DASMUSICALKAT

Kat of the Musicals

Stayed: Hakone Suimeisou

We wanted to stay in a traditional style accomodation for at least one night of our trip, and Hakone seemed like the perfect place to try it! This hotel was the most welcoming and friendly of all the places we stayed during our trip. And what an experience! I loved every moment- from the very spacious tatami rooms, to the onsen on our balcony with its incredible view, to the absolute feasts that were prepared for our traditional meals at breakfast and dinner, to trying futon (incredibly comfortable). Highly highly recommend staying at Hakone Suimeisou!

~DAY EIGHT~

And we were off again! This time it was all the way back on to the Tobou Railway to Tokyo, then from Tokyo to Odawara then onto the Hakone Tozan Railway! Whew! We grabbed some tasty grilled salmon onigiri to eat on the way ❤ Once we arrived in Hakone we headed out to find our hotel, which was fairly easy to find with an interesting little stroll along a main strip of shops. Our hotel toured us all the features of our room and then asked us what time we would like dinner (6:30) and breakfast (8:00)!

Deciding to make the most of our limited time in Hakone we headed to the nearby bus station to purchase the Hakone Pass on jumped straight onto a bus. The bus wound its way through the mountains of Hakone and we saw all the other little areas where you can stay- all of them looked beautiful. Arriving at Lake Ashinoko we were able to grab tickets for one of the last trips on the pirate ship that day. We had a few minutes to spare and I spotted a little vendor selling roasted sweet potatoes in their jackets- yum yum yum!! We purchased some of their strawberries as well, and they were equally as delicious. And then all aboard me’hearties! It was off on our pirate ship adventure (it just looks like a pirate ship, its not costume themed or anything don’t worry)!

Hakone is absolutely stunningly beautiful. Standing on that ship looking out across the lake and over the mountains was breathtaking. The ship makes its way across the lake, only making 2 more stops, before returning to the main port of departure. The ship itself is comfortable with plenty of space and sitting room if you wanted to sit inside. We were more than happy to be standing outside enjoying the view after our day of travel!

Once we returned to the port it was very easy to pop back on a bus back to our hotel. And then, it was time for our traditional banquet dinner!

We were allocated our own dining room- number 6. It was all set up when we arrived and it all looked (and tasted!) delicious. Lots of new and interesting things to try. After we finished we left our dining room to head back to our main room, which was converted to a bedroom whilst we ate. But soon after there was a knock on our door because we had left before they served dessert! Whoops! They brought it in for us so we were able to eat it in our room 🙂

In the evening we popped on supplied yukatas and enjoyed our private onsen on our balcony. If we stayed longer I would have liked to try their main onsen, but I did like having our own- especially with its view!

 

We both slept wonderfully on our futons.

~DAY NINE~

We awoke and prepared for the day before receiving a summoning knock on our door calling us to breakfast. Again we entered our dining room which was laid out with another wonderful feast. I am such a big fan of Japanese breakfast- I wish I could have it every day!

After breakfast we headed aboard the Hakone Tozan Railway again (the upper section this time!), which supplied for some more wonderful scenery (even though we were a bit too early in the year to see the famous hydrangeas along the tracks). We then swapped train for cable car, and then cable car for ropeway! It was whilst we were on the ropeway that we got our first glimpses of Mr Elusive himself- Mt Fuji! A sight indeed! But the whole journey had some fascinating sights, including the sulfuric hot springs. Unfortunately the second half of the ropeway was down for maintenance during our visit so we had to get off at Owakudani for a bus. We did get to see more Mt Fuji! But we did have a wait in a bus line… the main issue was that there was a gap in the bus arrivals- once they all started coming we got on a bus fast but we weren’t used to waiting having become accustomed to Japan’s tightly scheduled everything! I did sneak in a mixed half vanilla half chocolate soft serve to compensate though 😉  I thought that might be tastier than the sulfuric eggs!

The bus dropped us down at Togendai Station- the opposite end of Lake Ashinoko that we were at the day before. Then we had some tough decisions to make. We wanted to try to get to the Komagatake Ropeway, but it is a bit harder to get to and we were on a bit of a strict timeline to get us back to Hakone in time for our evening Shinkansen to Kyoto. We decided you only live once and to just go for it! It was a bit stressful but we ended up getting a taxi to Komagatake, running to get a ropeway ticket and going straight up.

The view though! It was well worth all the stress- such a spectacular view of the lake, and Mt Fuji and all the surrounds.

It was easily the best view of our Japan trip. Even if we only had a very short while to enjoy it (oh and it was super windy up there! a friend who also went to Komagatake said it was almost impossible to walk when he was there because it was so windy!). Then we raced to get on the Ropeway back down and quickly figured out what would get us back to the main port of Lake Ashinoko quickest. We ended up on a more direct cruise ship (faster than the Pirate Ships) and then once we made it to the port we ran around trying to find the express bus back to Hakone… which we made and then relaxed for about 20mins (until we hit traffic!!) but all was fine and we eventually made it back to Hakone with plenty of time. We decided to grab a quick lunch of soba/ramen at one of the local restaurants before picking our luggage up from our hotel and heading to the train station back to Odawara. At Odawara we jumped on to our Shinkansen to Kyoto and I felt like I breathed a huge sigh of relief! We made it! What a day!

