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How Glenn Casale helped “The Little Mermaid” find her feet after this Disney stage show stumbled on Broadway

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It took the stage version of Disney's "The Little
Mermaid" quite a while to finally find its sea legs.

When the original Broadway production opened at the
Lunt-Fontanne Theater back in January of 2008, the critics were not kind. Ben
Brantley of the New York Times was particularly vicious, calling
"Mermaid" an " … unfocused spectacle" which saddled its
cast with " … ungainly guess-what-I-am costumes" and then forced
them to perform in front of " … a distracting set."

So when the Broadway version of "The Little
Mermaid" closed on August 30, 2009 after a relatively short run of just 50
previews & 685 performances, the general consensus seemed to be that it was
this show's creative decisions (EX: That most of "Mermaid" 's sets
would be made out of translucent plastic. Or — in order to simulate swimming
— the bulk of the cast would skate around the stage on Heelys) that had sunk
the show. Given that the audience still walked out humming the tunes that Alan
Menken
& Howard Ashman had originally written for Disney's 1989 animated
feature … Well, pundits placed the blame for "Mermaid" 's misfire
on first-time-Broadway-director Francesca Zambello. Who had taken what should
have been a hugely successful screen-to-stage transfer and then muddied the
water with a lot of operatic artifice.


The original Broadway company of Disney's "The Little
Mermaid." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Enter Glenn Casale. Who — thanks to a production of Disney's
"Beauty and the Beast" that he staged up in Boston back in 2004 which
then put a dark, romantic spin on this family musical — had become Disney
Theatrical's go-to guy when it came to reinventing / reimagining their shows.
And given that the original Broadway version of "Mermaid" had tanked so
spectacularly (which meant that Disney Theatrical then couldn't really send a
clone of this show out on the road for a promised national tour), Glenn was
given free rein to reinvent this show for its Dutch production. Which opened in
May of 2012 at Martini Plaza
in Groningen.

And Glen did in fact radically reimagine the stage version
of "The Little Mermaid." Casale not only ditched the bulk of
Zambello's design conceits, he also made significant changes to this show's
book and score. Doing things like tossing out Ursula's original introductory
song, "I Want the Good Times Back," to make room for a new number,
"Daddy's Little Angel." Which did a far better job of setting up the
Sea Witch's back story / giving Ursula a far better reason to want to go after
King Triton (SPOILER ALERT: In the stage musical version of "Mermaid,"
Triton & Ursula are brother & sister. And as the children of Poseidon,
God of the Sea … Well, Triton was the one who was ultimately chosen to rule
the waves. Which left Ursula with some pretty significant Daddy issues).

Glenn also ditched all of the Heelys that the Broadway cast
of "Mermaid" had worn. This time around, if any undersea creatures
needed to swim, they were flown around & above the stage via wirework.
These seemingly simple choices — though they make look small —  resulted in a far more satisfying, much more
popular stage version of "Mermaid." So much so that the original cast
recording for the Dutch version of this musical (which was produced by Stage
Entertainment
) actually wound up as the No. 3 best selling recording on that
country's Album Top 100 chart back in 2012.


Ariel sports an unusual hairdo in the Dutch company of Disney's "The Little Mermaid."

Which — you'd think — would then be the end of Casale's
involvement with the reinvention of the stage version of Disney's "The
Little Mermaid." But that's where you'd be wrong. For in July of that same
year, Glenn was hired by California Musical Theatre to direct yet another
production of this show. And this time around, "Mermaid" was to be
presented in the round.

Casale made further refinements to "Mermaid" as he
worked with the cast at Sacramento's
Wells Fargo Pavilion. And the Music Circus production of this show was so well
received that — less than a year later — Glenn found himself at the Paper Mill
Playhouse
in Millburn, NJ.
Where he then directed a production of "The Little Mermaid" which
went off on a mini-tour, spending May 29th – June 30th in New
Jersey, July 9th – 21st at the Pittsburgh Civic Light
Opera
and July 22rd – 28th at the Kansas City Starlight.

