conference day 02 | hamilton

To get up early for the 8.30am session or not, that was the question. We were good students, so we did. The day was full of educational sessions. One that touched on the current political climate, a masterclass on great openings, an update on the legacies project documentary, a discussion on swearing. The membership meeting highlighted the contributions made by volunteers and that the organisation was in good hands.

One of the most important meetings I went to was the one on awards changes. I had some input to this and we were excited with the improvements suggested. Seemed to be well received by the membership too, so the effort wasn’t wasted.

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We finished early and met at the lobby for the drive into the city. The destination, Hamilton the musical. Car had gotten tickets as soon as the booking window opened and a group of us piled into her car. There were a number of our friends who were there also. I hadn’t had dinner so I bought some of their “pyes” ie small apple and cherry pies. The theatre was completely full and as soon as the house lights went off the audience cheered loudly. And the cheers didn’t stop. The show was really amazing. I know very little about Alexander Hamilton except he was one of the group that included George Washington, James Madison. I was able to follow the story easily. The music was a departure from usual musical style, I had listened to the soundtrack so I knew it was mostly hip hop. Simply put, very well done and a fantastic show. Up there with Les Miz.

#8: old musical | #61: 4-course meal

Completed a couple of 101.1001 tasks during the trip.

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Task #8 is to go see an old musical. I saw Matilda, which I’d seen in 2012 in London. Love the production, I can see myself seeing it even more times in London again, in other locations and if it goes on tour. Although based on a children’s book and targetted at children, it has a lot going for adults too. I’m still humming When I Grow Up.

Task #61 is to plan, cook and serve an three-course meal, with wine. I had an idea of what I’d like to cook when at home, which I may still do so another time. This meal was actually a 4-course meal I planned at the last moment when I was in the huge seafood store in Chelsea Market. The sheer variety of seafood there was enough to make anyone want to make a feast.

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For starter I had a mixture of topneck and littleneck clams. I preferred the small littlenecks, with their sweeter flavour but the entire dish was fresh and fabulous.

For mains I panfried a skate wing with spot prawns and kale. I haven’t had skate for a while, can’t get it at home. Probably overcooked it a little, but still tasty. The prawns were wonderful.

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A small cheese board of cranberry and goat’s cheese I got from the supermarket, a Paymaster goat’s cheese from Brooklyn that was washed in chocolate whiskey and an Alderney hard cheese made from raw organic hard cheese, from a creamery in the Catskills.

Dessert was stuff I had in the fridge: blackberries and raspberry sorbet.

Funny when I posted on fb, people were congratulating me on my cooking. The clams were simply boiled in water until they opened and seasoned with a little fennel tops. The fish, prawns and kale had the most cooking but, er, pan-frying is one of the easiest things to do. Cheese and dessert were putting food on plates. But all in all, I’m very satisfied with the meal. Since it was only me, I couldn’t go crazy with wine and stuck with the one bottle.

nycdc trip day 11: spotted pig, matilda, high line

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Laundry in the morning. About 10mins’ walk towards 14th street ACE stop. Good to take a rest. Visited Myers of Keswick, which sold British goodies like Marmite, brown sauce and pork pies. But no Walkers. Everything three times the price of the UK.

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Lunch at the Spotted Pig. There is no excuse for not going, since it’s 5 mins’ walk away. Beautiful building, all red bricks and plants everywhere.

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I got there just before 12pm when it opened. No reservation so people were milling around. I asked for a bar seat and ordered the burger and their bitter. Their burger is supposed to be the best in town. USD25, not bad price either, for a Michelin-starred place. And it was a great burger: medium rare as I requested, the roquefort really added to the flavour and the shoestring fries had rosemary and garlic in it. I forgave them for not having mayonnaise.

