Thursday, October 9, 2014

It’s a Helluva Town!

We continued our annual tradition started two years before, but skipped the previous year to go to Disney World

I believe I may have lost some folks on that one.

Let me try again:
We took Anabelle to her second Broadway show for her birthday.

The planning started much later than recommended for attending this sort of thing. For a change this time, the reason wasn’t, “Because it’s us.”

Our initial thought was to walk around in New York City, and maybe take advantage of the discount ticket kiosk for shows that day.

A little research and experience provided me with the following knowledge:

A) The Disney and other (Wicked) shows that we were most interested in almost never show up at the discount kiosk.

B) Getting a decent choice of seats from the kiosk requires showing up before it opens. This is not one of our better skills.

C) Most of the other shows had discount codes available online.

Knowing how little patience we have when embedded in giant crowds such as those walking around New York City, I pushed for pre ordering tickets to something.

Also, despite the fact I will point out the awesomeness of Disney at a near constant pace, I wanted my daughter to understand there is an inherent and fantastical Broadway awesomeness independent of Disney awesomeness.

I learned of this when I saw Les Miserables in a previous life.  I didn’t expect to like it and was totally blown away by how much I enjoyed it and became emotionally involved in it.

(No, I’m straight…shut up.)

I got a discount ticket e-mail for the new version of the Barricade Bunch and tried to convince my family to want to see it. 

I failed. 

Since much of it would still go over Anabelle’s head, I didn’t try too hard.

We checked out several possibilities, and ended up finding sale price box seats for the previews of On the Town.  First put on in 1944, the 1971 and 1998 revivals both lasted less than a hundred performances.  The culture now, in the post Producers Broadway, seems more likely to embrace a classic show though. (He said, as if he had the slightest clue what he was talking about.)

We left the house on time.

That would be impressive for us, except that we meant to leave extra early to look around Times Square before the show.  There was some “shoe issue” that had been brewing for several days. I am told similar issues will only get worse as we approach the teen years.

Heavy checking of maps jarred my memory to get us directly to the Hoboken parking garage across the street from the Path station I’d always used, thereby avoiding the fiasco of the previous attempt.  However, I had all my muscles clenched in nervousness in fear of messing up again while passing along the edge of the Steven’s campus.  I was barely able to bend my knees once we parked the car.

Exiting the familiar metal grate door near the Enterprise counter, we detoured a block for a brief photo op of the Manhattan skyline across the Hudson before descending into the station. I proudly pulled out the Metro card I saved from the last trip to add the day’s fares to it. 

I gave my family quite a good laugh when it didn’t fit into the machine. 

I gave them an even longer laugh when I finally figured out I had to touch the screen first to get the machine to open the slot to accept my card.  The laugh continued when it informed me the card had expired and issued me a new one.  I swallowed my pride, inserted the new card back into the machine, and filled it with money for the trips back and forth under the Hudson.

At first I thought the Path fare had gone up to twenty dollars one way. However, it was only a clever system they’ve installed.  The turn style won’t spin unless the Metro card is removed from the slot.  While this didn’t allow my plan of leaving the card in place for each of us as we each passed through, it probably keeps a great many commuters a day from leaving their card behind.

After an uneventful train ride, unless you count Rosa and Anabelle scoring seats when some riders got off on Christopher Street, we emerged from below the Manhattan Mall to come out near Macy’s.  As with every other time we’ve been there, I pointed out the location where the Thanksgiving Parade is filmed.  We haven’t been often enough for my daughter to roll her eyes at me when I do this, but it’s getting close.

As we started heading Uptown, a woman tripped over the curb, dropping her purse and shopping bag.  Surrounded by stereotypical “rude, thoughtless and selfish” New Yorkers, she was immediately assisted from all sides.  Once we all made sure she was all right, we helped her up, returned her bags, and watched closely as she continued on her way.

Just because people are loud and in a hurry, doesn’t mean they can’t be polite, helpful and friendly.

For the first time I finally remembered the exact location and name of the pizza place I’ve stopped at before every single show I’ve seen in New York. This includes both Broadway and the occasional skating show in Madison Square Garden

(...shut up.)
Yay, Go me!

