Thursday, August 7, 2014


By Dr. Myra Handy

The weekend of August 15th marks the 2014 Chicago Air and Water Show and there's no better vantage point to watch the Blue Angels and the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights than out on the lake. As an active boat captain myself, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by the yachting experience on board the newly renovated Odyssey docked at Navy Pier. The Odyssey offers a gourmet dining experience along with upscale DJ entertainment and unparalleled views of the Chicago skyline.  The Blue Angels are back for this year's edition and the Odyssey is conducting Air and Water Show cruises throughout the weekend, starting with the Early Air and Water Preview Brunch and the Afternoon Air and Water Preview Buffet Lunch. During the show, Saturday and SundayAugust 17th and 18th, the Odyssey will also sail for the Early Air and Water Show Brunch and Afternoon Buffet Lunch. Saturday night will feature the Fireworks Dinner Cruise, with fireworks off Navy Pier through August 30. Odyssey fireworks cruises take place every Wednesday and Saturday evening. The evening starts off with a glass of champagne as the ship gets underway, followed by a delicious dinner featuring gourmet favorites such as Roasted Salmon and a huge serving of fall-off-the-bone Braised Short Ribs. A wide selection of signature cocktails, wine by the glass and special selections from the wine list make this a dining tour de force. Save room for dessert and prepare to boogie it all off on the dance floor before taking in the spectacular fireworks display. Make your reservations now if you're planning to take in one of the Air and Water Show cruises, because they always sell out quickly. The Odyssey will also set off on a dinner cruise Venetian Night, Saturday, September 6th. Boarding is at 6pm, cruising from 7-10pm.  Call 866-305-2469 or book your cruise online
 The Chicago skyline as seen from the Odyssey

Navy Pier fireworks display
 Just one of the delectable dessert offerings

The author, Dr. Myra Handy, on board the Odyssey Fireworks Cruise

 the grand finale of the fireworks display

A New York Summer Delight: Dinner Cruise on the Bateaux at Sunset

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--Top off the summer with a sunset cruise on  the Bateaux New York. Docked at Chelsea Pier, Bateaux New York is a beautiful glass-enclosed cruising vessel that offers 180 degree views of the New York skyline and a sumptous three-course dinner served in white tablecloth and fine china fashion. Besides elegant offerings such as Blue Crab Cakes, Surf and Turf, Braised Short Ribs and Sea Bass and Salmon, there are Vegetarian and Gluten-Free menu items as well. The Bateaux (french for boat) is inspired by the elegant European river cruises, such as the romantic cruises on the Seine in Paris. The Bateaux cruises year-round for Champagne brunch, lunch, dinner and full moon cruises and special cruises for the holidays. The extensive wine list runs the gamut from Napa Valley Mumm Cuvee Brut sparkling wine for an aperitif, to sophisticated cellar collections from California, Italy and France. A lively jazz trio and excellent cabaret singer keep the mood going in swinging fashion with the latest in pop, R and B and soul with a healthy mix of jazz standards and romantic favorites. Views from the two climate controlled dinings rooms are inspiring. The completely glass enclosed cabins offer unobstructed panoramas. Two outdoor decks fore and aft offer even more wide-open views of the Manhattan skyline. The dance floor is open throughout the three hour cruise if you decide to work off that Gelato. Dramatic views of the skyline and the bridges at sunset are only the visual appetizer. The cruise ends dramatically with an up-close-and-personal look at the iconic Statue of Liberty. Nothing short of awe-inspiring, being brought within mere feet of this shining symbol of Freedom makes for a heart pounding experience that will live long in memory. For more information on Bateaux New York, visit

Friday, July 11, 2014

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill: Broadway's "Golden Girl" Resurrects the Spirit of a Tortured Soul

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere
Photos by Evgenia Eliseeva-(c)

NEW YORK--Before Paris Hilton made the dog purse a fashion must on reality TV,  Hollywood bad girl Lindsay Lohan was sent to Beverly Hills prison for bad behavior and drug abuse and Rihanna suffered a beat-down by Chris Brown, there was Billie Holiday, the reigning musical diva of the swing and jazz era. Her tortured spirit is brilliantly resurrected by Audra McDonald, Broadway's most celebrated actress, who made history as a six-time Tony Award winner for winning Best Performance by a Leading Actress for her portrayal of the singer in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at the Circle In The Square Theatre. It is a landmark performance.

