Category Archives: Review

Review: Les Misérables At Des Moines Performing Arts

One of the things I love most about attending live theatre performances is you never quite know what to expect. Even if it’s a show you know a lot about or seen before, there usually is some aspect of “newness” every time you go.

When my oldest daughter and I attended the April 17, 2018 opening night performance of Les Misérables at Des Moines Civic Center I really didn’t know what to expect.

I knew it was beloved musical and was highly awarded. I also vaguely remembered singing a song or two in high school or college choir… but I couldn’t tell you which songs they were. The story? Couldn’t tell you a thing about it.

What I discovered was a nearly 3-hour performance of a great story and incredible music and acting. Perhaps the most unexpected thing for me about this show was that all the dialogue was sung. I had never experienced that in a theatrical performance before and it was really interesting.

This music in Les Misérables is very powerful, adding to the action on the stage. Many times I couldn’t believe that such a sound was being created by only a handful of people on stage. It really was pretty cool.

As long as I’m touching on the music, the orchestra deserves a special nod.  They provided a flawless live soundtrack for the performers to sing along with.

When looking at the orchestra members listed in the playbill I was surprised at just how few there really were… considering the big sound they produced. It was also nice to see the conductor watching the show and leading the music. For me, it’s not a distraction, but a subtle reminder that “this presentation features live music and acting”.

Nick Cartell, in the role of Jean Valjean, deserves special recognition. His vocal range and performance were spectacular. There was one particular note in the second act that he held for so long it had me wondering, “how is that even possible”?

According to the Des Moines Performing Arts website, “Les Misérables tells an unforgettable story of heartbreak, passion, and the resilience of the human spirit.”  I found this to be true.

If you’re not familiar with the story, like I was, you should plan to arrive a little early to read the show synopsis in the playbill. I read it and was glad I did.  It really helped me follow along with the story. Had I not read it, I think I might have been a little confused.

The scenery and set changes were impressive. Many happened quickly and silently without me noticing as I was focused on the other action taking place on stage.  There were a few special and visual effects that were so impressive they rivaled anything I’ve ever seen on stage before.

The scenery was based on the painting of Victor Hugo, author of the novel this musical was adapted from.

If you’re attending a  performance of Les Misérables you should plan to get there early because the show starts promptly on time.

It’ll also give you time to review the synopsis in the playbill, like previously mentioned, if you aren’t familiar with the storyline or need a refresher.

 Les Misérables, part of the Willis Broadway Series, at Des Moines Performing Arts runs April 17 through April 22, 2018.  You can learn more about the show and get tickets here.

Are you a Les Miz fan? What are your favorite thoughts, moments, or music from the show?

***I was provided with press night tickets for the show to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.***

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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.

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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. You too can get a smart home light switch for your house by checking out a site like, who can tell you what light switch is best for your home.

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 was also thinking about maybe getting something like a home security system after a friend recommended one to me. If you are looking for a security system in your house, you may want to view these home security cameras reviews.

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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