  

But it wasn’t over yet! After arriving in Kyoto we navigated their train lines onto the metro lines to Shijo Station and checked in to our hotel. Then we headed to the nearby main district to track down some dinner and we found the BEST tonkatsu place- more cabbage more rice! (also had the most delicious yuzu drink which was apparently unique to that part of Kyoto so I never found it again !__!) Before finally heading back to the hotel for some much needed rest!

Stayed: Nikko Station Hotel Classic

Another fantastically located hotel- right across the road to JR Nikko Station! Although that did make it further away from all the “sites” of Nikko, I think it’s always preferable to be staying closer to the “base of operations”. That way you can get everywhere from where you are, and you don’t have to factor in all the extra travel time when you’re arriving or departing. The rooms were basic but nice, and a good deal bigger than those in our Tokyo stay. Our little window had a view towards the mountains, and as it was rainy and misty for most of our stay in Nikko it made for a wonderfully eerie site! Their buffet breakfast was also incredibly delicious! Especially their homemade jams… drools

~DAY SIX~

This was our travel day from Tokyo to Nikko- and it is a bit of a trek! In order to take the most advantage of our JR Pass we opted for the route that took us from Shinjuku to Omiya Station, onto the Shinkansen to Utsunomiya Station, and then a final transfer onto the JR Nikko Line! We stopped at Utsunomiya Station and went out for some Gyoza which I spotted from the train as we rolled in. I am always on the lookout for tasty food! Apparently Utsunomiya is known for gyoza, so it was a good pick.

The Tobu Railway Nikko Line was a much smaller (cuter) train, and it was actually really interesting watching the countryside along the way. So many rice paddies- and so different to Australia where everything is basically grazing for cattle! We didn’t see any herd animals at all.

After arriving at Nikko we headed straight across the road to our hotel to check in, and then it was straight back out for adventures! Nikko operates a bus service through most of the sites, so we went back to the station to purchase a ticket. The bus timetable is quite frequent and there was an easy bus stop just next to the station. The bus also helpfully announces (in Japanese, English, Chinese) the stops and sites as it goes along, so you know where you are and when you need to get off.

We also purchased this map, which was quite useful to have as a quick reference (as there is a lot going on in the Nikko area!)

Our first stop was Rinnoji Temple, but as it is under construction it didn’t really feel as though it had that “wow” factor. We ended up walking through it pretty quickly. Having been put off a little by the price for the (not-so-great) experience, we then decided to just walk around the area. The rain made everything so tranquil- the greenery was so vibrant and there weren’t a lot of people around so it was just really nice to wander down paths and up stairs and not much care about where we were headed. A very different atmosphere from busy Tokyo. We did eventually make it to Shinkyo Bridge and that definitely had the wow factor. Again I praise the weather, but it really felt like we had a chance to appreciate the awe-inspiring bridge by ourselves without flocks of tourists around.

After this we decided to go further up to the location labeled The World Heritage Shrines and Temples of Nikko, and here we visited Toshogu Shrine. This experience had a far greater impact than we experienced at Rinnoji Temple. In particular, if you take stairs to the right- the Sakashitamon Gate marks the start of a 5min ascent (a bit of work up some steepish steps, but manageable) through the woods to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mausoleum which is described perfectly as “subtle and austere, yet dignified”. And through the shrouded mist and light rain it really felt like it had incredible presence. It was definitely one of my favourite moments/experiences of the trip.

It was starting to get a bit late now, so we headed back in to town and wandered around on the streets for quite a while trying to find somewhere to eat. A bit of a difference to Tokyo! Eventually we found a place, and although it was more aimed at drinking + snacks we put together a good meal with items like chicken skewers, miso beef and butter corn!

~DAY SEVEN~

Although the rain was still falling we got up early and took the long (but picturesque) bus ride all the way up the mountains to Lake Chuzenji- hoping to see some spectacular views of the Kegon Waterfall. Alas! The beautiful mist which was creating such a spectacular atmosphere for our Nikko visit also meant that both the lake and waterfall were completely hidden from view!

Kegon Waterfall

Hoping the mist would clear if we gave it some time we decided to wander around the town and down along the lake, and grabbed some dango to eat along the way. Although obscured the lake still made for a pretty remarkable sight.

The mist still hadn’t cleared closer to lunch, so we decided to have some food and then make a decision. We had delicious udon and tempura mess, with soy-milk skin! It was a nice hot meal and seemed like an appropriate dish for the damp weather. After returning outside there was still no shift so we did a final wander around town before heading back to the bus to go back down the mountain. Fun story! The toilets at the bus terminal had no toilet paper, you had to buy some nearby. I made sure to buy two packs just in case so I ended up with a lot of toilet paper!

It was such a shame we didn’t get to see the lake and waterfall in all their glory, but I’m still glad we did the trip up the mountain. Yet again the experience was so surreal amongst the weather, and the absence of more tourists gave it more weight.

On the way back we decided to get off in the main town area (instead of back to the station and our hotel) so that we could see a bit more of Nikko and we walked back from there. We also stopped for delicious soft serve icecream that was served with honey (yummm) and bought some delicious strawberries!

