Thursday, July 27, 2017

Beauty and The Beast

"Never as before, never just as sure", one of the well-known lyrics of the title song, is so true of the musical version of the beloved Disney tale of "Beauty and the Beast." It has all the crowd favorite songs and loveable characters as the 1990's version of the movie, with a lively in-person production that rivals the new film. It is sure to delight both long time fans and those new to the classic "somewhat strange" romance. 

I was lucky enough to be given tickets and attended opening night with my children, both big fans of the story. Everywhere we went the auditorium was buzzing with little girls throughout the lobby, dressed the part in princess costumes themselves. The young audience was certainly part of the performance, like when Belle called out "Papa!" and a young child chimed in "papa" as well, drawing chuckles from the adults. Many fans who only know the movies may be surprised by the additional songs from all characters, which truly add to the story and allow moments that otherwise were skipped over. They give the characters and their conflicts more depth, and the singing is truly remarkable.

The show is put on at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts by North Carolina Theatre company, who has been dazzling audiences for decades. The lavish sets and ensemble blend seamlessly from scene to scene, revealing scary woods with actors as convincing wolves (perhaps even more so that the new CGI versions). The "little village" characters and building swish around as in an actual busy town square. The costumes, well these are unparalleled as the crowd audibly gasped at Belle's beautiful yellow ball gown. 

NC Theater clearly is proud of their program and it's professional training, as demonstrated by the inclusion of several current students of the conservatory. One audience favorite was the little teacup Chip, played by local rising 6th grader Andrew Delano Farmer, as professional and endearing as any actor. The actors playing Lumiere, Cogsworth, and LeFou are so wonderful, even the "rug", a character sadly absent from the new film. Catherine Charlebois is Belle, and our Beauty is absolutely lovely, both heartfelt and self-assured. Ben Michael stars as Beast and is more fleshed out in this role, going from mysterious and intimidating, to comical in how tries to shed his old ways, then earnestly charming as he learns to love again. 

The show's intermission comes at just the right time for the younger crowd, one song after "Be Our Guest". This number, which arguably is the highlight of the show, is complete with an ode to Busby Berkley beauties and dancing forks, spoons, dishes, napkins, and even a whisk come to life. It certainly is challenging to avoid all the delightful sovenirs, but children can be distracted by a cup of hot cocoa and the photo opportunity with roses and a NC Theater backdrop.

The second half is quite exciting, with Peter Saide as Gaston, as a self-obsessed braggart that turns evil, attempts to lock up Belle's father and even slaps her when she speaks out of turn. The younger audience booed, clearly shocked and dismayed at the injustice. The most stunning part for adults and children alike was the impressive scene that unfolds at the castle, complete with a set of aged stairs that appear to crumble in front of us as fog rolls in and leads to a fight to the death. I won't ruin it for you but Beast's transformation in front of our eyes is a spectacle like I've never seen in live theater, and truly impressive in how they pull it off.

I can't recommend the musical enough - NC Theater's performance of Beauty and the Beast is enchanting and a sight to behold for all ages. You only have 6 more chances to see it so don't drag your feet, get your tickets here

FTC Disclaimer: In exchange for a blog post about this production I was given free tickets to see the perfomance in order to properly review it. The opinons contained are my own.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Creek Week in Durham!

Close Encounters with Nature during Creek Week
by Laura Webb Smith

This post is about one of the events during Durham’s Annual Creek Week. Visit to see all of the great nature, art, volunteer, and educational events that happen in late March each year.

I fervently hoped I wouldn’t get pulled over on the way home. I really didn’t want to have to explain to the officer, or anyone really, why my children were naked in the back seat--that the heap of brown, soaked clothes on the rubber mat represented a couple of hours of pure nature bliss. 

Frog Watch has become a Creek Week favorite. Experts from Duke lead groups of explorers decked out in headlamps, mud-worthy clothes, and the tallest boots you can find.  We wade into the Sandy Creek Park pond shallows to search for the frogs we hear calling out for mates. We celebrate when one is netted, secretly keeping score on who found the most. Sometimes we find more than frogs: insect larvae, tadpoles, tiny fish. It’s all catch, observe, and release. No critters are harmed in the name of Creek Week (at least not on purpose).

My kids and I absolutely loved it. By the end of the night, we could identify the more common spring callers by sound and sight. We enjoyed soaking in the expert knowledge, spending time in nature with each other, and yes – getting wet and dirty. 

Once upon a time, finding frogs at Sandy Creek Park would not have been such a pleasant experience. Nicknamed “Old Stinky,” the site served as a sewage treatment plant from the 1930’s to 1984. The State and City worked to restore wetlands and develop park trails in the late 1990’s, but it took the interest and volunteer commitment of many individuals to make the park what it is today. A haven for birds, butterflies, amphibians, and mammals, the park features native trees and wildflowers that support the diverse habitat. Trails and viewing platforms make the park easy to navigate, and fun programming geared to both kids and adults make a trip to Sandy Creek Park worthwhile.  

Frog Watch is one of more than two dozen events during Creek Week. The week features indoor and outdoor activities for folks of all ages and abilities. You can join a cleanup, attend a free parks program, visit water-related art installations, go on a canoe trip, and so much more. Visit for all the details. Over 20 organizations work together to plan and lead events that help us all discover and take better care of our local waterways. So dig out your boots, and be sure to grab a change of clothes for the way home!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Glowing Bunnies at NCMA!

