Carole King Musical Pulls Boomers’ Heart Strings

Photo from mirivish.com

Photo Credit: mirvish.com

Beautiful:The Carole King Musical, from the Mirvish Productions, has been a huge success for a variety of reasons. It’s a musical tracing the career of Carole King, and endorsed by the iconic singer of the 70s herself. King is a musician whom most boomers love and the musical, featuring a lot of her songs from the Tapestry album, understandably pulls the heart strings and, therefore, the purse strings of the boomer theatre-goers.

The musical is currently touring Toronto after garnering seven Tony-Award nominations and winning two of them (Best Featured Actor in a Musical and Best Sound Design) in 2014, and following a year-long tour in the U.S. After Toronto, two simultaneous tours will take place in the U.K. and Australia. The musical also won three Drama Desk Awards in 2014 and a Grammy Award in 2015. Adapted from the book on the early life and career of Carole King by Douglas McGrath, Beautiful is a substantial work of art featuring not only great music, but a witty and funny dialogue, and outstanding orchestrations. It’s a musical that makes boomers laugh, reminisce and sing along. For boomers like me, who didn’t know much about the singer in the 70s except to appreciate her songs, the musical told a story of how a young musician went through her early life of love, success, heartbreaks, motherhood and friendships.

For the Toronto audience, it’s particularly heartwarming to see the homecoming of Chilina Kennedy, the lead Canadian actress from Oromocto, New Brunswick, who plays King. Kennedy, who replaced the Tony-Award winner Jesse Mueller in Broadway’s Beautiful in March 2015, had to take a leave of absence from New York City to perform in Toronto. The young actress has a rich theatrical pedigree on both sides of the border having spent three seasons at both The Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival in Ontario. She also starred in a touring production of Mamma Mia and played Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway. Playing opposite Kennedy is another Canadian, Liam Tobin, who hailed from St. John’s Newfoundland. Tobin plays King’s first handsome and talented husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, probably the second most important character in the musical.

Entertainment production companies have recently been paying a lot of attention to boomer audiences. The Desert Trip Music Festival last year, which featured The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young and The Who (average age 72), was a resounding success. Goldenvoice, a division of AEG Worldwide, produced this event as well as the renowned Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival each spring in Indio, California. Unlike Coachella, which targeted mainly millennials and GenXers, the Desert Trip Festival was geared to the moneyed-boomer crowd with attractions such as US$10,000 tents, vintage shops, galley space, a pinball-machine arcade and an organic farmers market. It would be interesting to see whether they have enough boomer musicians to do an annual roster for The Desert Trip!

As posted before on this blog, Casino Rama and Fallsview Casino in Ontario have also been featuring big-name boomer musicians to lure the mature crowd. Upcoming shows include performers like Kiss, Donny and Marie Osmond, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Paul Anka, Engelbert Humperdinck and Buddy Guy. Similarly, going through the list of scheduled events at Fallsview Casino is like a stroll on memory lane, featuring bands such as Air Supply, America, Creedence Clearwater Revisited (instead of Revival), and KC and the Sunshine Band.

In the world of entertainment, producers have definitely been targeting at and marketing to the boomers. Even Steve Coogan, the British screenwriter and filmmaker who is famous for his “Trip” travelogues, has just turned 50 and joined the league of boomers. His latest film, The Trip to Spain, is full of self-deprecating humour about insecurities and aging. We boomers obviously look forward to seeing more quality and inspiring entertainment coming our way. Unfortunately, Beautiful‘s extended run in Toronto will end on September 3. In the meantime, we are anticipating another musical, the revival of The King and I – undoubtedly another popular hit with boomer audiences – which will be in a Mirvish theatre next summer.

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Aging Population A Blessing Instead Of A Burden

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It’s encouraging to see that The Economist has been focusing more on the positive aspects of aging populations in the last few years. As recently as three years ago in April 2014, the publication has dedicated a cover story to “A Billion Shades of Grey,” advocating changes in government policies to help accommodate the aging population. But the tone of that cover issue was more doom and gloom than positive – the concern about economic stagnation caused by the huge wave of baby boomers’ retirement was loud and clear in that story.