Many tourists will visit New York City in these waning weeks of summer. Along with tours of the Statue of Liberty and views from the Empire State Building, they should add a stop at the Circle In The Square Theatre to see a Broadway legend in one of the Great White Way's most historic shows.

But, if you are expecting to see Audra McDonald in all her sylvan voiced glory, you will be sorely disappointed. There is no award-winning Broadway star on display here, only the exhumation of a tormented voice that still speaks today. 

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is a rare and raw look at a divinely gifted talent, who is equally cursed by her beauty, fame and vocal ability. One of Billie Holiday's most famous songs was one recorded by her in 1939 and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978 , entitled Strange Fruit. A line in the song refers to the "Scent of Magnolias, sweet and fresh, Then the sudden smell of burning flesh." The song is a paen to the horrifying lynchings of black men in the South and the sight of the bodies swaying in the trees in an otherwise idyllic setting. The same jarring contrast is symbolic of Holiday's own life with its flashes of beauty, fame and glory and her intermittent descents into drug abuse, sexual and marital abuse, imprisonment and public humiliation. 

One of the most enduring images of Billie Holiday shows her wearing her trademark Gardenia flower in her hair. The portrait is a metaphor for her fragile state and fleeting life.  

Written by Lanie Robertson and Directed by Lonny Price, the show opens with the audience seated in a near theatre-in-the-round, with lower level audience members seated at small, round tables, having drinks, as if at an actual cabaret. The trio, led by pianist Shelton Becton, who plays  Lady Day's long-suffering accompanist Jimmy Powers, is playing warmup numbers on the tiny raised stage, in anticipation of the shaky diva's now long-delayed arrival onstage. 

McDonald's ability to channel both the persona and the voice of Billie Holiday is nothing short of extraordinary. Everything we know about Billie is there, the halting, sometimes stumbling gait, the blurred, drug and alcohol infused slurring of words and occasional vocal missteps, and the intermittent flashes of temper and emotional fatigue. The performance is, at times, uncomfortable to watch because of her gradual and obvious unraveling onstage, but it is impossible to take your  eyes off of her, her performance is that riveting.

In the program notes, the playwright, Lanie Robertson, explains why she wrote the play: "In 1959, a boyfriend of mine saw the great Billie Holiday in a little dive in North Philadelphia (Bille's birthplace) about three months before she died. He said she stumbled in obviously "quite high" carrying her little Chihuahua, Pepi, whom she introduced to the audience. A water glass was kept filled with booze atop the piano for her. She and the piano player performed ten or 12 of her songs for an audience of seven patrons. Then, he said, she staggered out. That image of the world's greatest jazz singer being so undervalued at the end of her life and career was an image that has always haunted me. Writing Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill was an attempt to rid myself of that ghost."

Holiday was said to be distant and aloof with audiences, but here she is portrayed as sharing anecdotes of her life between songs, revealing in vivid detail the triumphs and travails of her life as depicted in her autobiography, "Lady Sings The Blues," written with friend and ghostwriter William Duffy and published in 1956. McDonald/Holiday delivers them in her gravely, withering voice, alternately with a tinge of delight, and then with a touch of irony and hilarity, often bordering on gallows humor. One of the great stories is one she relates about her travels as the vocalist with Artie Shaw's all-white band through the Deep South. She confronts the white female restaurant manager of a hotel and restaurant where they were performing, over the establishment's refusal to let her use the whites only bathroom. Billie gets the last word in by squatting down and "letting it go" right on the floor in front of her! That prompted the band to joke onstage, "Don't mess with Billie. She's got a secret weapon!"

I won't give you any more details of the show.  You really should make the effort to go to New York to see it for yourself. It's that good.  It is truly a ground-breaking performance that shows the power of theatre to transfix and transform. 

If Billie Holiday were alive today, she would have certainly been the subject of a reality tv seres. Ironically, she was actually the subject of one of the first reality television shows, ABC's reality series, "The Comeback Story,"in which she discussed her attempts at overcoming her many misfortunes. Alas, her ambitions were never to be realized. Holiday died broke and under arrest for drug possession in a room in a New York hospital in 1959 at just 44 years old.