That night, not really feeling like trying to find another place to eat dinner, I located a supermarket on Maps and we decided to give that a go. What fun!! I actually really like grocery shopping, especially when it’s a unique experience being in another country, and it was really enjoyable walking along the aisles and finding bits and pieces to try. We ended up with a bit of a feast!

Next stop- sunshine in Hakone!

Stayed: Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku

This hotel was in a fantastic location, really close to the main districts of Shinjuku with lots of food options and of course the HUGE Shinjuku Station. Albeit confusing I think this station is the best to be near because it goes everywhereee!

The hotel was clean, comfortable and welcoming, the rooms were slightly small but not unmanageable for two people and the breakfast buffet was varied and all delicious. Highly recommend adding that to your booking!

~DAY ONE~

Our plane arrived super early in the morning – 5:30am! Knowing this would be the case I made plans and we headed straight to the airport showers after picking up our luggage and going through a smooth immigration process. There was a little bit of a wait for the showers so we took a ticket and then wandered nearby to pick up our WiFi device from Pupuru (which I will talk about in a seperate blog because WiFi devices are so useful!). The showers at Haneda Airport are basically your own private little room complete with shower and vanity dresser with sink, and they’re absolutely lovely. Very modern and very clean! We booked a half hour, which is plenty of time to get out of plane clothes (ugh), shower and get redressed in fresh clothes! I had made sure to pack my suitcase so my fresh change of clothes was right at the top. The shower room also provides amenities like towels, soap, shampoo etc. My only wish was that the room included a toilet, but there is a share one that you can use that is kept just as clean. ~$12 well spent!

 

After feeling much refreshed we headed to pick up our Japan Rail Pass (more details in a seperate blog for this one too!). The JR office opens at 6:45am at Haneda Airport and there was already a bit of a line when we got there around 7:15am so I do recommend heading over there as soon as you can. We were unsure as to whether we would be able to use our JR Pass from the airport to Shinjuku so we purchased a bus ticket, and then missed the bus after waiting in line for the JR Pass! Ha! But it turned out ok because you can indeed go from the airport to Shinjuku with your JR Pass, you just need to take the Tokyo Monorail and do one easy change at Hamamatsucho to the JR Yamanote Line to Shinjuku.

We arrived in Shinjuku around 9am so it was still way too early to check into our hotel, but we headed over there anyway as we wanted to leave our big heavy suitcases with them until we could check in at 2pm. They were very accommodating, and I used their foyer bathroom which was really very fancy!

Then (feeling more than a little jetlagged) we decided to head to some gardens for some fresh air and nature revival. First up was the nearby Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden which was beautiful. Not a super large garden it was easy enough to wander through in about an hour- and if you’ve seen The Garden of Words this is the place and it looks exactly like in the film! It was turning out to be a very sunny day though and I didn’t have a hat! We made purchase of an umbrella but when that wasn’t really cutting it we headed out towards some nearby shops and I bought a very large hat a Forever 21. I was also getting very hangry at the point so it was time for our first Japan meal! Delicious cold soba ❤

After our soba recharge we headed to another garden- this time the much larger Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine and surrounding gardens. To get there we took the train to Harajuku, and whilst we were at the station we decided to pick up Suica cards as well. Although it ended up we could get most places on the JR Pass, the Suica card was still useful to have for those trips here and there where we couldn’t use the Pass. And it was very easy to get one at the self-service vendors located everywhere at the stations (they have an option to select English as the language), and it’s just as easy to recharge them.

At the start of the gardens we purchased the first of the many soft serve ice creams we would be having on this trip (this one was Hokkaido vanilla milk) and then walked and walked and walked. Eventually we came upon the shrine itself, and they were having some sort of ceremony (maybe a wedding, we weren’t sure) which was cool to watch!

By this point we were really tired out so we headed back to Shinjuku to check in and have a bit of a rest before heading out later to hunt down some dinner. After adventuring around we found a tasty looking tonkatsu place within Shinjuku station, and so began our addiction to tonkatsu in Japan- the crunch! The sauce! The cabbage! The FREE refills of rice and cabbage! ❤  I miss it so.

~DAY TWO~

It was time to head to one of the most important locations of this trip- the Pokemon Centre! I have followed Kim Dao on YouTube for quite some time and her vlogs were so incredibly useful for planning the Tokyo portion of our trip. I really recommend checking her videos out if you are travelling to Japan in the near future! At Kim’s recommendation I decided Sunshine City was the place to go and wow! This was a cool shopping centre! We did get off at the wrong end of the station at Ikebukuro though so cue a bit of unnecessary walking but oh well! The Pokemon Centre did not disappoint and I bought almost the entire shop.

The kpop group Lovelyz performed in the middle of the centre by chance that day too- which was super fun! For lunch we ate at one of the (many) options at the top of the shopping centre, where we had fantastic udon. It’s going to be a trend with these blogs but the food in Japan is honestly so good. Such high quality and so delicious.

After lunch we went up to the SKY CIRCUS observation deck, which I actually thought was a better experience than SKYTREE (which we went to the following week). There was little quirky exhibitions up there and less people, and the views were just as wonderful.