Lunch at Pronto Pizza on 36th and Broadway was everything New York Pizza is advertised as. It’s one of the few places worth forgetting about my cardiac issues to enjoy a couple of slices.  Since it was Manhattan, the guys behind the counter in the heavily Italian decorated joint immediately began speaking Spanish to Rosa, allowing her to quickly replace her selection of the sold out pepperoni rolls with buffalo chicken pieces for her and Anabelle. The buffalo sauce didn’t quite measure up to Denville Pizzeria.  Lesson learned in sticking with a location's specialty.

After eating, we peeked quickly into Times Square before turning down 42nd street toward the Lyric Theater.  It used to be the Foxwood, and a few other things. Multiple renovations made it hard to check seating layouts online. It shouldn’t have, because the renovations didn’t seem to affect the seat locations.  Thanks to the usual accuracy of internet information, this wasn’t readily apparent in any of our research.  Maybe they’re just hoping to forget the whole Spider-man Turn off the Dark thing.

On our approach to the theater entrance, Rosa noticed the tickets said we should enter through the fancy new lobby on 43rd street.  We stopped, reversed course, passed through the Times Square mob, and walked down the next block. 

On that street, the doors were locked.  A helpful usher opened one a smidge to tell us they would open at 2PM.  That would be “Showtime” to us lay people.  When I brought this up, he informed us the show usually started late. He also mentioned he thought the Box Office entrance on 42nd street was open.

We stopped, reversed course, passed through the Times Square mob, and walked down the previous block.  There we could enter the theater, along with the giant line of people who apparently hadn’t read their tickets as closely as we had.  We reached the lobby behind that crowd, amazingly for us, well before the 2PM Showtime.   To continue with our usual timing, people were freely and easily being admitted through the 43rd Street entrance by that point.

The play was in Previews having only started the week before and scheduled to fully open October 16th.  Translation: taking time before the critics review it because what may work anywhere else in the world still may not make the cut in the Special Place that is the Great White Way.

(…shut up.)

The programs hadn’t been printed yet. This is a shame as it would have been nice to get a program with the pictures of the people we actually saw, instead of whoever was in the show years before we got around to going.  As a souvenir Anabelle instead picked out an On the Town sailor hat, which we would discover in a couple of hours was a much better choice than a die cast taxi.

The playbills were printed and Anabelle immediately recognized Eloise Kropp (she's in the Ensemble and the "Shawl Girl" plus an understudy for Claire) as Patty from the Papermill Playhouse Grease, without that show listed under her picture. Anabelle also picked her out of three identically dressed school girls on stage.

The kid's got a far better eye for this stuff than I do.

For the sports fans out there, the box seats were not glassed in and supplied with their own personal Hot Dog waiters.  Instead they were extensions on the sides of the Balcony (above us) and the Dress Circle (Us).  I’m still not enough of a theater geek to know why it wasn’t a Mezzanine in this location.

We chose the front three of the six seats in our section, the highest and furthest back of three boxes.  We did this figuring the rear three would force us to look over the people in the front three. The people in the next box down looked to have done the same thing, then all slid back one space because they couldn’t see over the people in the first box. Luckily the back seats of ours weren’t taken either and we could copy their sliding move since I couldn’t see over them.

Third Base!

Basically, we learned the view is much more sideways than it looked on the seating chart, and the middle of the box is the place to be.

The theater itself, as always, was a big part of the Broadway experience. Each one has its own personality.   A true connection to the history of entertainment in the area can be felt when taking in the artistically beautiful building interiors.

(…shut up.)

To fit with the theme and period of the play, a giant American flag was on the stage cover, and the orchestra began everything with the “Star Spangled Banner.”  The theater rose almost as one singing along without prompting or a leader…

With the exception of the Godless Commies in the box seats next to us.

OK, maybe that was a bit harsh.
Especially after looking over the railing when I stood up and getting a bit of a dizzy panic.  We did more of a “stretching ovation” than the “standing ovation” at the end ourselves.

I knew almost nothing about this play. 

I knew it should be inherently good because it was written by Comden and Green, known for the script to Singing in the Rain the theatrical Peter Pan (and a bunch of other quality stage and film stuff), and the music was by Leonard Bernstein, known for being Leonard freakin’ Bernstein.

I also knew two things that led me to think it would be a correct choice for our family.

1)  It was made into a movie with Gene Kelly, and was originally based on a ballet (Fancy Free, 1944) indicating the amount and quality of dancing in it would appeal to my soon to be eleven year old dancer daughter.