Back to Broadway for Matilda. Saw it in London and wanted to see it again (um, not only because it’s a challenge item in 101.1001). I should have realised that matinée in July = 50 million kids. There were 3 queues to get into the theatre and they all went around the block. I waited near the entrance to allow everyone to get in first, since I knew I had an aisle seat. I was probably the last person in. Luckily the people next to me were fantastic, not part of a group. The group behind was loud and talked throughout the performance, teenagers who should know better. The group in front of me was younger and instead of talking, there was copious fidgeting and standing up. Still, it didn’t detract from the show. I had sort of forgotten the story, and now after a second viewing it’s much more memorable. Lovely songs and performances by all.

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Walked a long, long way to 30th and 12th towards the entrance of the High Line. By the time I got there I was really tired, so I was glad that section had shade from nearby construction. The High Line is a park located on an abandoned elevated railway track and extends all the way to 13th Street. Mostly wildflowers, which added to the charm. Some sections of the track were still visible.

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Left the High Line at Chelsea Market, wasn’t sure where to go for dinner. The seafood, wine and cheese shop made the decision for me: get food to cook myself. Made a nice 4 course dinner: topneck & littleneck clams; kale & spot prawns with kale; small cheeseboard; blackberry & sorbet. Opened the bottle of wine Carleen gave me.

musical: kinky boots

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We went to see Kinky Boots the musical today at the Cadillac Palace theatre. I’d never seen it before, and I know it’s opening in London soon. The biggest draw is that the score is by Cyndi Lauper and it won 6 Tonys including Best Musical. The story is simple: a young man inherits his family’s shoe factory, finds out that it’s on the brink of closure, meets a new friend and saves the factory by producing a very niche shoe while in the process becomes enlightened and accepting.

The kinky boots in question take the form of said niche shoes, thigh-length sparkling boots that are sturdy and aimed at the drag queen market. The idea comes from the new friend, from the outside a flamboyant drag performer by the name of Lola, who is in fact Simon from Clacton. The young shoemaker, Charlie, together with his gruff factory colleagues, are initially uneasy in the company of Lola, but at the end they become a family.

Seems like we’ve been there before. The premise comes from

a line of charming but formulaic British screen successes, in which economic hard times and battered self-worth were alleviated by such means as a brass band (Brassed Off), a male stripper act (The Full Monty), ballet (Billy Elliot) and menopausal nudity (Calendar Girls)

Although the story may be considered predictable, the music is anything but stale. Cyndi Lauper did a great job, the tunes were poignant, catchy, beautiful and grand. The singing was all kinds of wonderful too. A lot of the action took place in one set (the factory) and at times the actor was the only person on stage. The solos were also spread out, with several characters given the chance to shine, and they did.

The only minor negative was the audio. The mics were uneven, sometimes too loud and screechy, sometimes not loud enough that we couldn’t hear what the actors were saying. The accents were inconsistent too. The setting is East Midlands, with some London and Essex. Some of the actors managed British accents better than others. Once I got over it, I focused on the story and music. Accents aren’t noticeable when someone is singing anyway. I noticed small non-British things that shouldn’t be there—a sign in Northampton won’t say “Northampton, England” (emphasis mine) and you can’t give only two weeks’ notice to fire people like in America—these aren’t negatives, just observations.

I was tapping and humming along throughout the musical. At the end, they got the audience on our feet and clapping along. Thoroughly enjoyed it.<

#07: new musical on your feet

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Task #7 of 101.1001 is to go to a new musical. Today I went to see on your feet at the oriental theatre in chicago.

There are so many new musicals that I’ve lost touch at what is showing and which one is new. On Your Feet is a show about Gloria Estafan and her husband Emilio: how they met, how they worked to become successful in the music business and how a bus accident almost derailed their lives and careers. Some reviews likened it to a feel-good tv movie. Although there are similarities to a tv movie, the energy, the music and the overall production pushed the standard much higher.

I can’t name a single Gloria Estafan (with or without Miami Sound Machine) song, but I could recognise the bigger hits when I hear them. And I did, the bigger hits. The songs I hadn’t heard of before were a revelation to me, I enjoyed them too. The dancing was great and the energy was infectious.