Fortunately, she is immortalized in her many recordings, film and tv appearances and now, in this superb production.  Long after the sound of the applause at the Circle Theatre has died, the spectre of Billie Holiday will loom large behind the cult of celebrity, the tabloids and reality TV that dominates our daily lives.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Met Live HD Encore Tonight: La Cenerentola

Best Comic Opera of the Met season gets global viewing at local theatres

by Dwight Casimere

Tonight, Wednesday, May 14, at 6:30pm local time, audiences are in store for a real treat, the opportunity to see the Met Live HD Encore Presentation of Rossini's La Cenerentola. This is the best comic opera production of the current season and, by all accounts, one of the best cast ensembles to be featured in the opera in recent memory.  Tenor Juan Diego  Florez excels in the "Prince Charming" role of Don Ramiro in this retelling of the popular Cinderella Fairy Tale and soprano Joyce DiDonato brings a fresh approach to the demanding lead role as the beleaguered Angelina.

Even before the central characters take center stage, its apparent that the rest of the cast has consideragle vocal star-power.  For example, Alessandro Corbelli as the scheming Don Magnifico delivers an absolutely hilarious performance as the father of the vain sisters Clorinda (Rachelle Durkin) and Tsbe (Patrcia Risley), who schemes to marry them off to the handsome prince.  The skullduggery happens all the while their stepsisterm Angelina (sung magnificently by Joyce DiDonato) toils in obscurity as the family maid. The hilarity gets underway very quickly as the prince arrives at the stepsister's home disguised as his valet and his valet, Dandini (Pietro Spagnoli), camps its up as the pretend Prince.
In an interview with Met backstage host and soprano superstar Deborah Voigt, Spagnoli reveals the challenges of Rossini's fast-paced vocal repititions, calling it "an ancient Rossini Rap."

Characterizing the rapid-fire singing technique he employed, Spagnoli said "we kept rehearsing the part, each time singing it faster and faster. The conductor (Fabioi Louisi), did an incredible job of keeping the entire ensemble together with the orchestra and having everything move so smoothly along at such a fast pace." Regarding his own vocal gymnastics, Juan Diego Florez marveled at his ability to ahieve the vocal heights created by Rossini in his final aria. " I have to find this high 'A' in the midst of all of the hundreds of notes he puts in front of me. It's a real achievement, especially since it comes right near the end of a very long and demanding scene!"

In addition to the incredible singing and terrific comedic timing. the sets and costume design by Maurizio Balo are refreshing, using bold colors and modern design touches that hint at the timeless, periiod references of the story line, without going over the top. The production, by Cesare Lievi, is one of the finest of the season. For more information and local theatre listings.

, visit or

Rossini's La Cenerento

U.S. Encore: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time
Canada Encores: Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm ET
                          Monday, July 7, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time
                          Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Wide World of Wine: Italy's Noble B's: Brunello, Brbaresco and Barolo

by Dwight Casimere

Everyone knows Italy's Chiani wine, made from it most famous indigenous grape, Sangiovese, in Tuscany. Not as many are familiar with the great and noble "B's"; Brunello,  Barbaresco and Barolo, which are similarly terrific Italian red wines, which have their own specific greatness and following among wine aficionados.

Brunello is among the most coveted and expensive of Italian wines. It is extracted from a particular strain of the indigenous Sangiovese grape, Brunello di Montalcino, which is made from a particular strain of the Sangiovese grape, which is specific to the regi(hence the name, Brunello, "little brown one"). The wines are very complex, with rich black and red fruit flavors, complex aromas and velvety tannins. They benefit a great deal from cellar aging, but most people who love Brunello, like that sort of wild, fruit forward, highly tannin "rush" they get from first tasting. It's a wine lover's high that is rarely experienced with other varietals!

The new crop of Brunello, Barbaresco and Barolo wines have just been shipped and are available everywhere in the US. Check your local wine shop for the newest releases.

This was the kind of tasting "rush" experienced by several hundred connoisseurs at the US introduction tasting hosted by James Suckling and Zachys Vice President of Marketing, Andrew NcMurray at City Winery in New York's SoHo. The unique environment, which combines the elements of a wine bar, on site wine making, cellar storage,  restaurant and a music venue, made for a heady experience that enveloped all of the senses.

All of the great names were there: Banfi, Casanova di Neri,  Marchesi di Frescobaldi, Fontanafredda. These are but a few of the historic estates creating great wines that are now available. The remarkable thing about these great wines is that the majority of them are well below the $100 mark, most in the $40 range, which makes them an incredible value when you consider the flavor and aging potential. The wines are just reaching stores in your local community, many with sale pricing through the end of the month. It's a fantastic opportunity to stock up on some terrific Italian reds that will provide drinking pleasure now and for many years to come!.