2) The Movie came out in 1949; the play itself in 1944, indicating the amount and quality of inappropriateness in it would be acceptable for my soon to be eleven year old dancer daughter.
It didn’t occur to me that pretty much the main goal of sailors on twenty four hour leave in New York City involves quests for as much inappropriateness as possible. 

However, the 1944 aspect played out well, and the inappropriateness was mostly off stage.  It was kind of like a Benny Hill sketch. Inappropriateness in view was handled lightly with a wink and a naughty grin as more a source of comedy than anything else. 

Bedroom scene on stage (not in this show) - inappropriate.
Bedroom scene off stage (in this show) where the sailor comes back on stage in patriotic boxers while his rumpled looking lady love belts out “I Can Cook Too” and he does a goofy dance– Comedy!

To continue the Benny Hill comparison, there was even a Scooby Doo like multiple door scene, and an ever growing group of chasers egging on policemen that was only missing “Yakkety Sax.”

Rosa expressed brief concern at the intermission about the foreshadowed visit to Ivy’s “Cooch Dancer” job location.  I was confident (and correct) that the 1944 card would work again, especially since Anabelle had already played a dancer in a similar location in Guys and Dolls less than a year before with no ill effects.  And the fact that the use of the term “Cooch Dancer” predated the legality of anything more inappropriate than my childhood’s network broadcasting standards.

We knew we were in for a stellar performance when, in the opening number, the guy credited merely as “First Workman” (Phillip Boykin) filled the entire theater by himself using only his boomingly powerful, yet still melodic voice.

The show worked for us (and in general I suppose) because it was a combination of “high art” music and dance, and low comedy.

The classier side was handled by the two main leads. 

Megan Fairchild came to play Ivy via being a principal dancer in the New York Ballet, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about her performance.

Tony Yazbeck as Gabey was surprisingly good at looking embarrassed and unsure of himself for someone who’s a leading man on Broadway. Although I guess that’s what makes him a leading man on Broadway.  With Gene Kelly playing the role in the feature film, some dance moves of his would have to hearken back to Kelly’s.  However, I found his dancing style also be reminiscent of Ray Bolger. 
Not as the Scarecrow, I’ve seen Bolger dance seriously in several other performances.

(…shut up.)

The show often functioned with no fourth wall. Cast members would walk run or dance into the aisles from a set of steps leading off the stage, or appear from the rear of the theater, even at the higher levels.  This play was a perfect performance for that type of interaction.  Broadway shows have a specific kind of magic all their own.  To many of us, New York City also possesses a unique magic. Therefore any play set in New York elevates the Broadway magic above and beyond the usual.  I experienced that feeling this time, as well as with The Producers.  I’d expect Guys and Dolls would be similar.

(…shut up.)

Clyde Alves (Ozzie) and Elizabeth Stanley (Claire) took the roles initially played by Green and Comden, and ignored the barrier between performers and audience more than the rest.  This was particularly (and appropriately) true during “Carried Away.” What started as a simple song of admission escalated quickly into goofball unbounded comedy, with an awesome dinosaur skeleton puppet and dancing cavemen.  At one point they started interfering with the orchestra, increasing how much our day in the box seats resembled the Marx Brother’s Night at the Opera.  

“Boogey Boogey Boogey!”

For us and comedy, it’s almost always going to be a choice of Brassy over Classy.  That meant the increased slapstick of Chip and Hildy (Jay Armstrong Johnson and Alysha Umphress) made them our favorite couple.  The “cab ride” done using only a bouncing bench and rear cartoony projections was brilliantly funny physical comedy done by two performers who demonstrated equal talents for song and dance.

To divert from comedy for a minute, the cab ride staging highlights something in the show that could be confusing.  In many cases they used minimal sets.  For example, the subway rides were achieved using lighting effects and actors standing in a commuter like clump.  While it totally worked from an artistic standpoint, and helped to highlight the Broadway Magic I was yammering on about earlier, there was one issue.  The dream sequences in the story were sometimes difficult to identify.  Often it was only that the music and lighting became slightly wispier.

Luckily, I could point them out for my family because I expected them.  I knew a Gene Kelly movie being made from the story guaranteed there would be ballet dream sequences.

(…shut up.)

Back to important stuff: the funny-

The highest comedic beats of the show were almost all supplied by Madam Dilly.  Jackie Hoffman (Second City alum), who also played the two club singers, as basically the same character, stole every scene she was in.  The best way I could describe her performance is:
“An alcoholic, German, musical Edna Mode.”