Then, in the April 9, 2016 edition of The Economist, the tone has become more positive with the article titled, “Older Consumers Will Reshape The Business Landscape.” The article advocated that companies should speed up in targeting this expanding “grey” market and cited examples of businesses around the world with innovative ideas appealing to older consumers. I’ve also echoed this view with my blog post last year titled, “Marketers Gradually Understand Potential Of Boomers.

So I read with great delight the Special Report on The Economics Of Longevity in the July 8-14, 2017 issue of The Economist again. The report has basically argued that “if employers, businesses and financial services adapt to make far more of such people (the older population), big economic benefits for everyone could follow.” Employers need to change their attitudes towards older employees – ageist recruitment practices need to be discarded and corporate cultures have to change. Instead of reducing productivity and, therefore, hurting the economy, academics have found that older people in multi-generation teams tend to boost the productivity of those around them, and such mixed teams perform better than younger, single-generation ones.

The publication also argued that the second thing that needs to happen is for the benefits of longer, healthier lives to be spread much more equitably. There is currently too much of a gap between the rich and the poor among the older generation, and the best way to resolve this issue is for governments to invest in public health, offer universal access to healthcare and provide high-quality education for everyone. Although the report cited Canada as a good example of a country that manages to attach great importance to such matters, we see and read Canadian media reports everyday that lament how the older generation has not saved enough and cannot afford to retire.

I believe there is a third thing that needs to change: the marketing community and the media need to direct their energy and attention to the greying population. Over the last decade, there has been lacklustre progress in marketing to older people because this is not perceived as sexy. Young people continue to dominate marketing departments and think that the best place for the old is out of sight, out of mind. Although change is in the air, it is not happening fast enough. From aging rockers such as The Rolling Stones who can still fill huge concert arenas; to recent retirees who take on second careers as giggers and entrepreneurs; to older consumers who display young and active tastes in adventure travel and dating websites, “the new old” is defying old age and refusing to disappear into their sunset years.

In fact, The Economist is asking for a new branding of those over 65 but not yet elderly. The youngest Canadian boomers turn 51 and the oldest turn 70 this year. I used to call those people aged 65-70 “leading-edge boomers” and the younger ones “trailing-edge boomers”. But, perhaps, the marketing community can put their heads together and start coining a sexier term. Don’t call this group seniors although they are technically senior citizens. Baby boomers are starting to retire in large numbers in better health and with more money to spend than any previous generations. We feel much younger than our parents did at their age, and most of us have no intention of quietly disappearing from the world. The sooner the market can respond to this huge opportunity, the better our economy will be.

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Increase In Cancer Rates Shocks Canadians

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A new report released last month by the Canadian Cancer Society, in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada, predicted that almost one in every two Canadians is expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and one in four Canadians will die from the disease. The charitable organization indicated that the latest statistics show that cancer is now the leading cause of death in Canada.

According to the Society’s epidemiologist and one of the report’s authors, Dr. Leah Smith, currently every year there is an increase in the number of cancer cases in Canada. “So between now and 2030, for example, we expect to continue to see a dramatic increase in the number of cancers diagnosed in Canada. The lifetime risk (an individual’s likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives) for Canadian men is 49 percent, while it sits at 45 percent for women.

Dr. Smith also said that these statistics are a reflection of the aging and growing population. “About 90 percent of all the cancers that we expect to be diagnosed in 2017 will be among Canadians 50 years of age and older.” About 45 percent of those cases will occur in people aged 70 and older, said Dr. Smith, noting that as more people move into old age, the number of cancer cases will rise.