The singing. Wow, the singing. Ana Villafane plays Gloria, looks like Gloria, and sounds like Gloria. Superb. The other cast members were memorable too, from Josh Segarra who played Emilio and the family members: Gloria’s mom, grandmother, father and sister all excelled. The boy who played both her son and a dancing bar mitzvah boy was wonderful. At the end of both acts, the audience were on their feet, clapping and dancing, that was how much everyone enjoyed the show.

london musicals apr-2015

Current musicals in London that I am interested in, and today’s availability at the “half-price” tkts booth at Leicester Square:

  • book of mormon at the prince of wales — not sold at tkts, there are more expensive seats available direct at the theatre
  • charlie and the chocolate factory at the theatre royal drury lane — £18.50-50.50 no discount
  • let it be at the garrick — £32.50 with discount
  • matilda at the cambridge — £36 no discount, I saw this in 2012, I definitely want to see it again and definitely think mm will like it
  • miss saigon at the prince edward — £28.50-38.50 no discount, saw it when it first came out (lea salonga!!), will be interesting to see it again
  • sweeney todd at the london coliseum — not at tkts, limited run closing on 12-apr; cheapest tickets are £86, I love Emma Thompson but…gulp
  • women on the verge of a nervous breakdown at the playhouse — £22.50-39.50 with discount

 
There are others playing I’m less interested in, like Beautiful, the Commitments, Gypsy, Jersey Boys, Lion King, Molly Wobbly, Once, Seven Brides; others I’ve seen already like Billy Elliot, Cats, Les Miz, Mamma Mia, Phantom, Wicked. The two I do want to see, Kinky Boots and Damon Albarn’s Wonder.land, are not on yet.

 

My personal preferences: the Book of Mormon, Matilda, Women on the Verge. The ticket booth doesn’t have tickets or offer discounts for the more popular musicals, not even on the day. Disappointing. I’ve always thought of the booth as a tourist attraction anyway, and now even more so with the new look booth and the twee phone box next to it. Seriously, apart from escort services, who uses phone boxes?.

Anyway, I think we’ll probably end up seeing Matilda, if we were to go to the West End. Which is more than fine with me.

 

a little miserables

At parents’ this weekend, just hanging out. It’s great. Mum bought a few new dvds so I finally got to see Les Miserables the film version. For me, it’s mixed.

The good first. I love the musical, have seen it several times in London, the first was over 20 years ago. There is a reason it’s one of the longest running musicals in the West End; millions of theatre-goers can’t all have bad taste. Yes, it’s a tear jerker. Yes, too many people die. Yes, the music is emotionally manipulative. But it’s Les Miz. It’s probably the best musical I’ve ever seen. So, with established storyline and music, the film already has a good foundation. I liked that film gives us a lot more in terms of visual richness that is impossible on stage. The dark streets of France, the bars and houses and sewers, and finally I can see rather than imagine (through creative lighting) Javert jumping to his death.

What I liked less. Some of the actors can’t sing. I know that the singing was recorded live and not dubbed later, it means that the actors’ shortcomings are highlighted. Russell Crowe’s voice is too high and too thin; Hugh Jackman overall was good but not all the time; I didn’t like the actor who played Marius (although I loved the one who played Eponine). Lots of reviewers’ praise for Anne Hathaway, I thought she over-acted in I Dreamed a Dream. Didn’t like the Barricade. On stage it was an imposing monster, on film it was a stack of abandoned furniture on a street corner, hardly important when it came support le revolution (though may be, that was the point). I read a review that called it Occupy Paris. Remembering that the original London production was hammered by the critics, it’s kind of auspicious that the film version is experiencing some of the same bashing.

All criticism aside, I’m glad I watched it but I’m also glad I watched it at home. There are simply too many well loved songs to sing or hum along, it would have been embarrassing in a cinema. Fantine’s I Dreamed a Dream, Valjean’s Who am I, Master of the House, Eponine’s On My Own, when little Gavroche started the first line of Do You Hear the People Sing, and of course Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. At the end, it’s the music that carried the film, just like it did on stage. At every stage performance I’ve been to, there is hardly a microsecond’s pause between the last note of the epilogue sung by the company and the audience leaping to their feet in applause. I wanted to do that after the same moment in the film too.

