Monday, December 05, 2005

Coz at Foxwoods

Peggy and I celebrated my birthday early this weekend, taking a overnight trip to Foxwoods to do a little gambling and catch Bill Cosby's late show, Mr & Mrs Saturday Nighters that we are.

It was a spur-of-the-moment sort of thing, albeit requiring more work than "spur-of-the-moment" usually implies. Foxwoods had sent an email ad to me offering low rates over the winter months. While checking it out, I saw that Bonnie Raitt was playing right before my birthday... but her show was/is sold out. I tried eBay and some online brokers, to see if anyone was offering tickets to the show, but no luck.

Cosby was playing on the 3rd... but his two shows were sold out too. Back to eBay, and this time I found a broker who had a block of four seats. A couple of email exchanges, and I had two of the four for what I felt was a pretty good price for a sold-out show.

In the interim, I had emailed Peg at work, soliciting her help to find us a place to stay, since Foxwoods' two hotels and one motel were, as usual, totally booked over the weekend, so much for cheap winter rates. Peg booked us in to the Hilltop Inn, which I highly recommend if you need a place to stay near Foxwoods (they claim three miles, it's closer to five, but who's counting?). Definitely not the Ritz, but a good value, especially if you book over the Web, as Peggy did. Clean, large room, relatively quiet. Complimentary cheap champagne, cheese, chips and salsa and the like in the afternoon, and the standard motel breakfast buffet in the morning, plus free shuttles to/from the casino all included in the price.

So, we got in around 4, dropped our luggage off in the room, and went over to Foxwoods to check out the scene and gamble... which we did and promptly lost. I stayed away from the poker tables this weekend and accompanied Peg to the sluts, as they're known in our circles, which I have no luck with at all, except maybe sometimes the video poker slots, where I've been known to win more than lose at times. But not this trip.

Once the money had made its way out of our fingers into the Foxwood vaults, we went over to the Cedars bar, where we had pretty good martinis, and our best meal of the trip, a bunch of shucked oysters. Because of timing, we ended up doing dinner later that evening at a casino Chinese restaurant, the Golden Dragon, which I don't recommend, with metallic-tasting food and service reminiscent of that infamous slow boat to China.

The Fox Theatre, where Cosby's shows were playing, has weird seating arrangements, or maybe I just don't understand how things work at casino shows. We had so-called "Maitre'd Seating," pricer than "reserved seating," but neither seating had assigned seats. The online explanation says something to the effect that we would be seated at the discretion of the ushers, which I think means you could get a better seat in a certain restricted area if you were willing to slip your guide some moola.

After turning down center seats about 10-12 rows back, we were led to some slightly offside seats eight rows from the stage without any money changing hands. Peggy and I were amused a little later watching someone palm a $50 into an usher's hand in order to get closer seats but with a worse line-of-sight than we had. There was a block of 10 center seats directly across from us that stayed empty for the entire sold-out show, and how one gets seats in the first five rows without resorting to bribery remains a Foxwoods comping mystery that I'll have to solve at another time.

Anyway, I was more than happy with our seats. They were almost equivalent to the great seats we had when we saw Hairspray on Broadway. To digress totally off the point, you want tickets to sold-out Broadway shows, great seats and do good at the same time to boot? Go check out the Damon Runyon Foundation.

Back on subject. I love the Fox Theatre, which according to online sources, only seats 1400. I wish I could have seen Bonnie Raitt there, and I think we'll try to catch Dylan the next time he passes through Foxwoods, especially if they offer those Maitre'd Seats. God, Dylan and gambling in one night. My life would be complete.

A very zaftig singer, Dayna Mendolia, opened the show slightly after 10. According to my sources, Mendolia's day job is as the casino's entertainment coordinator. But she's a good performer in the style of Streisand and Julie Budd. She belted out a short set of four or five songs, but I thought her best number was an impromptu, breathy, a capella version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" which she had been encouraged to sing by Cosby after he brought her back on stage. "I don't think young people even know you can make music without instruments," Cosby said to her. "Sing something a capella." I suspect the show biz-savvy Coz might have felt the same way I did, that Mendolia's talent had been obscured by the theatrical roar she adopted for her "New York, New York!"-style numbers, but in any case, it was a charming, real moment... a woman alone on stage, one spot light, quietly singing the old holiday song with no accompaniment, Cosby watching in the shadows of the stage wing. I'll remember her singing that number long after I've forgotten the rest of her act.

If you've seen any of Cosby's specials, or even The Bill Cosby Show, you know his routine already, a man plagued by children and wife... updated now to reflect the 68-year-old is now also plagued by grandchildren. Cosby sits on stage and performs what first appears to be a rambling monologue, but eventually homes in on some target. He'll play with that subject, pregnant daughters, smelly kids that only a mother could love, the ongoing war between long-married spouses, like a puppy with a slipper, zinging in lines that sometimes made the audience giggle, and sometimes roar with laughter.

The intimacy of the Fox, along with the fact that Cosby does most of the performance simply sitting in a chair, makes you feel sometimes as if you were listening to a very smart, very favorite Uncle teasing the family at dinner. Cosby played back-and-forth with the crowd too, pausing as he came to one punch line long enough for a woman in the audience to shout it out instead - "Because you don't listen!" - and then fixing her with a mock glare. "That's exactly what I'm talking about [that is, women]," he said. "You never let us finish, either."

It was a good show and a good trip. If you like Cosby and get the chance to see his act, go. The man is funny

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