When the press release arrived, we practically fell over ourselves, reaching for the phone to call for reservations. A Friday aftenroon tea party at the Ritz-Carlton, with members of the cast of the touring production of Mary Poppins, currently in residence at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe?
How perfect! We already had tickets to see the show the very next day.
In many ways, the tea party (held February 19) didn't disappoint -- not one bit. We've been to tea several times at the Ritz. In fact, New Times has long been a big fan of Jeffrey Hattrick, who presides as tea master.
But we must admit that our experience at the Ritz last week did leave us with a bad taste in our mouths -- and not just from Jeffrey's "spring" tea, which tasted oddly (not in a good way) like chicken soup.
(More photos and the details after the jump.)
As always, the Ritz was an absolutely lovely place to have tea -- plush upholstery, beautiful china, fancy paintings; indeed, it was a nice setting in which to meet the Mary Poppins cast. A half dozen or so actors not only stood up before the group, but actually made the rounds to each table, sitting down to talk for a good bit.
Caroline Sheen, who hails from Wales and plays the lead role, was a doll -- chatting, sipping tea and literally letting a snot-nosed 6-year-old crawl all over her, without batting a pretty eye.
After the meet and greet (and autographs and photos), the cast members charmed the crowd with a rendition of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
The company and entertainment were spectactular, which might be why the rest of the experience felt so lacking by comparsion.
The food was pretty much the usual complement of finger sandwiches and tea (no complaints, and it was understandable that with a larger-than-usual crowd and the cast to tend to, there was no time to consult the tea menu, and the "winter" tea blend was quite good), followed by scones and pastries, complete with cute fondant (or were they modeling chocolate? The Cake Boss fans at our table weren't sure) Poppins-esque umbrellas.
That was the good. Now for the bad.
These days, not everyone can digest fig and mascarpone, or even chicken salad, which is why we'd discreetly called ahead to alert the staff that we did indeed have a delicate stomach in our party. Jeffrey quietly mentioned when we checked in that he'd had the kitchen prepare a salad and fruit for that individual. Yet that food never arrived. Finally, we made hand signals and stage-whispered to our waiter that a certain someone was expecting someone different, and he turned to that person and (in front of strangers seated with us) asked, "OH, ARE YOU THE LACTOSE INTOLERANT ONE?" loudly enough for even neighboring tables to hear.
The waiter did bring a small salad, but nothing else ever followed; we were afraid to bring it up again.
At these prices, you'd expect better. Speaking of which, things got downright awkward when it came time to pay the bill. Now, as we mentioned, we've been to tea at the Ritz before. So we know it's typically $35 a person, no matter the age. But this event had been advertised at a bargain rate -- $35 for adults, $17 for kids.
When the bill arrived, we noticed we'd been charged $35 each, regardless of age. We were discussing this amongst ourselves when a kind woman at another table overheard, pulled a sheet of paper with the prices from her purse and handed it to us.
Jeffrey didn't seem too pleased to see this; perhaps no one ever showed him the press release, which did come from Gammage, rather than from the Ritz. In any case, his reaction was -- well, let's just say it was a little less than perfect. Ultimately, he did change our bill. We don't know if anyone else's was changed -- and there were others there with kids. We promised to show Jeffrey the actual press release later.
Our party left feeling awkward (with one of us hungry, on top of that) but the unpleasant feelings melted when we settled in at Gammage the next day and watched the 6-year-old watch her "friend" Mary Poppins onstage. She hasn't stopped talking about it since.
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The Mary Poppins tea won't happen again this week, but you can still have tea at the Ritz any time (just confirm the price ahead of time, is our advice, and be pushy if you've been promised special food); and you can still get tickets to see Caroline Sheen and the rest of those lovely folks perform in Mary Poppins through February 28.
Oh, and for the record, here's that press release:
From: Dana McGuinness Dana.McGuinness@asu.edu>
Date: Wed, 10 Feb 2010 14:21:16 -0700
Conversation: A PRACTICALLY PERFECT TEA PARTY WITH 'MARY POPPINS'
Subject: A PRACTICALLY PERFECT TEA PARTY WITH 'MARY POPPINS'
THE RITZ-CARLTON, PHOENIX AND ASU GAMMAGE PRESENT
A PRACTICALLY PERFECT TEA PARTY WITH 'MARY POPPINS'
WHAT: A Tea Party with the cast of Disney's MARY POPPINS
Ever wish you could have tea with Mary Poppins like Jane and Michael Banks? Guests of The Ritz-Carlton Phoenix afternoon tea will have this exclusive chance. Of course this tea party will not be located on the ceiling, but the guests get to meet to the stars of Disney's stage production of MARY POPPINS.
Caroline Sheen "Mary Poppins", Laird Mackintosh "George Banks", Blythe Wilson "Winifred Banks" and Mary VanArsdel "Bird Woman" will enjoy afternoon tea with all the Poppins fixings like chocolate kites, umbrella teacakes and fruit tarts. Guests will also receive a Poppins gift bag, a chance to win a grand prize including four tickets to the show and an exclusive opportunity to meet the cast.
Combining the best of the original stories by P. L. Travers and the beloved Walt Disney film, the Tony® Award-winning MARY POPPINS is everything you'd hope for in a Broadway musical--and more. Produced by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, the show includes such wonderful songs as Chim Chim Cher-ee, A Spoonful of Sugar, Let's Go Fly a Kite and, of course, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
WHEN: Practically Perfect Tea Party will be held on Friday, February 19 from 12 to 2 p.m.
MARY POPPINS runs at ASU Gammage February 12-28, 2010.
WHERE: The Ritz- Carlton, Phoenix, 2401 East Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85016
COST: $35 for adults and $17 for children
Tickets to MARY POPPINS range from $23.25 to $81
INFO: For more information about the Tea and to make a reservation, please call 602.468.0700
For tickets to the show visit the ASU Gammage box office or call 1.800.982.ARTS