December 10th, 2013

Dinner and a Show: Les Misérables

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Like most people, I look forward to Fridays, for obvious reasons. This particular Friday, however, had me counting down for months, because I knew we had quite an evening in store.

It began, as all good evenings do: at a nice restaurant. Monica, Stephen, and I chose Paese Ristorante, a fancy Italian-inspired place in the heart of Toronto’s theatre district.

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I’d walked by it many times, and it always looked just the right combination of rustic and fancy – all brick walls, dim lighting, wine glasses, and flickering candlelight.

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The reviews were excellent, and being the foodie that I am, I was extremely excited to finally taste it for myself.

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We made reservations early, for 5:30, because we had to finish dinner in time to make it to the theatre before the curtains rose. It started out fairly empty, but filled up quickly and started buzzing as the dinner rush hit.

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The atmosphere was sophisticated, with earthy wooden tables and walls featuring large, vintage black and white photos of the Italian countryside.

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We were all smiles as we perused the menu for food and libations. (Shout out to Monica for always being such a good sport with my photo blogging.)

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Admittedly, I’d already scanned their menu online earlier in the day from the office, so I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to order before I even sat down.

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…But for the sake of appearances I pretended to browse anyway. ;)

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My rule of thumb for whether a restaurant is fancy is if you get free bread. (These are my standards. Perhaps they are somewhat low.)

We got free bread. A delightful warm, salty focaccia with roasted eggplant spread.

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All three of us skipped the wine and went straight for cocktails. Stephen got the Bourbon Iced Tea, with burnt honey, lemon, and mint.

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I chose just about the fruitiest thing I could find: the Paese Screwdriver, with Campari, vodka, peche de vigne, and san pellegrino aranciata.

It tasted like juice, which by Monica’s reasoning was a put-down, but in my estimation – the highest praise for a cocktail.

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For the main event, I got the lamb shank, with heirloom squash, sundried tomato, saffron, and farro Milanese. So tender it fell right off the bone and melted in my mouth. Full points!

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Stephen ordered the Genova pizza, with Genoa salami, green olives, pecorino chili and tomato sauce. I call this photo “fork in motion”. He attacked it so fast I almost didn’t get a photo!

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His pizza was served with three assorted hot sauces ranging from the hot to the hellish.

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Monica was feeling a little off, so opted for just the Tuna Bianco salad, with seared albacore tuna, brussels sprout slaw and squash.

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At seven o’clock we met up with Katya and her sister at The Princess of Wales Theatre, to watch my all-time favorite musical: Les Misérables.

I’d already seen it in London’s West End last year, but I was beyond thrilled to be seeing it again. And this time, with friends who love it as much as I do.

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We took our seats and settled in to read the programme. Being handed the programme at the theatre always gives me a little thrill. It finally seemed real – this was happening!

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All of us were amazed to discover that our seats were even better than we had hoped: we were in the second row of the dress circle, and had an amazing view of the whole stage – without obstruction!

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A very happy Sara indeed.

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As the lights went down and the first notes of the overture filled the theatre, the magic began.

(Unfortunately I was not allowed to take any photos during the performance, so hopefully these internet grabs will do.)

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I had no words. I had never seen a theatre production so beautiful. First, the performances were spectacular. Valjean, the lead role, was brilliantly performed by Ramin Karminloo, who had also played the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera in London’s West End.

Monica, Katya, and I all agreed that his singing voice sounded exactly like Hugh Jackman’s, from the moment he opened his mouth. And we weren’t complaining!

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The sets, lighting, and direction by Cameron Mackintosh was nothing short of magnificent. The scenery was inspired by paintings by Victor Hugo, the author of the novel the musical is based upon.

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It was a visual feast, and an emotional roller-coaster, as anyone familiar with the show or movie will know.

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A huge round of applause to everyone involved, both on stage and backstage. Impressive work!

I must say, though – the title of the show is a bit deceiving. It’s called “Les Misérables”, but you leave feeling more misérable, not less.

(Don’t worry, my friends didn’t find that joke funny either.)

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I left with this t-shirt to remember the spectacular night by. After the show, we headed to a nearby bar to decompress, discuss, and drown our overflowing feelings about the show.

A few hours later, laughing and feeling considerable less misérable, we ended the night the way so many great nights do: a taxi home in the wee hours of the morning. x

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