Rounding out the main cast were Michael Rupert and Alison Guinn as the amusingly put upon Judge Pitkin and Lucy Schmeeler. They received each other as the reward for putting up with the entertaining (for us) lunacy of the rest of the gang.

The end of the story provided a teaching experience.  Not in terms of taking responsibility for actions, the value of following through on goals, or anything that heavy. Really, using any form of media to teach the important stuff to your kids is probably going to end up going poorly.

I’m talking about a basic social studies lesson.  In today’s world of cell phones and internet Wi-Fi everywhere, the full impact of the goodbyes didn’t really sink in.  I got to give my daughter a small World War Two historical download about how the guys both couldn’t say and likely didn’t know where they were going and when they were coming back (or if, sadly).  Plus, outside of controlled, slow travelling and often inaccessible “snail mail” there was no way to keep in touch once they’d shipped out.

Luckily, the rousing and catchy reprise of “New York, New York” raised the mood considerably and prevented me from depressing my daughter too much as the show came to a triumphant close.

Again, because no other entertainment form allows this connection, we headed over to the stage door to a fairly significant turn out of performers, including four of the six leads.  More evidence of the newness of the show was the large number of actors surprised by Anabelle asking for signatures on her hat.  She got about as many compliments on it being a good idea as the woman next to her in the period dress got on her wardrobe. 

I am always impressed by the politeness of theater fans.  The actors who stand behind the barricade are treated well as they greet the fans, sign autographs and take pictures.  The actors who step outside of the barricade, either to head somewhere else, meet with friends and family, or take a quick break, have their privacy completely respected. Aside from spoken compliments as they walk by, the fans give them their space. 

Once more: generically rude New Yorkers? I don’t think so.

The primary purpose of the day completed, we worked our way up through Times Square, pausing only to salute the statue of George M. Cohan and make a mental note to show Anabelle Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Our destination was the giant Disney Store on 7th.  Hey, it’s us.  With any trip, at some point Disney is going to figure into the picture.

On the second floor, giant display areas were set up for both Star Wars and Marvel.

Man, with ownership of the tween boy market like that, Disney’s never going to make Tron 3 are they?


Oh well, at least the stairwell tribute to the lantern festival from Tangled, means that film received some non bathroom related love.

On the way back down through the Square, we walked over to see what was going on with the set of bleachers.  They were pointed towards the New Years Ball.  In retrospect, the purpose of the bleachers should have been obvious, but I always forget that you have to be facing Downtown, not Uptown, to see the ball.

Perhaps the individual in the suit with the cane and the big sign that said “TV is Brainwashing” was correct.

Perhaps the fact that most people were ignoring him because they were too busy looking at the GINORMOUS video monitors surrounding that location was proving his point far more than his oak tag sign was.

Anabelle collected an impressive supply of flyers from appropriately dressed individuals for other plays. (Chicago, Pippin et al.) The only one she’d pose with was the princessy looking gal for Cinderella. 

Them Disney genes are strong.

Speaking (continually) of Disney.  We popped by the half-price ticket kiosk while Anabelle was assembling her flier collection. Rosa inquired if they ever got offers for the Disney shows.  The answer was, “Only Cinderella, but that’s not Disney.”

Dear Ticket Kiosk Lady:  A much more efficient way to deliver that information would have been:

With the amount of Disney presence in the area now, and not only in my family, I’m kind of surprised they haven’t put a stop to the characters there.  The Disney Legal Enforcement Gang is usually on top of any kind of trademark foolishness, especially when they don’t make the characters look their best.

Raggedy Mickeys and Minnies wandering the streets, constantly talking to crowds in non-official voices and frequently lifting their masks would qualify as “not their best.”

They own Marvel now too.  There are some store bought costume superhero issues that need addressing down there as well.  Note to costume guys: if you’re shorter and chubbier than all the other Avengers on your corner, the Hulk is probably not your best alter ego choice.

We did see one “official” character: the real “Naked Cowboy.”

While he was real, he was not really naked.  I wish he’d explain that to the people he now franchises himself too.  I wish he’d also explain that he is not old enough to be the grandparent of most of the other costumed adults around there.  The WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY old enough to know better “Naked Cowgirl” shimmying disturbingly in front of one of the stores made up for any and all of the inappropriateness that was well hidden off stage during On the Town.

I would think being topless with the exception of a poorly held guitar would be illegal in the family themed zone Times Square currently is. 