And the best part of this story is that all of the big
changes & small tweaks that Glenn Casale has made to "The Little
Mermaid" have now been incorporated in the official version of this show
that Disney Theatrical licenses for regional & professional productions. So
from here in on, if you see a stage version of Disney's "The Little
Mermaid," it's not the Francesca Zambello version. You're seeing the
"Mermaid" that Glenn cobbled together after mounting multiple
productions of this show. And this version of "Mermaid" actually plays
down the idea that Ariel is some Disney Princess and instead makes this
character a young girl who is different from the rest of her family. And to
further complicate this situation / make this musical more relatable to modern
audiences, the show then saddles Ariel with a single father who really doesn't
understand her wants & desires.


The cast of the Papermill Playhouse production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid"
gathers onstage to see Ariel & Prince Eric off as they sail into the sunset.

That seemingly simple readjustment of this musical's central
story point — making "The Little Mermaid" less about Ariel longing
to be with Prince Eric and more about King Triton and his headstrong daughter.
More importantly, how he learns to understand Ariel and finally support her
dreams — has made a world of difference when it comes to the way audiences now
react to the stage version of "Mermaid." "Fathers now come up to
me after the show and tell me how moved they were," Casale admitted during a
recent interview.

Sadly, all of the changes that Glenn made to "The Little
Mermaid" have not made the stage version of this Academy Award-winning
Disney film any easier to produce. Take — for example — what Bill Hanney, the
owner of the North Shore Music Theater in Beverly,
MA had to go through once he decided to do
this show part of that theater's Summer 2014 season.

"'Mermaid' was a big production for us. And given that
we do all of our shows here at North Shore
in the round, we don't have the luxury that most proscenium theaters do. We
can't use huge sets or props to set the stage, create Ariel's world. Otherwise
half of our audience wouldn't be able to see this show," Hanney explained.
"Which is why — for our version of 'The Little Mermaid' — we decided to
go all out on the costumes. Show the audience all of the fanciful &
colorful sea creatures that are Ariel's friends. Kurt Algar designed some
amazing outfits for this show. Which especially look great when we're flying
Ariel & Scuttle right above the heads of our audience. And then when you
factor in Howard C. Jones's clever sets … Well, I guess that I like best
about our version of 'The Little Mermaid' is that the story is front and
center."


The North Shore Music Theater's in-the-round production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid"
uses elaborate costumes & lighting effects to make up for the spare scenery.

And clearly the critics up in Massachusetts
approve of what Hanney and his team have done with "The Little
Mermaid." The Boston Globe called this North Shore Music Theater
production " … an engaging adaptation of the beloved film" while
Wicked Local said that this show was " … a visual and vocal feast."

Mind you, if you miss out on the North Shore Music Theater's production of
"The Little Mermaid" (which presents its last performance on July
27th), not to worry. Thanks to Glenn Casale's hard work, there are versions of
this once-troubled Disney Theatrical production popping up all over the country
this year. In fact, yet another Glenn Casale-directed version was presented at Atlanta's
Fox Theatre
earlier this month. And the Tuacahn
Center for the Arts' 2011
production of this show proved to be so popular with Utah
residents that — just three short years later — this theater brought "Mermaid"
back and is presenting performances now through October 18th.

Of course, the version of this show that's currently being
presented at the Tuacahn Amphitheatre is the one that Casale course-corrected.
As was the version of "Mermaid" which recently closed in Moscow
at the Rossiya Theatre. Not to mention the Japanese production which is still
running at the Shiki Theatre Natsu in Tokyo.


The Japanese production of "The Little Mermaid" borrowed many of the design
conceits & costume ideas from the Dutch production of this Disney musical.

So on behalf of all the Ariel fans out there, I'd like to
thank Glenn Casale for helping "The Little Mermaid" to finally find
her feet after this show stumbled on Broadway.

This story originally appeared on the Huffington Post's Entertainment page on July 23, 2014

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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