Wednesday, July 31, 2013


An “Hallucinating Hip Hop, Modern Mummenschanz” is how I would describe the Off-Broadway hit, iLuminate: Artist of Light.  Back in 1972 Mummenschanz begat as a group of mime actors doing puppetry in the dark involving bizarre masks and forms, light and shadow, as well as subtle choreography.  We’ve come a long way Broadway.  iLuminate takes us to heights with some state-of-the art technology by providing a show with a hip-hop “ballet” as the actors’ costumes flash on cue to produce the  illusion of their moving about in such a way that the bodies are suspended in air or broken apart while they dance  to some contemporary  audience clapping music.

If the name, “iLuminate” sounds familiar, you were watching America’s Got Talent in 2011.  They didn’t win, but that’s our gift as we don’t have to travel to Las Vegas or pay the high prices.  Instead the production is being performed at the fabulous New World Stages, located at 340 West 50th Street.  

The show tells the story of Jacob, a talented but insecure young artist who struggles to connect with the real world.  He takes comfort in his magical paintbrush, which grants him the power to turn the characters of his imagination into living, breathing creatures.  When a jealous townsperson steals the paintbrush and turns his sweet creations into horrifying monsters, Jacob must face this danger without the help of his miraculous instrument.  He fights to save his town and friends, all while knowing the paintbrush that brought him so much joy is now a weapon in the hands of a villain bent on destruction.   And there’s a boy –meets-girl theme as well.

Miral Kotb is responsible for not only the producing and directing, but for creating the software that cues up each light.  Some of the performers such as John “Jrock” Nelson are credited with some of the choreography and costume designs.   The music, “score” is written by Justin “Kanobby” Keitt and Christopher Tignor. 
At times the performers come out to the audience.  At times there is what sounds like “electronic speaking”.   All times, this feel-good production should appeal to all ages, the way Cirque du Soleil does.

Although the first few rows will give you an up-close view, it may spoil some of the affects and fascination.   Cast reveals themselves just after curtain call and does a meet and greet after the show.

Photos by Charles Sykes

Friday, July 26, 2013


The Poconos is an area of Pennsylvania that conjures up “second homes” and “timeshare vacations”.   Hit the eastern portions and you’ll take in the Delaware River.  Head northwest and you’re close to Lake Wallenpaupack…or as I simply call it, “Lake W”. 

We headed from Queens over the G.W. Bridge to catch Route 80 on our way to The French Manor Inn and Spa, located atop Huckleberry Mountain in the town of South Sterling.     This is one elegant Bed and Breakfast country inn and probably the most romantic place in the Poconos.    No, you’re not going to find a room with a private pool shaped as a champagne glass.   Nor will you encounter even a tiny mass of people.    You will see old stone chateaus and accommodations such as one newer building that houses six romantic suites each with a fireplace, Jacuzzi, frig and a private balcony with a view of the Northern Pocono Mountains.  I was able to stay in one of these.  

Of the two rooms, I chose the one that had a bed…less high.   Laurie and  I are both short to begin with but her being a bit more spry got the one with the stepstool.   The room also came with a plate of cheese and apples along with a carafe of sherry.   Turndown gave us some Godiva chocolates.   Idea was great but I don’t like either the brand or milk chocolate.

The main building houses the formal dining room, complete with a fireplace and baby grand piano, which leads to a balcony overlooking the gardens of some flowers and perfectly trimmed grass. 

If you walk down the hill you can see the vegetable garden that the Executive Chef takes advantage of when preparing his meals.   There is a second much less formal dining room dubbed the “café” where you can still enjoy the same menu as well as stopping by for afternoon tea.   (I noticed that there was a rooibos tea in their selection…one that was mixed with vanilla and mango).   There are some rooms in the main building as well as other buildings that housed accommodations. 

Lunch is not served here.  However, it can be part of a spa experience.   The spa, pool and fitness room is located just behind and down the hill from the spa suites. 

