Category Archives: Review

Review: On Your Feet! At Des Moines Performing Arts

I always enjoy Des Moines Performing Arts opening night, date nights with my wife.  We usually grab a quick bite to eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant and then head downtown for the show.

On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical is the latest show we’ve been invited to and it was the perfect date night.  It’s fast-paced and fun with lots and lots of great singing and dancing.

Throughout the roughly two hour performance, the audience was taken on a musical journey through the life and songs of Emilio and Gloria Estefan.  Going into it I knew very little of their history and could only come up with two Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine songs off the top of my head.

I left with a greater appreciation for their story… and music.  Song after song was an “Oh, yeah!  I forgot about that one!” moment.

As a radio guy, I found it interesting how hard of a time they had trying to get some of their songs played on the radio… and how they went around the system to get them played anyway.

Christie Prades does such a good job channeling the look, sound, and dancing of Gloria Estefan that you’ll quickly forget you’re watching an actress instead of Gloria herself.  I’ve never actually been to a Gloria Estefan concert but can now say I feel like I have.

The rest of the cast and ensemble is equally talented… but I’d like to give a special nod to Debra Cardona in the role of Consuelo (Gloria’s grandmother).  Her stage presence and comedic timing led to some of the funniest moments of the night.

Going into the show I expected the music to be outstanding (it was) but what I didn’t expect is that it would be equally matched by the dancing.  It rivaled and surpassed the dancing of any Des Moines Performing Arts show I’ve seen.  There were some lifts, turns, and choreography that I’d love to see again.  The dancing was that good.

The band should also get special recognition, too.  They don’t just recreate the sound of the Miami Sound Machine… they become them for a couple of hours.  I loved seeing them on stage at various times throughout the performance.

If you’re looking for a great date night show… or one for a night out with friends, On Your Feet! is definitely it. Catch it at the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines through Sunday, February 25, 2018.

You can learn more about On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical, get tickets and see all the upcoming Willis Broadway Series events here.

***Disclaimer: I was provided press night tickets to facilitate this review.  All opinions are my own.

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Review: Our Smart Home

This past Black Friday I finally spent the Christmas money I had been saving for nearly a year.  There were some incredible tech deals too good to pass up so I finally made the jump to start turning our house into a “smart home”.

I picked up two Google Home Minis, a Phillips Hue Starter Kit, and two TP-Link Smart Plugs.  All totaled… it added up to around $150, more than half off the original pricing.

Needless to say, I was really excited to get it all home and set up.  I was hoping the rest of my family would share my excitement.

Setting up the Google Minis was easy.  If you have a Google account and can and follow directions I’m confident you could easily set one up too. I chose to put one on our main floor near the dining room and kitchen.  The second found a place downstairs in our living room.

The Phillips Hue bridge and bulbs were also easy to set up.  I put smart bulbs in two of our basement lamps and two in our ceiling fan light in our dining room.  I spent an extra $15 to get another smart bulb to go over our kitchen sink.

One of the smart plugs got used for the lamp next to my wife’s side of the bed while the other initially went to control our Christmas tree.  It’s since been moved to control the lamp next to my side of the bed.

That’s the current set-up in our home.  So how has it worked out?  I’d say 90% success and 10% frustration.

It’s been awesome to be able to be able to ask our Google Home Minis random questions that come up in everyday life that we’d normally just search out online.  “Hey Google, how long will it take me to drive to Oskaloosa High School” not only got me the answer but also sent driving directions to my phone. That’s not only cool… but also convenient.

Having total control over our lights via my smartphone and Chromebook has been cool too.  No more getting in bed, realizing I forgot to shut out the kitchen light, and having to get up to go shut it off. Now, I can turn it off with my phone from bed.

It was great for the holidays to be baking goodies with the family and have Christmas music playing throughout the house on the Google Home Minis.

My youngest daughter spent a couple hours dipping pretzels.  If a song came on she didn’t like she’d just say, “OK, Google… I don’t like this song” and the song would stop and another would start.

Having a Google Home Mini next to the kitchen has been great too.  “Hey, Google… set a timer for _______ minutes” is something I use all the time.

That’s some of what I love about having a smart home… but what are some of the things that I haven’t liked? What’s led to the 10% frustration?

Since everything is controlled via wifi if your internet goes down things don’t work as they’re supposed to… which can be annoying.

My family can tend to be fast-talkers so sometimes Google doesn’t “hear” us and we’ll have to slow down and make our request again.  This can be frustrating when you’re asking it to turn on a light and you’re already in the room wanting light.

I’ll be honest, there have been other times where I just don’t feel like talking… even to an inanimate object and wished I could just use a light switch to turn on the lights.  With our current set-up, it’s all voice.  I’d need to spend some more money on connected light switches.

Speaking of spending more money… I do plan on getting 1 more Google Home Mini to put in our bathroom.  It would be really useful to be able to listen to the news, weather, and music while I get ready in the morning.

I wouldn’t mind getting a smart thermostat too… but I’m holding off until the prices really come down.

The only other annoying thing is I wish there was a way to get the Google Home Mini to not respond after every request but just do what I ask.  For example, if I tell it to turn off the basement lights it will respond with, “OK, turning off the basement lights.”

Don’t tell me, Google! Just do it.  It’s a minor thing but it can be annoying.  I’m hoping this is something that can be controlled via a software update.  I submitted some feedback to Google, so we’ll see.

Oh, and I didn’t need to worry about my family sharing my excitement for having a smart home.  They’re liking it just as much as I do.

Do you have a smart home? What are your favorite things about it and what are your frustrations?

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Review: STOMP At Des Moines Performing Arts

Of all the reviews I’ve written for the Des Moines Performing Arts shows this one for STOMP is probably the most difficult to write.  I want to accurately convey the experience… but I don’t want to give away any of the unexpected surprises.

It’s all the little surprises that make the show great!  It could be anything from a shadow on the wall, a look between the performers, or a sound from an unexpected item.

At its core STOMP is a percussive experience. It’s all about creating extraordinary sounds and rhythms from ordinary items.  Brooms, buckets, trash cans, lighters, tubes, newspapers, grocery carts, kitchen sinks… all have distinct sounds and when put together just right they can sound incredible.

STOMP is more than just sounds, though… it’s also about movement.

Even though there’s not really dancing, per se, this is one of the most highly choreographed shows I’ve ever seen.  The precision and technical skill of the performers is impressive. More than once I found myself asking, “How did they do that?”

One of the coolest things about STOMP is the audience is included and encouraged to take part in the show.  The nearly sold out, opening night crowd my youngest daughter and I were a part of was ready to have a good time and really got into clapping along with the performers…. and the performers really fed off the crowd.  

Many times throughout the single act, 1:45 performance I found myself laughing, smiling, and my toes instinctively and uncontrollably tapping along.  It’s a show I’d love to see again! That’s the strongest recommendation I can give to STOMP.  

As we were leaving my daughter said, “That was awesome! I’m glad we came!”  That’s a pretty good endorsement from a teen that was originally unsure whether she wanted to come.

STOMP is playing at Des Moines Performing Arts January 26, 2018, through January 28, 2018. Click here for tickets and information about this show and other upcoming shows.

***Disclaimer: I was provided press night tickets to facilitate this review.  All opinions are my own.

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