Afterwards we decided to train over to the Imperial Palace to view the Gardens. Pro tip! Check what days the gardens are open first! As it turns out they weren’t open on Monday… so we just wandered around the outside of the palace for a bit (still very interesting!) before heading back to the hotel.

That night we ventured into the nearby little district of food places in Shuinjuku and had our first ramen in Japan! The little vending machine type ordering systems in Japan are quite fun ^.^

~DAY THREE~

In the morning we travelled out to Saitama to visit the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, which is well worth the trip if you are a fan of bonsai ❤

After getting back to Tokyo in the early afternoon we went to visit restaurants in the top of one of the nearby department stores of Shinjuku (I can’t remember the name of it sorry!) and had very fancy sushi lunch- we opted to try new things like sea urchin so some were a bit hit or miss but an experience nonetheless! After that we wandered around the shopping centre for a little bit (bought some things at uniqlo and embarrassed myself by not taking off my shoes for the changing rooms… don’t do that) and then! We discovered Kajitsuen Libre Shinjuku, which was right across the way from our hotel, and had THE.BEST.CAKE.I.HAVE.EVER.HAD.IN.MY.ENTIRE.LIFE. This thing was incredible words really don’t do justice. It made me really understand the cake obsession in anime though, because when I had the first bite my eyes sparkled and tiny love hearts floated around me.

 

THE CAKE OF DREAMS

 

Continuing with our “fancy” meal theme of the day we headed back to the same department store restaurants for dinner, this time for sukiyaki- one of my all time favourite Japanese dishes ❤ and yes- it was the best sukiyaki I have ever had! My mouth is watering just remembering it…

~DAY FOUR~

more anime sparkling eyes it was time to visit Akihabara!

Towering buildings lined up one after the other filled to the brim with everything you could possibly imagine as a piece of anime merchandise. Case after case, floor after floor

of figures, cosplay, posters, keychains… ❤  After dragging G around a single figure store for about an hour he decided to head off to visit the National Museum, leaving me to otaku out! After grabbing a quick tempura soba I spent several more hours wandering around the floors of merch, trying desperately to make decisions. Spoiler: I didn’t and had to return to Akihabara another day to make my purchases! But it is just so magical being surrounded by all the things you love.

Now I was in full shopping-mode so I took the train (I LOVE JAPANESE TRANSPORT) over to Harajuku to wander through another magical place for another couple of hours. Now here I bought things! So many clothes and accessories! Although the styles are repeated a lot store to store (like in Korea) I knew that back in Australia they’d look quite unique so I was more than happy to stock my wardrobe! I also had to do the “Harujuku thing” and bought a crepe. Best crepe of my life. WHY IS JAPANESE FOOD SO DELICIOUS.

 

Also on my Harujuku itinerary was to visit Alice on Wednesday, being as I am a big Alice in Wonderland girl. It’s a little tricky to find, and I thought I was going in the wrong direction when maps started talking me along a quieter road off the main street until I saw the little Alice door! Its not a very large place, but the décor is wonderfully Alice! The store has three levels, each with its own little store area with accessories and things, and if you’re an Alice fan then its definitely one to add to your list. I bought quite a few cute things! ^.^

By this time my wallet was considerably lighter, and my shopping bags considerably heavy, so I dragged myself away from all the things and headed back.

That evening it was raining but we decided to visit Shibuya to see what all the fuss was about! We saw Hatchi and crossed the Shibuya Crossing but to be honest I was very glad we decided to stay in Shinjuku over Shibuya. Although admittedly we didn’t see a lot of it, Shibuya just felt a lot more commercially touristy.

We had tasty tsukemen (with extra eggs and extra corn!) for dinner before deciding it was too wet and that we had seen enough of Shibuya.

~DAY FIVE~

After double checking first that they were open this time, we made our second trip out to The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace. They are absolutely worth a visit if you can make the time! Probably my favourite of the three gardens we visited in Tokyo- they were just so interesting and varied as you walked around. We got to look inside guard houses, and see views from lookouts, and admire a koi pond. A really nice place to recuperate from the busy, more modern, parts of Tokyo.  We spent a good couple of hours there 🙂

Afterwards we wandered around the business-y district outside of the Palace trying to find some food… which ended up being a lot more difficult than we envisioned! Eventually we found a little underground food court of restaurants and I ate Japanese curry while G had tempura.

That night we wandered out around Shinjuku again as it was our last night in the city ❤  It was honestly so nice to just wander around out there at night- lots happening, lots to see and it just feels so safe. We stopped in to one of the many food options for dinner and I had a pork belly rice bowl while G had a kobe beef ramen. I also snuck in a green tea ice cream sandwich!

Then it was time to say goodbye to Tokyo (for a little bit) and head to Nikko the next day!

Hi everyone~

Earlier this year I went to Japan- amazing, amazing Japan! I loved my time there and am hoping to share a whole lot of new experiences and travel tips!

A lot of people have asked me, and yes Korea is still number one in my heart, but Japan definitely comes in at a close second for my most favourite places I’ve visited and I cannot wait to go again ❤

In the meantime- let’s visit Japan (through blog posts ke)!