We had a cup of lobster bisque with truffle oil and salad…that had one of the veggies from the garden…by the indoor poolside.   After a bit of relaxing it was time for the spa.  A facial and foot massage was much needed.  

More relaxing before tea time.  It happened that Laurie and I were the only ones in there at the time…so I guess we had “Tea For Two”.   Loved the artwork in the room.   

It is soon time for dinner.   The menu gives enough options and is changed on a seasonal basis.   A both fresh and refreshing amuse bouche is a strawberry champagne shooter topped with a mint leaf. 

 As an appetizer I chose the Les Coquilles Saint-Jacques de Plongeur avec la Noix de Coco:  Pan Seared Diver Scallops, Caramelized Pineapple Compote, Coconut Beurre Blanc .   Diver scallops are the largest and most flavorful. 

A salad was in order as one component came directly from their garden.  Jeune Roquette Organique, Feta, Fruits, Noix à la Vinaigrette Framboise : Organic Baby Arugula, Macerated Strawberries and Kiwi, Feta Cheese, Candied Walnuts, Raspberry Vinaigrette.  It was certainly a delicious combination. 

I believe that at this point, we were given a house made sorbet to cleanse our palate for the entrée as I opted for Canard Rôti à la Poële, Gastrique de Cérise et Gingembre : Pan Roasted Duck Breast, Sweet Ginger and Cherry Gastrique, Pickled Black Cherry Rhubarb Salad, Toasted Pistachio Powder.  I had requested that the duck be cooked so that it was pink and it came out perfect  and quite savory.  Who’d a thought to a pickled black cherry rhubarb salad? 

I have to admit that I was quite full from both the portions and “nursing” each bite.   However, a few desserts sparked my chocoholic taste buds.  We shared a triple chocolate layer cake and a chocolate, mango, and Kaulua soufflé. That  Rooibos tea with vanilla and mango ended the meal. 

During dinner I had noticed a woman coming over to a table where she was taking photos of a couple and talking with them.   Being a journalist I inquired from the wait staff.   It certainly caught my attention and just had to interview Merle (yes, here name is Merle) and Dave.

Picture it. 1965, the beginning of the War in Vietnam.  Merle, a native to the Philippines, is visiting Guam having completed her college education.  She is 19 years of age and Dave, a member of the U.S.  Navy, is stationed in Guam.  He is 21 years of age.  They meet, fall in love and Dave proposes to her.  Dave approaches the navy chaplain to tell him that he wants to marry Merle. It appears that Dave has a very top clearance and sensitive job. The navy finds out that Merle was not at that time an American citizen so they ship him out within 72 hours. Although letters are exchanged they were not delivered and after some time, they each go their separate ways, eventually marrying another.

Merle had been married for 40 years when her husband died in 2009. In 2011, she found Dave’s name on Facebook and got in touch to learn that it was the same person from many years ago. “At that time he was married and was taking care of his wife who had terminal cancer. He told his wife about me as being someone he knew from long time ago - so his wife knew about me but as a friend from the past.” His wife, eventually hearing the full story, told him that she wished for him to be with someone rather than being alone, just prior to passing away. 

After her recent death, Merle and Dave decided to meet for a “first date”. Merle was living in Delaware, Dave in Illinois.  Merle searched for what would be the perfect romantic place finding The French Manor Inn and Spa, and were more than pleased with her choice. It was “love at first sight”, again!  

Update:  I received an email from Merle telling me that they recently married.  Here is a photo of when they met and now. 

It’s the following morning as we have a hearty breakfast beginning with a combination of two juices, cranberry and pineapple. A fresh fruit cup and coffee cake square are presented as I order the Eggs Benedict.  Eggs poached requesting spinach vs Canadian bacon, as bacon is another choice served with breakfast.  The Sherry Hollandaise sauce compliments the poached eggs as I cut into it and allow the egg yolks to ooze into the English muffin.  The cottage fries are perfectly seasoned.  Rooibos tea, of course.  I think I have the staff hooked on it, now.