Last night my family and I got to play with glowing giant bunny rabbits! Not every day you get to write that. It's true, and you can see them too at North Carolina Museum of Art's free public exhibition of Intrude that lasts through the 6th.

Australian artist Amanda Parer created these five giant (23 feet high the museum says) inflatable white rabbits, that are lit from within. It's a really special exhibit to witness, and an especially accessible way to introduce children to modern art. 

We got there after dark and while there were a lot of people there, they did have people
 directing parking and we were able to find a spot in the back. While parking wasn't bad for me, they do note: "Parking information: We're expecting large crowds at these hoppy hour. Once all parking spaces on the NCMA campus are filled, security staff will allow only cars with handicap parking and taxi/ride-share drop-offs. If the lots on our campus are full when you arrive, please use parking lots located along Reedy Creek Road across from the NCMA (right across Blue Ridge Road). There are available lots on either side of Reedy Creek. Please allow time to exit the grounds, and be mindful of pedestrians."
The walk is nice, and the new pathways around the extended parking area are very well done with hardy but manicured greenery. I would love to see it all in the light!

On the night we went they played classical music as an accompaniment, and Friday they will have Hip-hop I think? It's called "Trip-Hoppy Hour featuring SPCLGST" and there is also an artist meet and greet.

Did I mention there are food trucks and alcohol for purchase? The line for both the food trucks that were there when we went was longer than at most food truck rodeos, and for the weekend, they will have four instead of two, but the weekend will also be busier. Check the site for what food trucks on which night. Bringing your own food might be a good idea if you don't want to wait.

The kids had fun running around, and many people relaxed with blankets. I recommend getting there before dark, as the crowds are much smaller and there are lovely sights to behold as the sun sets (as this picture, credit Rock Piquet, shows). They allow dogs nearby but ask that they not go near the bunnies. One sharp paw could make a bunny... deflate!

Side note - why is the exhibit called Intrude? According to the exhibit page at NCMA's site, "In the artist’s "native Australia, rabbits are an out-of-control pest and have caused a great imbalance to the country’s endemic species. On the other hand, the rabbit also represents the fairytale animals from our childhood—a furry innocence, frolicking through idyllic fields. Intrude deliberately evokes this cutesy image with visual humor to lure visitors into the art, only to reveal the more serious environmental messages in the work." So engage older kiddos with these larger while there, because it truly is something to behold for people of all ages.

The outdoor exhibit culminates on November 6 with the NCMA Park Celebration. So see it now, before the bunnies hop away!

I absolutely love this video from the artist:

More on the exhibit:

Public Facebook Event for the Exhibit:

(919) 839-6262

When: Until 8pm each night, through Nov 6th

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Museum of Life and Science "Moment of Wonder" giveaway!

It's late August in Durham, which means school has started back, fall is around the corner, and change is in the air (along with humidity). Transitions can be hard on kiddos so I took mine on a playdate to The Museum of Life and Science to get their "ya-ya"s out as the Rolling Stones say, and to just let them be kids. We've been members their whole lives and thought we'd seen everything there is to see, but this visit was special. 

They popped into a place we had almost forgotten about, right across from the bathrooms next to where you head outdoors. They played like it was the first time they'd ever seen it, running around like crazy, making a wild and unpredictable symphony with every footstep. I got curious. I realized I had never read how the SoundSpace works and headed over to the plaque to read more about it. The older kids saw me and left the kindergarteners to play and came over to join me. We read about how Soundspace has nine cameras that send information to an image processing computer. The camera's special software detects the location of children, their  speed, and the type of movement they are making in the space. That motion is tracked and converted into a stream of data, which the computer then uses to generate the sounds we hear and the abstract art projected on the wall. My son said "it's like a pudding of art, science, and music!" which is a super neat way of understanding how STEM fields and the arts can combine into something totally intriguing. And something appealing to even the youngest among us, I noted, as I saw a newly stumbling toddler join the fray. 

Of course, their thirst for knowledge didn't stop there. They then wondered how the next exhibit worked and ran to read it's plaque as well. FallingSand is on the wall right next to SoundSpace, and kids can't resist standing in front and "virtually" using their bodies to stop the constant flow of colorful ball bearings (AKA sand). Turns out that a camera is detecting your shadow on the wall and creating real-time images of sand reacting to the shadows. Therefore, sand piles up where the curves are and is released when the shadows disappear. It was really neat to stop and take a breath and finding out more about places we had played many times. Learning (without realizing they were learning) definitely deepened their fun.

After the sand dropped out of their hands, they zoomed off quickly to Hideaway Woods (here's our review), and the time for introspection was over. I mean, treehouses!! But it made me realize how much there is at the Museum that deserves a second glance, especially once your kids get to the age where they can understand the process behind an exhibit. Because discovering the why and how with them becomes a whole new level of fun.

The thing is, there is always something new at MLS, no matter if you're brand new to Durham or lifelong members like us. Coming up is the Halloween tradition of Pumpkin Patch Express that everyone loves. Something else you might not know about is the Curiosity Trail, which is free with admission. To participate, just pick up a Curiosity Trail participant card in the lobby and begin your quest by following the clues. You never know where it will take you! When you’re done, just turn in your card to be entered into a drawing to win some great prizes! It's a little mini adventure inside an already special outing, and something neat to share around the dinner table later.

So come out, discover something again for the first time at The Museum of Life and Science!

As a celebration of the new school year, The Museum of Life + Science is excited to offer Stir Crazy readers a giveaway of four free day passes to the museum (a $72 value)!

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