meal provided at the theatre that day.  We had two great shows and some fantastic BBQ for dinner.  That night marked Lee's final show as Carl on tour with us (or so we thought; more on that in the next installment), though in an interesting twist, he would be staying on with us for another week.  Bradley opted to take a vacation week, which meant that when James rejoined tour, Lee would then become his understudy.  Seemed to work out extremely well for everyone!  Following Lee's "last" show, I headed to the Palm with a few of my boys to meet up with my old friend and former cast mate Allison, and the entire crew of us adjourned to the Ale House before heading to bed. 

So, there is the eventful week we had in Fort Myers!  A busy couple of weeks followed, and some VERY interesting happenings.  Tune in VERY soon to find out what all happened!  Thanks for reading! 

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