^.^

This was actually super fun, I really enjoyed it! It was the story from the movie per se, but it had a lot of similar elements. Would definitely see it again! “Sometimes being pretty, it’s enough” haha, still laughing.

Originally posted on The AU Review.

Bring It On was (and still is) one of my favourite movies to watch at a girly sleepover. Cheerleading, high school romance and lots of attitude! It’s all fun and very re-watchable. Now Bring It On comes to the musical stage and it brings with it those same sorts of epic routines, but this time live. On stage. With no mats. Prepare to cheer!

The most important thing to note for Bring It On The Musical is that it is NOT the story of the film. If you go in expecting Toros and Clovers you’ll be disappointed, so go in expecting all the high school attitude and epic cheer routines and you’ll be in for a fun night!

The musical follows Campbell (Alex Lewtas), who has just been elected as cheer captain for Truman High. She’s popular, blonde and has a handsome, yet dense, boyfriend. Okay, so it’s a little similar to the movie. Here the tales diverge though. Campbell is redistributed from her preppy school to the downtown Jackson High, which GASP has no cheerleading team. The school does have a dance crew though, lead by the feisty Danielle (Kat Hoyos). Campbell bumbles along making lots of mistakes, which she eventually recognizes and grows as a person as a result. There are lots of positive messages in this one- the importance of friendship, the diversity and celebration of body image and firm self-belief.

A couple of standouts for me were Jessica Van Wyk in the role of Skylar, who managed to be very enjoyably bitchy with fun lines like, “Sometimes being pretty, it’s enough,” as well as show off some strong Cabaret-style vocals; Jamie Leigh Hadwen as Eva with her hilarious antics and energetic performance; and Sophy Carol as Bridget, the crowd favourite, with her wonderful expressions and empathetic pull. But the whole cast was a just a delight to watch together in action, with the youthful energy and love of performing really shining through.

Occasionally, there are moments when the energetic fun is interrupted by an emotional ballad-style piece, which I felt disrupted the flow a little too often, but overall the pacing kept up with the squads.

The most impressive part of this musical though, is the cheerleading moves. They really don’t hold back, despite the frighteningly hard looking wooden floorboards and evident lack of any fall-breaking mats. Girls are tossed and spun high into the air, landing with precision on shoulders with a huge performance smile. It’s all at once terrifying and insanely impressive.

Bring It On The Musical is a high-energy, crowd-motivating, trick-filled musical that is really enjoyably easy to watch. Just like our favourite cheerleading movie, this is a musical to grab your girlfriends together for fun night out. Perhaps to be followed by that ol’ sleepover with Torrance and popcorn.

What an interview this was! Tommy Tallarico is a legend (he’s worked on over 250 games!!)! I’ve always been a big fan of video game music (being a OSTs of all kinds music addict) and have a large variety of game scores in my playlists despite not necessarily having played all the games… *shrugs*

I’ve also been quite a fan of video game music concerts- like Play! or the Eminence Orchestra, and indeed of Video Games Live! So I was SUPER excited for this!

We had an awesome (super long) Skype chat and Tommy is so cool and extremely passionate about what he does. We did have to break in the middle of it for him to duck out quickly to the shops for milk before they closed 😉 but it was such a great chat!

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Video Games Live has “all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy of a rock concert, mixed together with all the cutting edge visuals, interactivity, technology and fun that video games provide” says co-creator Tommy Tallarico. It was the first of its kind- an insane concert experience unlike any other, and certainly worlds apart from the other video game concerts that followed in its large footprints. Now in it’s 13th year, having performed over 350 concerts, this July will mark Video Games Live’s very FIRST tour to Australia!

the AU review Arts editor Kat Czornij chatted with the video game composing legend himself, whose credits span over 250 games (!!!) including Earthworm Jim, Prince of Persia and Advent Rising. Tommy explains just how epic the VGL concerts are, how audience members can determine the set list with him, and even shares his own favourite games and soundtracks.

Could you tell us a little bit about how you came into the idea for creating Video Games Live?

I used to put on video game concerts when I was 10 years old, where I would record all my favourite video game music and strum along with my guitar, so I think this whole thing just sort of manifested out of my childhood dreams! Video Games Live really combines my three greatest loves in the world- video games and music and performing.

I’ve been a video game composer for over 25 years and my whole idea behind creating VGL was that I wanted to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games had become. I also wanted to help usher in a whole new generation of young people to appreciate the symphony and the arts and the orchestra. I like to describe VGL as having all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy of a rock concert, mixed together with all the cutting edge visuals, interactivity, technology and fun that video games provides. I am also the only guy who is actually a video game composer, in the industry, putting on these shows!

You have such an impressive array of your own compositions, how does your experience as a game composer help shape the concert?

I will usually put only one of my own into the show, maybe Earthworm Jim or Metroid, something classic. Things that people would know. But I really try to not make the show about me, even though I host and produce the show and am on stage playing guitar, its really more about the industry and showcasing all of the game music from around the world. The music of all my colleagues and friends. We’re really a close knit bunch- whether its Marty O’Donnell and Halo or Russell Brower and Warcraft or Nobuo Uematsu with Final Fantasy or Koji Kondo with Mario and Zelda… it’s such an honour for me to be able to perform this music all over the world. The most incredible thing is that no matter where we go in the world people always love and have an attachment to video game music.