Then again, what I really want to do is to watch the 10 year anniversary concert again. Colm Wilkinson. Michael Ball. Lea Salonga. 17 international Valjeans. Whoa.

matilda the musical

I never read Roald Dahl’s book, but I can guess at its quirkiness. I’ve been wanting to see Matilda the Musical for a while. It’s too popular to be in the special offer in May, and somehow mm and I couldn’t find the time for it when she was here. But nevertheless, I managed to get a ticket for myself. No, it’s not the same, watching a musical on my own, can’t be helped.

I had a good seat, upper circle second row aisle seat. Full house tonight, a good mix of adults and children. Worth the ticket price, doubled and tripled. Absolutely fantastic show — the kids were just naughty enough to be endearing, the adults despicable caricatures, the story moving without the emotional blackmail that goes with this sort of tale. And oh, Lara Wollington as Matilda tonight really shone. Like everyone in the house, I was entranced by her story of the acrobat and the escapologist (kudos to the sound and lighting effect, there was one scary bit when I was scared too). No big huge production number, all the songs were great. The highlights were Naughty and When I Grow Up.

It doesn’t matter that mm hasn’t seen this, it took me years to manage to show her Wicked, I’ll make sure she gets to see Matilda one of these days. It’s one show I won’t mind seeing over and over again. Highly recommended.

wicked london

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I saw Wicked in Chicago in 2005. When mm came to visit me, the show had already ended so I couldn’t take her. It’s always been my wish to introduce her to one of the best musicals I’ve ever seen, so I took advantage of the get into london theatre offers and got us some tickets early. £40 for stalls, good price.

Spent most of the day resting at home, only ventured out at dinner time. Had dinner at the café rouge at victoria station, trying to retain some of the french holiday spirit.

Our seats were good, and I hope she liked the show. I think she did.

sweeney todd at the adelphi

Oh my goodness. This is the definition of quality. I’d seen the film and was underwhelmed. My smart theatrical friends told me that this is a must see, because of Imeda Staunton (and Michael Ball.) They were not wrong. So I went out on a hot Monday evening to the Strand to see Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi.

This version of the Stephen Sondheim’s musical was dark and chilling. The chorus was menacing and the occasional screech of the steam whistle heightens the sense of unease. Remember Michael Ball as the babyfaced Marius at Les Miz? Now he’s scary and broody and still sings like an angel. The real star of the show, for me, was Imelda Staunton, which isn’t much of a surprise. I tried unsuccessfully to watch Superstar, the only thing I took away was the in musicals acting ability is just as important as singing ability. Imelda Staunton brought comic relief and masterful acting ability to her portrayal of Mrs Lovett.

The first half started slowly for me, and I was waiting for the next big scene or next big number. The second half though, I was at the edge of my seat, totally riveted. I remembered that almost everybody died at the end, but even so the way they met their ends were just as gruelsome as I expected. Wonderful production.

(This video is from the run at Chichester last year, with the same London cast>)

chicago the musical

Musical #3 this summer, Chicago. On my own this time, and matinee at an odd time of 5pm. I’d gone to Hawksmoor to grab a lobster roll for lunch and ended up staying there till almost 3pm drinking their best bourbon, heehee. Anyway, I opted for the cheapest £20 upper circle tickets, this is a musical that I feel like I’m supposed to see rather than me chomping at the bits to see it. Truth is, I hadn’t even watched the film till this week, and only because I knew I was coming to see the show and I want to get familiar with the story.

I got to the Garrick early and made my way up to the top floor. At which point one of the officials informed me that the upper circle is closed and if I would follow him to the box office he’ll give me a new seat. Wow. They gave me 4th row stall, on the aisle. Nice seat. It was full house, I wonder why they closed the upper circle.