James Suckling with Andrew McMurray, Vice President of Marketing.

Barolo and Barbaresco are both from the Piedmont region (the top left part of the "boot" of Italy), and both are made from the Nebbiolo grape, but they are named after the districts they hail from. Barolo and Barbaresco have wonderful, distinctive aromas of tar, roses, licorice and truffles. Barolo has a reputation for being more massively tannic and rich, while Barbarescos are more graceful and approachable, but there are many variations of styles out there. (There is one more Piedmont "B," and that's Barbera, which is the name of both the grape and the wine. Barberas are kind of the opposite of Barolos and Barbarescos; they're light and crisp, with lower tannins, and they drink well young.)

Brunello, on the other hand, is made from a particular strain of a different grape (Sangiovese) in a different part of Italy (Tuscany, near the center). The best versions of Brunello have luscious, bold, rich black and red fruit flavors. Decanting and aging is good for Brunello, when you give it a chance to express its complex aromas and velvety tannins.

Here's a peek at my tasting notes of some of my favorites:

Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2009 $65 (introductory sale price $52). This is an elegant, approachable wine that makes the normally overpowering Brunello a softer, pleasurable experience. The wine opens up with its bright fruit flavors and soft tanins, creating a blanket of fruit flavors on the back of the tongue. Its very drinkable now and will make a terrific wine for al fresco dining with a rack of lamb on the grill or a rosemary and garlic basted strip steak roasted over embering coals.

Castiglion del Bosco Brunello di Montalcino 2007 $44.99 (introductory sale price $39.99). This was one of the real bargains of the new releases. If you love the taste of fresh plums , combined with the unusual combination of lemon rind and hints of brioche or pie crust with a lovely, velvety finish, this is the wine for you. It's an unusually soft and elegant presentation for a normally aggressive red wine. This is a wine that truly reveals the creative hand of the winemaker. Ripe cheeses, artisinal hams and salumis with a side of olives are the best way to appreciate this wine. A hearty meal would overpower the sheer pleasure of drinking a well-balanced wine, made with extreme care.

Marchesi de Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2009 $74 (introductory sale price $54).  The Frescobaldi family has been making fine wine since the days of the Medici's, yet they continue to rewrite the history books. The wines all come from the greatest vineyards in Tuscany, and it shows. The 2009 is rich and full-bodied with a polished texture and long finish. This is among the highest rated wines in the batch and it deserves the recognition and accolades it has received.

 Antonio D'Ambrosio, Empson USA with Lisini Brunello di Montelcino 2009
 Sabine Lodahl, Castiglion Del Bosco, , Campo del Drago

 Robert Spierer of Perelson Weiner LLP
 Luciano Castiello, Castello Banfi Ambassador and Joe Janish, Director of Public Relations, Banfi

Galen Crippin. Export Manager USA at Marchesi de Frescobaldi.
 Candace Ma'te' of Mate Montalcino

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Met Live HD: Rossini's La Cenerentola

by Dwight Casimere

Met Opera Photos: Ken Howard

Terrific singing from a stellar cast; Imaginative sets and beautiful costumes; and, of course, the music of Gioachino Rossini, makes for a not-to-be-missed presentation of the Met Live HD's "La Cenerentola" this Saturday, May 10 at 12:55pm ET. Check your local listings for theatre locations or visit U.S. Encore performance is Wednesday, May 14 at 6:30pm local time and the Canadian Encores take place Saturday, Jul5 at 12:pm ET, Monday, July 7 at 6:30pm local time and Wednesday, July 16, 6:30pm local time.

Scintillating Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez brings all of his charsima, star-power and a silver-lined voice to the role of Don Ramiro, the enchanting prince to Joyce DiDonato's ravishing portrayal of the central character in this romantic comedy. From the act one quintet "Signore Una Parola," to the climactic aria "Dolce Sperenza," the opera is filled with Bel Canto (beautiful singiing) that is the hallmark of one of the greatest opera composers of all time. Joyce DiDonato is magnetic in the title role, displaying a coloratura virtuosity that becomes more vibrant with each moment that approaches the happiness of meeting her Prince Charming. Rossini's La Cenerentola is one of the real gems of comic opera and the cast assembled for this Met Live HD production is one of the best in recent memory.

Rossini's La Cenerentola

May 10, 2014, 12:55 pm ET

U.S. Encore: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time
Canada Encores: Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm ET
                          Monday, July 7, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time
                          Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time