The Cancer Society’s report also showed that lung cancer is the most commonly-diagnosed cancer overall, making up 14 percent of all diagnoses, followed by colorectal, breast and prostate cancers. Lung cancer is also the leading cause of cancer deaths among Canadians. Of the four top cancer killers, pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate at only eight percent. It’s anticipated to be the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in Canada.

Canadians, both young and old, were shocked to hear this bad news. According to a report by Global News, the numbers seem shocking and alarming but it’s reminding Canadians how many people will be touched by cancer. The Cancer Society also said that it takes a huge toll on individuals who have a cancer diagnosis, on their loved ones and on the healthcare system.

In the past three years, I’ve lost at least three boomer friends to cancer. In spite of the sobering statistics, the good news is that overall cancer survival rates have increased: in the 1940s, only 25 percent of Canadians survived their diagnoses, but now 60 percent do. Some cancers, like thyroid and testicular, have five-year survival rates of over 90 percent.

What can we do to reduce our risk of cancer? In addition to regular check-ups and cancer screens, we can focus on a healthier lifestyle by avoiding tobacco, excessive drinking, eating well, exercising, maintaining a healthy body weight and practising sun safety.

We can only do our best because unfortunately some cancers are just unavoidable. According to a new research at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, only about 42 percent of cancers are preventable. Using health records from 69 countries, the scientists of this study concluded that 66 percent of cancer-causing genetic mutations arise from the “bad luck” of a healthy dividing cell making a random mistake when it copies its DNA. About 29 percent are due to the environment and the remaining five percent are due to heredity. These numbers also vary depending on the type of cancer, the authors of this research found. At least 60 percent of mutations triggering skin and lung cancer are due to the environment, they calculate, compared with 15 percent or less in prostate, bone, brain and breast cancers. The bad news is that most mutations arise naturally and there is nothing people can do. The causes of cancer are complex and until more breakthrough research results tell us more, let’s try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and live life to its fullest.

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Sanctuary Cruise Recommended For Adventurous Boomers

Photo Credit: E. Pang

Photo Credit: E. Pang

I thought my third and final blog post on my recent travels should summarize my experience with the cruise ship, Oceania Riviera, built in 2012 and renovated in July 2016. I’ve sailed with many luxury cruise lines before but Oceania’s Sanctuary Tours Voyage was my maiden sailing with this cruise company, billed as “the world’s largest luxury cruise line featuring the finest cuisine at sea”. Oceania, together with Regent Seven Seas Cruises, is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line. I would recommend this cruise to my fellow boomers because The Riviera is beautiful and spacious; the itinerary was meticulously designed and well organized; and the overall 10-day cruise offered much value-for-money.

I was, first and foremost, impressed by the efficiency and personalized welcome upon check-in and embarkation at Port Piraeus in Athens, Greece. My travel companions and I were probably among the earliest passengers to embark – there was no line-up and two Oceania staff members took us through the check-in procedure and escorted us to the ship in no time.

The Riviera is quite stunning in many ways. Its interior design is a masterpiece created by the renowned ship designers, Yran and Storbraaten, the same Norwegian architects who designed the Disney ships, several Silverseas and Regent Seven Seas vessels. The grand lobby on Deck 5, where the main reception is located, features a magnificent Lalique Grand Staircase which is perfect for a showstopping entrance or photography. My 282-square-foot verandah stateroom is very spacious, particularly after paying a 100 percent single supplement to enjoy what is usually a double-occupancy room. Each suite includes a plush seating area with flat-screen television offering satellite news and programming; a refrigerated mini-bar with free and unlimited soft drinks and bottled water; a spacious closet and a marble and granite-clad bathroom with a full-size bath tub and a separate shower stall. Furnished in Ralph Lauren Home, the room features a King Prestige Tranquility Bed which is exclusive to the cruise line, with 1,000-thread-count linens. All bathroom amenities are Bulgari and thick cotton robes and slippers are, of course, provided to guests as well. There is also a complimentary 24-hour room service and Belgian chocolates are served with nightly turn-down service.