How do you determine the set list for each concert?

So there are actually two ways: the first is that at www.videogameslive.com there is a sign up on the right hand side for our mailing list, and we ask people there what they want to hear and what their favourite games are and where they’re from. Then I look at that spreadsheet when I’m making up a set list and I’ll say “Ok, Australia, what are they looking for?” The other way is that on Facebook we create Event pages for every show we do. In those you’ll see the first pinned post is me asking everybody (and it really is me! I don’t have a team of people doing this) what they want to hear. I like to throw in a couple of surprises, so I won’t just take what everyone wants, things like Shadow of the Colossus for example.

This is a truly immersive concert event, created with an orchestra, video footage, synchronized lighting, live action segments… How does one aim to coordinate all these parts of the production without it getting too manic?

The energy and excitement, especially when we play in a new country or city, is just so intense. I bring a team of seven people with me and we have been together for 13 years and so we’ve done 350 shows together. We actually have a Guinness World Record for the most symphony shows done by a single production company! So we’ve seen it all, experienced it all.

Every venue we go into is a completely different experience, so every time it is unique and new and challenging and fun! And then of course for the show itself, we’ve never played the same show twice EVER. We have over 130 segments for VGL that I’ve created over the years but we can only play about 20 of them a night. So if we come back to Australia next year, which is the plan, when we come back it will be a completely different show! So for us, putting on the show is like it’s the first time for us every time. I’m all based around passion and excitement and I love doing this, which is why I’ve been doing this 13 years now and just as excited today as the first day.

There are a few concert series dealing specifically with game music, including PLAY!, the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concerts, or those from the Eminence Orchestra. How does VGL differ from these?

When I started VGL no one was doing anything like what I was doing- synchronized video and things like that, and when we did our very first show at the Hollywood Bowl we had the whole industry there. The creators of Metal Gear Solid, Sonic the Hedgehog, of Pong and Atari, and we had everyone from Nintendo… just tons and tons of people. It was the very first time video game music had ever been performed for the following games- Kingdom Hearts, Sonic, Metal Gear Solid, Mist, Warcraft, Halo… There had been Japanese video game concerts since the mid-80s but they were all very traditional- tuxedos, no lighting, no video screens.

What you’ll find about Distant Worlds, Eminence, the Zelda shows etc is that they’re also very much like that. They do have video screens now, but they’re very classical in nature. But video games are not just classical symphony music! That’s not what a video game is! A video game is about interactivity, technology, amazing visuals, the characters, the storylines, and the music. I wanted to bring ALL of those things together to create a show to celebrate the entire video game industry. And of course the biggest part about video games is fun!

And how does VGL create all that fun?

So our show has millions of dollars worth of synchronized lighting just like a big rock show, we have three massive HD video screens, we have interactive elements with the crowd, I encourage people to bring their cellphones so we can interact with them from the stage, we have a Guitar Hero competitions before the show and the winner gets to come on stage to play live with me and the orchestra to win a big prize. We have other interactive segments where I invite people to come on stage and play games while the orchestra plays along as a live soundtrack. And of course throughout the concert I encourage the audience to cheer and clap and holler whenever they feel like! These are all the things those other shows don’t do.

You were the first video game composer to release a video game soundtrack. When did you discover that gamers could be just as passionate about its music as the game itself?

I always felt that way, and so for me it was always a natural sort of thing that people wanted to hear more of this music. I would get emails and people would come to my forums to ask me to perform certain music. So for me it was always like, why aren’t more people doing this? I formed a non-profit organization called the Game Audio Network Guild, or GANG, and we have over 2,500 members all over the world including game composers, sound designers, voice over people and even students looking to get into the industry. With this I started to go around to the publishers and awards (like MTV and the Grammy) and we got video game music more involved. No one was doing it so I thought- well I’d better do it! There is now a whole generation who have grown up on video games as part of their culture and this is just the beginning!

What are you most looking forward to about bringing the VGL tour to Australia?

I’ve been waiting a long time! I’m a huge fan of Australia on a personal level, and I don’t just say that in every interview! I’ve been all over the world and I have personally vacationed in Australia six different times. But we haven’t yet performed the show there! I’ve been trying to get there for 10 years! It is the one country that I haven’t been to that I cared the most. So phew finally!

So it’s going to be a special show for that reason, but for me the most exciting thing is that I am going to be performing this show in front of people for the first time and that’s where you’re going to see the magic really happen. You can watch as many of our videos on YouTube as you like but when you get in a room with hundreds of other people and you are amongst the way that we present our show and you see the passion and emotion that we bring, there is just this magic that happens that you can’t put in a poster and that cant be captured in a YouTube video. You kind of have an idea of what to expect but when you see it you go “what the hell just happened?”.

And finally, what is your favourite video game and video game soundtrack of all time?

Ok first my favourite game of all time, which I think is a perfect masterpiece, is Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo. Just the music and the graphics during the time, and the gameplay- it’s just perfect! But, if I were to go to a desert island and say what’s the one video game that I’d take with me it would be Red Dead Redemption. You can do SO much in that game! But also Shadow of the Colossus, Metal Gear Solid, those are some of my other favourites.

