The Lullabye of Broadway...

Back in the spring, when the temperatures were still sub-arctic and snow was on the ground, I was busy planning my summer, checking festival dates, looking for free concerts, and writing it all down in my day-planner months in advance. What can I say? I'm organized.

One of those events that I penciled into my calendar months ago was a free concert in Millennium Park featuring Broadway music. At the time, I had no idea what would be on the program for the evening, or who I would get to go with me, but I knew it was show tunes, and that was enough for me. Just as I was starting to despair about finding friends interested in theater who would be willing to trek downtown for the show, I happened to bring it up in the presence of Mireya and Natasha when we met up for Mexican food last month, and they were just as excited as I was at the prospect of a night of free Broadway hits. Plans were made instantly, and we found ourselves in Millennium Park this very evening.

We were blessed with perfect weather for our excursion to the park: ever-so-slightly cool, dry, and sunny. Justin and I brought along several blankets, but were surprised to find the Pritzker Pavilion overflowing with fellow concert-goers a half hour before the show; clearly I had underestimated the popularity of free show tunes. We ended up selecting a well-shaded area outside the actual lawn to set up our picnic, which proved to be an idyllic setting, even if the sound quality of the performance was a little poorer where we were sitting.

Justin and Travis, expressing their muffuletta love despite their less-than-enthusiastic facial expressions.

As I mentioned yesterday, I offered to bring dessert, which consisted not only of the lemon ginger bars I made from scratch, but some Ghirardelli turtle brownies I whipped up from a mix late last night (the lemon bars were tasty, but I'll take chocolate any day.) I also made my version of muffulettas, the classic New Orleans sandwich consisting of olive salad and Italian deli meats and cheeses, which turned out well, though I think the assorted olives I assembled at the Whole Foods olive bar was a bit saltier than my usual mix. Mireya brought chips and deviled eggs, which she cleverly decided to assemble a la minute at the park using a Ziploc bag to pipe the filling as we ate them. That way, the unfilled eggs and their accompanying filling would be easier to transport to the park mess-free.

Mireya and her genius deviled egg technique.

Our out of the way location made it a little more difficult to hear, but we enjoyed the concert nonetheless. The theme for the evening was "Broadway Rocks," so the organizers had selected a lineup of more mainstream music from the past thirty years or so of Broadway productions. There were classics like "Phantom of the Opera" from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of the same name, "Seasons of Love" from Rent, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls, and "Defying Gravity" from Wicked.

However, some of the numbers were serious stretches that I think were chosen more because they were popular songs than for their Broadway provenance, like "Come Sail Away" which was apparently featured in an off-Broadway revue called Power Ballads that played for a handful of performances, "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which was part of a similarly short-lived musical called Dance of the Vampires that starred Michael Crawford in the early part of this decade. I'd hardly call these Broadway hits. Still, they were fun to hear, and the singing talent (actual performers from notable Broadway productions, fittingly backed by the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus) was surprisingly top-notch.

The whole crew getting our picnic on: Natasha, Mireya, me, Justin, and Travis.

Overall, it was a fun night of entertainment and delicious portable treats, and I'm glad I was able to bring together some of my favorite people to experience it with me. My only complaint (aside from the somewhat questionable song selection), was that the concert was too short. Though there were 17 numbers, the concert was less than an hour and a half long, and it felt like our evening came to an early close. I'm not sure I satisfied my annual quota for al fresco dining, so I might just have to try to organize another picnic before the summer draws to a close. Hmm...

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