The rooms are sufficiently sound-proof and even for a light sleeper like me, I had to admit that I slept very well throughout the voyage. I was very happy with the duo-housekeeping team members assigned to my room. They were fast, efficient, very professional and clean. I was also impressed with the ship’s room service as I’ve relied on them for breakfast at the crack of dawn for at least half of my time on the voyage – particularly when I had to optimize every minute in the morning to get ready and catch the bus for the shore excursions departing from Haifa, Israel. Even though there was no hot food, the continental breakfast was sumptuous and delicious. A duty attendant from the kitchen would always call me 15 minutes prior to my scheduled delivery time to announce that somebody was on the way with my breakfast. I usually do not like any food odour in my room, but I made an exception on this cruise and was immensely satisfied with the efficiency and punctuality of their service.

With a total of 1,250 passengers on board based on double occupancy, The Riviera’s layout was very carefully designed and built as I’ve never felt claustrophobic nor crowded even during our two full days at sea. There are at least eight dining venues all of which were tastefully designed with an understated elegance. Two of them offer casual buffets and the rest of the six are gourmet restaurants with no surcharge.

As part of Oceania’s offering, we  had had a choice of four free shore excursions, a ship board credit or a wine package. Since my group of five was quite adventurous, we all picked the first option and ended up participating in the shore excursions of Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee; a day in Jerusalem and Bethlehem; Jerusalem Old City; and Pafos and Kourion in Limassol, Cyprus. Billed as the “Sanctuary Tours” Voyage, the highlights were, of course, the three full days in Haifa/Jerusalem, Israel. All the shore excursions were extremely well organized and included buffet lunches in a hotel or local restaurant. Cruise expeditions usually present a wide range of tour guides in terms of quality, but we found all our guides to be extremely knowledgeable and professional. Unfortunately, stormy weather in Patmos, Greece – supposedly our first stop on our itinerary – led to a cancellation of our visit ashore and we ended up spending an extra day cruising the Mediterranean Sea instead. Even though we did not participate in any formal shore excursions after Israel and Cyprus, the other stops on our itinerary – the Greek islands of Rhodes, Santorini and Mykonos – all offered us breathtaking scenery for casual expeditions, local food samplings and artsy photography.

Prior to my commitment to this voyage, I’ve heard many friends raving about this cruise line’s food. As a “five-and-a-half-star” cruise line, Oceania’s epicurean offerings in all its specialty dining rooms have met our expectations. Even the casual Terrace Cafe and Waves Restaurant, which prepared buffet-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners, offered diversity and creativity in addition to the quality and flavours of the cooking and the freshness of the ingredients. With our proximity to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, seafood, naturally, became the main attraction. From the lobster dishes at the Polo Grill; to the jumbo shrimp and lightly-breaded calamari at Toscana; to the French signature dishes at Jacques, designed by the renowned master chef Jacques Pepin at his first namesake restaurant on a cruise line; to the daily different European-inspired menus offered at my personal favourite, the splendid and handsomely decorated Grand Dining Room, there was always a choice of at least 10 appetizers, soups and salads and 12 entrees at dinner. The quantity and quality of the food were probably the reason why I’ve gained four pounds immediately after the cruise.

The weakest link among all the specialty restaurants was, in my opinion, The Red Ginger, which offered an Asian-fusion cuisine. The ambiance looked great with plenty of Asian touches, but the food was, at best, mediocre. The disproportionate heights of the chairs and tables made it extremely uncomfortable to maintain a proper posture while dining; and one of the servers almost burned my friend’s hands while pouring hot tea.