We then meet with the Executive Chef to talk about the menu, local foods, sustainability, and his passion for cooking. He tells us how he stays awake at night conjuring up recipes and his developing them at three in the morning. 

Laurie walks down to the newly developed garden with him as he points out the various vegetables and herbs. I take in the serene atmosphere. 

We get on the road and head north. Coutt’s Paupack Blueberry Farm and Bakery is sort of on the way.  This family owned and run farm and bakery is noted for their being able to pick your own blueberries as you go out to the fields. The store features home made baked goods, jams, jellies, relishes, fresh honey, and of course fresh or frozen blueberries. I get to sample two of the blueberry spreads. One is made with the usual amount of sugar, while the other has less than half that amount. I personally found the low sugar spread to taste much better due to the sweetness of the ripe blueberries. In fact the regular one actually annoyed the back of my throat…kind of the way milk chocolate does. Oh, yeah…then there is the fresh made ice cream. I sampled the blueberry as well as their coffee. You can really taste the coffee! 

On the road and heading towards Hawley and Erhardt’s Waterfront Resort at Lake Wallenpaupack. We check in to each of our Lake front suites.

The resort also offers other accommodations including cottages, rooms, and family units. As I look around, the resort is reminiscent of a more than bungalow colony located on a lakefront.  I view an outdoor pool, and families interacting with each other.  In fact I hear that one family has its fifth generation coming back for 70 years.

Dinner is scheduled for this evening at Grehsam’s Chop house in Hawley as we join a group from Pocono Tourism. We shared various appetizers of:  Coconut Battered Shrimp served with a tangy pineapple dipping sauce; Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella; and Spicy Tuna Bites.  A 12-oz New York Strip was my entrée choice. We all shared a piece of chocolate cake as dessert. 

Perfect timing for popping back over to the lake to catch the sun setting. 

The following morning commences with an early Continental Breakfast as we are off to the lake. Canoes, row boats and paddle boats are free to those staying at the resort. What’s up dock? You can go fishing either on a boat or off of one of the docks.  However, you must obtain a fishing license in PA if you are over 18 years of age, even if your locale is a dock.  

One certain way to get the “lay of lake” is by water skiing. With the lake being downhill, it was already difficult getting to the dock.  Let’s add my panic of walking along a dock that is totally open on both sides and getting in the boat is not easy.  With the help of a few, I make it in and take a seat.  Craig Erhardt will be showing off his skills while Sarah O’Fee, the resorts Marketing Director, and Keith…from tourism join Laurie and I giving us the scoop about Lake W.  Laurie then takes her turn on “the slalom”, while I take photos and video. 

It is noon and Wednesday, when a free bbq lunch is cooking for all of the guests.  This is just something that Erhardt’s does.  We head for Erhardt's Waterfront Restaurant, where Sarah brags about more of the resort’s history as well as which family members are part of the staff.  We also get to learn how this facility provides special events at the both the restaurant and its Banquet Center, including group day trips. In fact, there was a day trip group taking in lunch at the time.

The main restaurant is upstairs as I order a beer that is similar to Blue Moon.  A tomato and crab bisque with lump crab meat sets my taste buds into play.  A section of the menu reads, “Downhome Cookin’”, recipes that have been passed on for decades.   I order the Meatloaf Platter.  The meatloaf is stuffed with honey baked ham and swiss cheese.  It is served over Yukon gold mashed potatoes, and topped with crispy onions.  No wonder it’s a favorite!

Our day has ended at Erhardts as we begin our travel back to Queens, but not without stopping at Antler Ridge Winery and sampling several of their  low sulfite wines.  White wines for me and done the “smell, swish and spit” method.  Thank goodness, because I tasted at least a dozen wines.   They have over 25 wines and the tasting is free, but for only up to three.  It just so happened that Coutt’s Ice Cream Store has a location right next door which forced us to stop in and partake.  I had a malted milk shake with that same wonderful coffee ice cream from before.   I didn’t realize how well malt goes with coffee.   Tummy full and homeward bound. 

To read Laurie's Point of view of this trip go to