Now my favourite soundtrack ever of all time would have to be Final Fantasy VIII, with Liberi Fatali, Eyes On Me… I think that was Nobuo Uematsu’s best work ever. Listen to our version of Liberi Fatali- it is in your face, powerful and huge. You can always hear this in our recordings and arrangements, and that really gives you a whole look into the approach of our show.

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One of my favourite things about Korea is definitely the shopping. Normally when I say that people are like “oh is it really super cheap?” and to be honest that aspect of it is kind of just normal (well compared to Australian prices) but there’s just soo much more variety (SOOO MUCH MORE) and everything about the experience is so good and so interesting and so FUN.

I’m not like a crazy shopping addict, but I suppose I am a little bit (ha) so I’d say that I spent a decent amount of time during my visits shopping and Seoul is just absolutely my favourite place to shop. Yes more than the outlets in Vegas, or the high streets of London or the markets in Europe. Seoul has my kind of stuff.

So anyway! I thought I’d share with you my favourite three places to shop at in Seoul! 😀

(sorry in advance for the lack of photos- apparently I suck at taking pictures of streets and shopping places haha) 

  1. Myeongdong

Ha of course, Myeongdong is a definite favourite. It’s easy to get there (subway line 4) and once you’re there it’s like a wonderful maze of streets that you have to navigate by key Nature Republic stores. You can wander up and down for ages, at night or during the day, and there’s a good mix of brand clothing stores, jewelry and accessory stores and all your favourite makeup and beauty brands. And plenty of tasty food options.

This is also we’re you’ll find a mix of bigger department stores, the SM Entertainment store and some celebrity cafes (Jaejoong’s Café JHolic is here).

And after you’ve explored the above ground you can head on underground for more of the bargain hunter smaller stores. Here’s where you’ll find some of the best places to buy kpop stuff and socks. There’s one particular kpop store that I would always visit, the cds are slightly cheaper and they’ll also give you a free poster of the group you buy cds of! Woo! Haha.

Stuff Kat bought at Myeongdong: socks, lots of hair accessories, cute cat earrings, so much kpop and an extra suitcase because I bought too much stuff to fit it all in my originally luggage

Stuff Kat did at Myeongdong: ate lots of street food, visited Café JHolic, took cute booth photos with SM artists

Located: Myeongdong-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul (subway line 4)

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  1. Doota

Doota in Dongdaemun was actually completely different on two of my trips, I’m not sure which I’d prefer but maybe the un-renovated one? Either way it’s still a fun place to visit.

Basically Doota is a tall department building and each floor is themed- young up and coming designers, jewellery, clothes similar to designer labels, hair accessories etc. Its fun to just wander around and it’s basically always open. On our first visit we were there at some ridiculous time like midnight?

It’s definitely predominantly a place for clothes shopping, but there’s also a pretty good food court on top and outside the streets are lined with vendors and markets.

Stuff Kat bought at Doota: jumpers and a skirt

Stuff Kat did at Doota: wandered around for a quite a while and pined over the coats (alas too warm for Australian winters)

Located: 275, Jangchungdan-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul (subway line 5)

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  1. Hongdae

My favourite ❤ The streets of Hongdae are a wonderland. I just loved taking little walks up and down those magical streets, popping into a stall here and there, grabbing a tasty snack every so often, and picking up bits and pieces along the way…

There is so much there, every time I wandered it felt like new stores had appeared- there is endless little clothes stalls, countless of the cutest accessory places, so much tasty snack food and every beauty and makeup brand you could want (including a physical Paula’s Choice store!).

Stuff Kat bought at Hongdae: everything. Skincare, makeup, clothes, hats, jewelry, hair accessories, gifts for people, household things at Daiso and endless other things.

Stuff Kat did at Hongdae: everything. Skip happily through the streets, buying and looking and eating (the best fish icecreams, mandu, hoduk, bingsu…). Spent hours in Etude House, bought a basket of accessories in my favourite stall, discovered new places, returned again and again and again… and just generally fell in love with the place.

Located: Eoulmadang-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul (subway line 2)

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Some other places I visited for shopping times:Lotte Department Store (where I bought my much-beloved perfect winter coat), Times Square (department store-esque plae where I went to find a nii store), and COEX!

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^.^

 

I’m back with a new tip, one that is little known but oh so amazing.

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Picture this: your last day in Korea and your flight is later that night. Your hotel checkout is 10am in the morning and you don’t want to spend your whole day hanging around the airport, or being worried about picking your luggage back up from your hotel’s minding service and then getting it to Incheon in the recommended hours before your scheduled flight departure… Annoyances!

Cue: YOU CAN NOW CHECK-IN FOR YOUR INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT FROM SEOUL STATION. 

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That means you can check out of your hotel at 10am and get yourself along to the conveniently located Seoul Station (in the middle of Seoul) and get almost your entire airport check-in process done and out of the way- including your standard passenger check-in complete with checked luggage security clearance. Your luggage then gets transported (magically) to the airport and onto your flight. Then you’re all set to wander around Seoul for the rest of the day until it’s time to head to the airport and express your way through only your on-flight baggage security check. Yes, amazing!