According to vacationstogo.com and galaxsea.com, Oceania belongs to the Deluxe Class, often ranked as a five-and-a-half-star cruise line – one class below the top-of-the-line Luxury Class or six-star cruise lines including Regent Seven Seas, Silversea and Seabourn. Then comes the Premium Class or five-star cruise lines including Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Cunard and Norwegian. What differentiates a six-star from a five-and-a-half-star cruise line often lies in the attention to detail. Having sailed with both Seabourn and Silversea, I rate Oceania’s food as better than Silversea but inferior to Seabourn’s. Here, the challenging ‘C’ word comes to play in the hospitality industry – to really excel as the finest cuisine of any cruise ship, hotel or restaurant, consistency becomes the key yardstick. The food and service have to be consistently top-quality in all restaurants, for all courses and at all times on the cruise ship! And consistency, particularly in service, was what The Riviera lacked.

I was initially very impressed with the Polo Grill when dark napkins were offered to match our black pants or dresses. You could, of course, imagine my disappointment when we dined at the other specialty restaurants and this great attention to detail was entirely overlooked. Such examples were ample throughout our sailing: the high tea served at Horizons every afternoon at 4 p.m. featured instant tea bags instead of loose leaves; The Canyon Ranch, supposedly one of the best spas in North America, often mixed up pre-booked appointments and made no attempts at offering beverages on each of my three hair appointments; staff at the Deck 5 reception desk lacked a smile on their faces almost at all times; and wait staff in a few restaurants often looked stressed and unhappy. When the laundry/ironing service damaged a small part of my friend’s dress, the staff blamed it on the garment’s “defect” instead of apologizing and owning up to their mistake.

Having said that, I would still recommend Oceania’s “Sanctuary Tours” voyage to my fellow boomers. Oceania does include more “Port Time” than most of its rivals and the itinerary to Israel on The Riviera is a ‘must’ for all boomers’ bucket lists. The cruise line offers unlimited internet access for passengers who want to be connected  with the rest of the world while sailing – but be forewarned that depending on your itinerary, the internet can be very slow at times, particularly when everybody is at sea. The respected and ad-free U.S. website cruisetruth.com, devoted exclusively to the world’s top 10 cruise lines, ranked Oceania as number nine on its most recent list updated on November 24, 2016. Should you want upper-end premium quality, good food, country-club casual attire, classy and subdued entertainment, and enough time in port to explore and experience, without paying at the price point of the six-star lines, this is the right cruise for you.

Cruise vacations used to be popular primarily among senior citizens and boomers, but according to a recent report by the largest industry trade group, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the number of global cruise passengers is set to rise again in 2017 after several years of consecutive growth. One of the reasons for this anticipated increase in the cruise business is because of a rising interest from millennials and generation X travelers. The Association’s survey found that these younger cohorts rate cruise travel as better than land-based vacations, all-inclusive resorts, tours, vacation house rentals or camping.

Even though younger people seem to start sharing our interest in cruise travel, our “Sanctuary Tours” Cruise still attracted more smartly-dressed boomers than millennials. And because the shore excursions to The Holy Land required some strenuous walking, there were also fewer elderly passengers than I expected. No matter what age demographic, cruise travel is now more popular than ever. Perhaps, young and old alike, people are starting to appreciate French explorer Jacques Cousteau’s famous words: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Happy sailing this summer!

 

 

 

 

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Virgin Mary: An Icon of Purity, Wonder and Empowerment

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My second blog post on my cruise to Israel focuses on our shore excursion to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee with a brief stopover in Haifa. April 24, the day of our excursion, happened to be Israel’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day and we were forewarned by our tour guide not to panic when we heard the five-minute siren (two minutes across the rest of the country) that wailed across the city in remembrance of the Holocaust’s 6 million Jewish victims. The siren actually gave me goosebumps when our tour bus pulled over and stopped to pay homage to the victims of the Nazi genocide, in which a third of the world’s Jewish people was annihilated.