Then again, I’d think the much younger women wearing only patriotic feathers on their heads and flag body paint would be illegal too. So what the heck do I know?

No I didn’t take any pictures.

(…shut up.)

As we worked our way through the thickening crowd, steering clear of underwhelming superheroes,  underdressed geriatrics, and several prayer meetings that didn’t follow the commandment “Thou Shall Not Swear,” I was stopped on the sidewalk.

Normally, my combined Brooklyn and the Bronx heritage allow me to ignore or in extreme cases dissuade anyone who appears to be selling or soliciting on the streets without slowing. Because of this Rosa and Anabelle kept going.  However, the gentleman who stopped me appeared to be a shaolin monk, and visions of getting my butt kung fu-ed across a busy Manhattan street sprang to mind.

He overwhelmed me with a nonstop flow of Chinese, while handing me a small golden paper from a pack. When I attempted to raise my arms in the international sign for, “I have no idea what you’re saying,” he put wooden bracelet on my wrist.  He then pulled out what looked like a small ledger with numbers and Chinese writing.  I was stunned into silence for a bit, but recovered eventually.  Since louder and slower was not magically transferring English into Chinese, eventually I was reduced to saying, “no no no” over and over, which he repeated while I handed him back the items and took off after my family.

I hope I didn’t accidentally renounce being the chosen one.
I didn’t hear anything about an Ajanti Dagger, Lo Pan, or the Poison Clan, which means I’m probably safe in that respect.

As per usual, especially with help of my cross cultural confusion, we walked down 7th instead of Broadway as intended. This led us directly to the two story Midtown Comics!

I know no one will believe me, but this was totally an accident.
Even the fact that Rosa was the only one who picked out something to buy is going to get me pegged as a carrier of comics addiction and still blamed.

(OK, it was a Doctor Who mug, which I got her into.  So…yeah…point taken.)

You’d think a franchise as large and famous as that would keep their back issues in numerical order…but you’d be wrong.  This is probably the ONLY reason I didn’t buy anything in there. My comic book addiction is only surpassed by my lack of patience.

To make a required pit stop before the train ride, we used Macy’s to cross from 7th to Broadway.  

Yes, the fact that it is the world’s largest store is common knowledge.  What that truly means hits home when reading the sign at the entrance advertising the cafeteria on the EIGHTH FLOOR!

We finally found the rest room.  It being on the second floor shouldn’t have been difficult, except that there is a floor “one and a half.”  Because, y’know, NINE floors of shopping plus the ground and cellar aren’t enough.

While waiting for the ladies, I worked on maintaining the friendly New York image by helping a woman carry her stroller up the short staircase in the center of the shop floor.  Neither one of us noticed the small mini elevator next to the stairs.  “A” for courtesy, and “F” for situational awareness I guess.

We made it back on down to the crowded Saturday evening Path train. Although, after experiences with buses in Peru, it seemed downright roomy.

Must have been the lack of clowns.

We arose from below the streets of Hoboken, and Anabelle showed absolutely no appreciation for a local historical landmark. She stated she would never eat in the famous Clam Broth House, because their famous Clam Broth House sign was rusty and gross.

Driving out of Hoboken, I surprised Anabelle with one of her presents, the Original Broadway Cast Recording CD of On the Town.  I was surprised as well, since I had no idea that Rosie, the Bounty Quicker Picker Upper Lady could belt out show tunes like that.  It’s a shame they didn’t use her for the movie, but then again, Mrs. Babbish had an impressive record herself when it came to musical theater.

(…shut up.)

We stopped for dinner on the way home at On the Border:  Anabelle’s favorite non Denver Mexican place.  They provided excellent food and a rousing birthday song.

That officially capped off the night because it was too late to watch Doctor Who by the time we got home.

It also officially capped off the night since we had to go to the ER to deal with Anabelle’s not feeling well in the late evening to keep it from affecting the rest of her and my sister’s birthday plans, and since most of that adventure was after midnight, we refuse to count that as part of our wonderful day in New York.


Linda said...

Another great review - and to answer your question they're called box seats instead of balcony because they used to be private and reserved - like season tickets. And yes the sight lines are wonky.

And thank you for knowing that NY-ers are polite and helpful - we just don't like anything that slows down the flow of walking.

Jeff McGinley said...

You're quite welcome. Thank you for confirming that view, providing your theatrical knowlegde, and reading in general.