This actually completely saved me on one of my trips. Of course the Dracula Press Conference ended up being held on the day of my departure. I was NOT going to miss that, even if it meant I had to miss my flight. Luckily someone told me about this check-in process and I went early in the day to get everything sorted out so that I didn’t have to worry about my bag or that extra hour or so that you need to leave for check-in and baggage check at the airpot. Given I ran out of Seoul Arts Centre, into a taxi, asked the ahjussi to please hurry and then made it to Incheon with about 20mins to return my wifi egg and get through on-board luggage checks before my flight was boarding…

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You were worth it though, little Dracula cookie

So, it’s a really easy process.

The check-in service is offered at Seoul Station and City Airport, Logis & Travel, Korea (CALT), which is near Samseong Station. I only used the Seoul Station one though, so that’s what I’ll talk about!

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  1. First up you will then need to purchase a ticket for the AREX Express train (the idea being you will return to Seoul Station and take the express train to the airport). You will need to estimate your time and book a ticket for the appropriate train. Tickets are fairly cheap, with a discounted rate of 6,900 won with your airline ticket
  2. Then you can head on over to the check-in desks. Some notes:
    1. You can co-ordinate seat assignment, mileage accumulation, baggage check… everything you can do at a normal airport check-in desk
    2. The service is available for all international passengers departing from Incheon Airport with Korean Air, Asiana Airlines and Jeju Air ONLY
    3. The desks are open from 5:20am (!!!) to 7pm. Remember that you will need to check-in at the desk AT LEAST 3 hours ahead of departure
  3. Then it’s over to the Departure Inspection before you say bye bye to your luggage (until you get home hopefully)
  4. FREEDOM! You are then free to do whatever you want until your train departure
  5. Upon your return simply board the AREX and enjoy the rapid 43min non-stop trip to the airport
  6. At the airport you can now proceed straight through to the designated express entrance (the one also used for diplomats and flight attendants) on the 3rd floor of Incheon Airport.

BOOM! You’re off and away, with little stress and hassle and more Seoul-time. Which lets face it, is the best time ^.^

You can find out more information about the whole process over here at the KTO.

 

 

Some fun facts about The Barber of Seville that I didn’t know going in is that it is based on a novel and is actually the prequel for The Marriage of Figaro, despite Seville being the work of Rossini and Figaro of Mozart. Having of course seen Opera Australia’s The Marriage of Figaro last year it was a lot of fun to see more of the untold story of the characters in this latest production!

The Barber of Seville has that same sort of humour and happiness about it (yes happiness, a rarity in opera!) but is perhaps far more… unpredictable? There are moments of on-scene chaos that really can’t be described as anything less than organized ridiculousness. It’s fun to watch of course, but there are several moments when you’re just like “I have absolutely no idea what’s going on why are there so many people in this house”. Definitely fun though.

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The set design is incredible, with some wonderful little puppetry work (which delighted the audience greatly) before the whole stage became a giant dolls house.

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Musically the opera opens with a fabulous overture, which as it turns out was not originally composed for the opera as the original overture was lost and Rossini simply replaced it with another that he had written. Thus none of the music from the overture is in the opera itself, which is a bit of a shame as it features this wonderful chase between violins…

The actual opera itself is just as fabulous as the overture though, and really is a test of breathing endurance and lung capacity vocally. Most of the songs seems to feature at least one requirement for the performer to hold a ridiculously long note, or sing extraordinarily fast for an extended period. The style overall is quite fast for an opera, with songs moving along and the general pacing of the music rapid and jolly. It’s also quite dialogue driven for an opera, with much focus on interactions between characters and the relationships between them.

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Speaking of the characters, the cast was simply wonderful! Kenneth Tarver gave Count Almaviva the voice of a true charmer, and he was well matched by the cheeky notes of Anna Dowsley as Rosina. Warwick Fyfe brings an outstanding performance to Dr Bartolo, who you both dislike but don’t really dislike- although he is the “bad” character his intentions are not really evil, and he’s more awkward then scheming really.

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Bringing in much of the audience’s love though, was the hilariously devoid servant Ambrogio (Samuel Dundas) who heaved and sighed and dragged his way across the stage, staying in character right through his jaded bow at curtain call.

But really this is Figaro’s show, and by golly is Paolo Bordogna a perfect Figaro. And wonderfully enough, he was also the Figaro I saw back in Marriage– which made it all the more perfect! Aside from his absolutely outstanding talents vocally, Bordogna has such a talent for characterization. His Figaro is cheeky and delightful, with a smile that could no doubt blind those even in the very back seats. At the conclusion of his “Largo al Factotum” the crowd’s defeaning applause went on so long that Bordogna gave a little Figaro-like smirk to his fellow performers, gesturing a little “eh” and a wink in their direction.

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The Barber of Seville is a fun, fast-paced opera, with much laughter and giggles and many breathless moments of vocal talent. You don’t have to have seen The Marriage of Figaro of course but the two together certainly make you fall even more for the characters. Particularly that charming barber, “Ah bravo Figaro!”

The Barber of Seville will be playing at the Sydney Opera House until the 22nd March. For more information visit www.opera.org.au

The reviewer attended the Opening Night performance on the 28th January.

Photo credit: ©Keith Saunders