I was quite surprised at the beauty of Haifa, our cruise ship’s port of call and the third largest city in Israel. The city is a major seaport located on Israel’s Mediterranean coastline in the Bay of Haifa and lies about 90 kilometres north of Tel Aviv. Most sea ports look very industrial but Haifa is beautiful with its tranquil and picturesque residential neighbourhoods, cafes, beaches and the renowned Baha’i Gardens and the Baha’i World Centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Baha’i pilgrims pay tribute and homage. Fellow boomers might be interested to know that towards the end of the 20th century and the beginning of this century, the city had a declining and aging population compared to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as young people moved to the centre of the country for education and jobs. However, as a result of new projects and improving infrastructure, Haifa managed to reverse its population decline, reducing emigration while attracting more internal migration into the city and metamorphosed from a fishing village to a major sea port and an important regional economic centre of northern Israel.

Our tour guide also told us that Haifa is home to Israel’s first university – the Technion (also known as Israel’s MIT) – which was founded in 1912 and is associated with three Nobel laureates. The other internationally-acclaimed university in the city is the University of Haifa on the top of Mount Carmel (a sacred location associated with Prophet Elijah in the Bible) which is famous for its research and development studies. Unlike Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Haifa is considered a relative haven for coexistence between Jews and Arabs. Perhaps, the common Israeli saying, “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv plays,” best characterizes the three largest cities in Israel.

Our next stop was Nazareth – the Virgin Mary’s hometown where Jesus spent his childhood and young adulthood until about the age of 30. I was in awe of the Basilica of the Annunciation, one of Christendom’s most revered shrines and the largest church in the Middle East. The Basilica was built on the same site where the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Apart from admiring the architectural wonder of its 170-foot-high cupola that rises high above the upper church, we also saw the mesmerizing altar, which incorporates a portion of the grotto where Mary had lived. What left a lasting impression for me were the 43 colourful national mosaics, in the entrance courtyard and on the walls of the Upper Church, made and sent by Christian communities from all over the world. Every artwork depicts Mary in the traditional national dress of the countries and reflects the characteristics of the contributing nation. For example, the Japanese Madonna and baby Jesus look like a Japanese mother and child dressed in beautiful, rich-coloured kimonos while baby Jesus from Columbia looks South American.

My most favourite mosaic is the national rendition of Mary from the U.S.A. as shown in the photo on this blog post –  I think the U.S. Christian community absolutely contemporarized their image of Mary, making her an empowered feminist and a wonder woman. It was fascinating to witness the power and influence of Mary via the individual interpretations of Mary by each Christian country. The Blessed Virgin Mary, who gave birth to the Messiah via Immaculate Conception, was one of the greatest mysteries in Catholic faith. When Mary said Yes to Angel Gabriel, human history was forever changed. That’s why I think the U.S. national rendition of Mary best represents the Mother of God as a woman of deep, living faith and a woman of prayer and purity. The depiction was also one of empowerment because through her, she not only gave birth to the Messiah in her womb, but she empowered all of us to receive the birth of Jesus in each and every one of us.

From the Basilica of the Annunciation, we drove through Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. We then arrived at Tabgha, where he later multiplied the loaves and fishes. Living through the Bible, one could almost imagine oneself amongst the crowd on the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached the famous sermon on the mountain. Our visit to the Yardenit baptismal site where the River Jordan separates from the Sea of Galilee was equally memorable. In this naturally scenic and symbolic setting, we pictured Jesus’s baptism in the River Jordan where pilgrims from around the world come to perform baptismal ceremonies.

According to the Scriptures, Nazareth, during Jesus’s childhood, was a traders’ town and was, therefore, notorious for its “wickedness”. However, Jesus was not influenced by the “sin” around him and was able to devote himself fully to God and to a life of righteousness. Even though the people of his hometown twice rejected Jesus during his adulthood, he was still known as Jesus of Nazareth. It gave me immense satisfaction to have visited this small town where “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour of God and men,” according to Luke.

From the birthplace of Jesus to his hometown where he grew up and formed his character, to the city where he suffered, was crucified and buried, I’ve fulfilled one of the common goals of baby boomers – an insatiable desire to learn – via this trip. Upon this education by travel, I felt enriched and enlightened by this first experience with Israel and look forward to returning again in the near future to explore Tel Aviv, Jordan and the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.

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