I won’t compare with the film, they are two different animals. I am glad I watched it to get a sense of the story, it’s kind of surreal and needs a bit of imagination. Enjoyed the performances, thought it was strange that there weren’t costume changes (policemen and doctors tend not to be bare-chested or wear see-through tight shirts). The principal casts were great, if not outstanding. To my amateur eye, the dancing was better than the singing. All in all, as I said, an enjoyable performance. Should have bought my ticket for next week, Robin Cousins join as Billy Flynn for Olympic season.

singin’ in the rain

The London production of Singin’ in the Rain opened in February after a run at Chichester last year, and is one of the tickets RM and I got during the May discount season. We managed to snag the second row and our tickets had the warning that people in the front stalls may get wet. Ha! May?

First the production. Excellent. Excellent dancing. Excellent choreography. Singing was good, though none of the solos brought the house down. Liked that they used the whole theatre, including the aisles at the stalls. The screening of the Duelling / Dancing Cavalier at the back of the stage made us feel a part of the filmmaking. It had enough merit on its own without comparisons to the Gene Kelly film.

The best thing was the theme song at the end of Act 1, and there was real water!! Adam Cooper as Don Lockwood was dancing his way on stage with real water. And kicking the real water towards the audience. Some people came prepared with raincoats, but I think the fun part is actually getting wet. Throughout the intermission, we watched a team of people mop the stage dry, in its strange way it was mesmerising. The company repeated the number at encore and there was even more splashes. We were drenched, completely drenched. It was brilliant.

les miserables london

I saw Les Miz a couple of times in the early 1990s in London, it was a huge hit then. It is still a huge hit. Earlier in May, there was a theatre offer where tickets for London shows were offered at big discounts, RM and I managed to get mid-stalls for £40. It’s the first time I’d seen Les Miz at its new home at the Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Ave, it is smaller than the Palace, but it’s still a huge hit.

The storyline, the music, and spectacle have all been well documented. I had forgotten quite a few of the songs, so I watched the 10th anniversary concert on youtube beforehand. Oh yes, I had forgotten. There were so many opportunities for solos, everyone on the stage could shine. Geronimo Raunch from Argentina was wonderful as Valjean, but it is always the Javerts that steal the show, and tonight it was Tam Mutu. Samantha Dorsey is making her professional debut as Cosette, I think she needs more experience. Craig Mather as Marius, well he did Michael Ball proud

So many favourite songs. The one that always bring misty eye is Empty Chairs Empty Tables. This video is Michael Ball and Alfie Boe singing, ignore the scenes with Nick Jonas.

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stockpot, m&m, rainbow, love never dies

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I wanted to take mm to the southbank real food stalls to try the roast hog but there were no pigs there today and we didn’t feel like anything else. Walked back towards Piccadilly Circus and ended up at another old favourite, Stockpot. Had the lunch special — grilled halloumi, mm had fish and I had roast beef, then we both had apple crumble with extra custard. Can’t beat Stockpot for value although I think it’s now less of a poor student’s haunt and has been taken over by the tourist guide crowds in search of a cheap meal. We were surrounded by out-of-towners, the French family next to us ordered steak and kidney pie.

The afternoon was spent ambling around town. I showed her the new M&M store, and we had an absolute blast there. Onto Foyles to look at music books for mm (I escaped to the basement to read finance exposés). Tea at what I now realise is a gay café bar but at the time it was the first one we came across. Early dinner of roast duck noodles in Chinatown. She continued her piano playing stint at a digital piano store and there is such a huge difference between a digital piano and a Steinway (duh). She was a tad unhappy at herself for not playing very well, but we were cheered by the sight of a rainbow at Covent Garden. More blessings.

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So, onto yet another highlight of our week, the final performance of love never dies. Reviews haven’t been kind, but we really enjoyed it! I couldn’t afford stall seats so we were up at the upper circle, right in the middle though. We were riveted throughout the performance; the music was good, most of the performances were impressive (some hamming up by Ramin Karimloo notwithstanding), and, well, the audience was overly rambunctious. I even got 2 for the price of 1 for my interval drink — I’d only paid for 1 beer, but they had 2 bottles laid out when I went to collect, ah well. Andrew Lloyd Weber said a few short words at the end and I think they deserved every minute of the standing ovation. We even had a good laugh at the plot holes on the way home.

love never dies

When mm is here in August I’m determined to take her to at least one musical, we love musicals. There are so many choices, but it’s a done deal when I read that Love Never Dies is closing on 28 August. Originally I thought we’d go on the Monday, but after listening to Ramin Karimloo, who doesn’t perform on Mondays, we’re going Saturday. Shame that mm is leaving on Sunday, otherwise we can catch the last show.

billy elliot

After work, we went to see billy elliot at the Oriental. First time at the Oriental was when I saw Wicked, and the theatre is still imposing. We drove and parked next doors.

The show wasn’t full, about 25-30% capacity only. I can still remember the film, and it was good to see the musical version. The Billy for the night was JP Viernes, and overall the show was good. Not outstanding, still enjoyable. Lots of memories on the miners’ strike, I doubt many people in the audience understood or were there for that.

#11 Wicked in London

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I could have gone to see a musical I hadn’t seen, yet I decided to go see wicked instead. May be if it hadn’t been on the 101.1001 list? Hmm. No. It’s been a few years since I last saw it in Chicago, and I wanted to see the London company perform. Must admit it was strange yet refreshing to hear dialogue and singing in British accents. It’s been a long time.

Enjoyed the show very much. I had to stop myself singing along. It wasn’t superstar gasping level, I was happy I got a centre stalls seat. I hadn’t heard of the cast — Rachel Tucker as Elphaba, Louise Dearman as Glinda, Lewis Bradley as Fiyero — the ladies deserved the standing ovation they received at the end.

brigadoon

I got a chance to watch an old musical, Brigadoon on stage. The venue was the Huron Playhouse, a part of Bowling Green State University of Ohio. This is the 60th anniversary year of the theatre and they are putting on 5 productions, as per usual.

The theatre itself is the auditorium of a local school, but it was a full house! All 500+ seats were sold, and many of the audience have season tickets to watch all 5 shows.

I liked the show. The cast and crew are mainly students and this is a sort of educational / semi-professional production. It’s not 100% professional of course, and there were some outrays, but it made it charming. All the credit goes to the company and the director for getting it all ready in 2 weeks. It’s a 5 hour drive from Chicago and I’m glad I was invited.

truly beautiful Once

I have a soft spot for charming, off-beat, Sundance-type of films. Sideways, What’s Cooking, Before Sunrise (but not Before Sunset), Oldboy, an obscure French film called Nanou, and I’ll admit it…Reality Bites are ones that I remember long after I’ve seen them.

I watched Once on the plane. It won the World Cinema Audience Award at this year’s Sundance. And well deserved, it was absolutely charming and wonderful. A simple story — an Irish busker meets immigrant woman and they find music, friendship and love. There’s a lot of chemistry between the 2 leads, who are more musicians than actors; and for a short film the character development was fantastic. A sign of quirkiness is that the characters were never named, just going by “Guy” and “Girl”; it also has the type of ending I enjoy.

The film starts with a man and a guitar. My first thought was, it’s another Chance! No offense to Amber Benson, but this is what Chance tried, but couldn’t quite get to be. Conceived by director John Carney as a “video album” much of the film was just the leads singing some songs. And what songs! Wow. A commenter wrote on the Time Out London review wrote:

The kind of film which overwhelms me in its breathless scope. Genuine, big hearted, generous. It touches at our romantic notions if we have them. I wanted them to be together. I wanted to listen to the songs over and over again with my own sense of resonance with my own meaning in perception of it. I felt emotional but I didn’t cry, I just recognised my own experience of life through this film.

The official website streams the songs endlessly and I’ve been listening to them all night. There’s an official soundtrack but Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová also recorded a cd of songs called The Swell Season — some of the songs are on the film, some are not.

I shouldn’t put 2 videos in one post but I simply have to. This next one is of Glen and Markéta performing “If You Want me” my favourite song from the film. I actually rewound a couple of times when i was watching to listen to it again.

ETA: some stats. The film cost $160,000 and has grossed over $14million worldwide as of 6-Dec-07. The soundtrack was #1 on the iTunes soundtrack chart. There’s low level Oscar buzz too.