Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Circle of Traffic

After several mistakes, mishaps and misadventures I made sure we had the address of the garage we use in Hoboken logged, and the methodology of the metrocard memorized for this year’s trip to Broadway.

Then I found out - with only three days’ notice - that the Path Trains were under maintenance and not running on the 33rd Street line any weekends this fall.

Rosa and I engaged in a couple nights of frantic searching to identify garages owned by the same company we’d successfully used before, that were placed:

A) In walkable distance to the vicinity of the Minskoff theater.
B) Out of any questionable areas.
C) On a street where the maze of “one way”s allowed easy access and egress.

The one Rosa found between 6th and 7th was enough of an improvement on “A” from the one I found between 5th and 6th that we sacrificed a bit of “C.”

Knowing full well that Siri loses her little electronic mind in Manhattan, we both constructed paper maps with directions that made sense to us, and also populated them with multiple alternate landing sites we’d printed coupons for in case the prime spot was full…or the fluctuating obstructions of New York driving prevented us from reaching it. We needed separate papers because when I drive and she navigates we both need to read something tuned to our own thought patterns.

The gods of traffic were pleased with our preparations.  In a life time of tri-state area driving I have never seen such little traffic on the George Washington Bridge or in Manhattan.  We went through the ez-pass and were immediately able to get to the right lanes of the bridge. Rosa asked if lanes were ending and we had to adjust and I could only answer:
“I don’t know, I never got over this fast before.”

The Henry Hudson and 57th Street were both equally empty.  We slowed down a smidgen as we approached Times Square on 7th before pulling onto 46th Street and parking with no issue.

Well…with us there’s always at least one issue. Everything went so quickly, we forgot the coupon we’d need when we were leaving in the glove compartment.

Having left ourselves a fairly massive cushion for the not as inevitable as we believed New York traffic, we had plenty of time, and hit the Disney Store before the show instead of after it.

Nice to see Disney making up for the lack of Black Widow in Avengers merchandise, she was all over the Civil War stuff!

I was looking – with no honest intention of buying – the mid scale die cast Star Wars ships.  They were awesome and highly detailed, but the whole reason I collect the little ones is to resist the temptation for getting the larger sizes. 
I was all set to leave the place empty handed, when my wife started saying, “The walker looks really cool. You should get that one.” Once again, she acted as my enabler.  However, due to knowing how I function from past adventures, she did couch her prompting with, “As long as it doesn’t mean you have to buy other ones.”

Instead of gambling at some place new, we still had enough time to walk down Broadway to 37th street for a known quality lunch.   On the way, it was hard to tell if confining all of the creepy costume characters in one small area made them less disturbing, due to reduced sighting time, or more disturbing due to higher concentration.  Oddly, Hulks continued to be the shortest of the bunch.  That is discounting the giant inflatable suit one not in the confined area, likely due to total lack of mobility.

We dined at Bravo Pizza- a Kosher Italian restaurant completely staffed by Hispanics.

Welcome to New York!

Happily filled, we strolled back uptown to 45th Street to get to the Minskoff Theater well before the doors opened to get settled in.

We’d seen some pictures, and the prop and costume displays around the shops where we picked up our preorded program and Anabelle’s shirt gave us some indication. However, none of our previous theater experiences really prepared us for what we were about to see.

Mary Poppins and Aladdin were direct adaptations of the stories from one medium to another.

This was far more like we’d been welcomed into the great hall of a tribe who were telling us the legend of the Lion King at their evening story telling session. The marching of animals from the audience onto the stage at several points really sold that.  

Except that the main narrator didn't speak English...

And was insane...

And a monkey.

Yet with all that, Rafiki's (Tshidi Mayne) performance still managed to run between thigh slappingly hysterical, and gut wrenchingly tear jerking, and back.

We were in the front of the mezzanine side wing.  When we bought the tickets it wasn’t listed as partially obstructed. Then again, the giant black guy standing right in front of us with the antelope on his head who helped lead the opening chants in ”Circle of Life” wasn’t there long, and was awesome.

Honestly, looking at all the pieces, there’s no way the combinations should work…and yet they did in an artistically amazingly well fashion.

First of all, there’s the music:
A bunch of tribal sounding chants and songs, some building off the film score, and some original, wove through the whole story.

Then there were straight out Broadway numbers, where main characters would raise a hand, stare eight feet above the front row, and musically declare what they wanted.

Side note:  Simba's endless night was the best artistic expression of what its like to lose a father I've ever felt, and he performed the hell out of it.

And the classic rock infused Elton John stuff was all in place.  Some of it naturally expanded to fill the extended play duration.  The disco instrumental dance bit in the middle of the Nazi hyena part of “Be Prepared” was unexpected, but like everything else it worked and blended with the rest of the score.

Some of the music came from little side balconies up at our level. Based on the amount of percussion equipment in them, I was expecting a mini band in each side.  There was only one performer in each, who were outstanding drummers, and exceptionally fun people based on how they interacted with us and especially the little kids sitting near us in their eye line.

The costumes and presentation was an equally bizarre, yet effective mix.

Some character puppets were full on costumes, like Pumba (Ben Jeffrey).  Timon was a rod puppet with his operator all in green to represent grass and was supposed to be ignored.  Zazu (Cameron Pow) was a hand puppet, but his actor was dressed as high class white-faced clown, and interacted with the audience and his puppet.

The lions were portrayed with masks…sort of.

The animal faces sat above their heads. 
Scar’s (Gareth Saxe)  would come down to cover his face like a true mask when threatening, but Mufassa (Last minute replacement, didn't write it down, excellent though)  took his off at one point, making it more like a crown. 

I hope.  I’m pretty sure removing one’s head is never a good idea before a key, lesson filled father-son talk.

They also carried swords or staves to represent claws…or to show they weren’t animals after all. 

Then there were highly complex mechanical rigs for some of the animals, which reduced the tribal feel a bit.  Plus there were specialized performers (like the en pointe ballerina as the anthill) for others.

The addition of multiple scene bridging small rod or shadow puppet scenes added to the “group of people telling you a story” instead of “watching talking animals” vibe.

But again, it all worked in creating a massively artistic and completely hypnotically compelling presentation.

Sunday’s matinee and evening performances are closer together than Saturday’s, limiting the number of actors with time to greet fans at the stage door. The fact that any came out at all was a huge testament to how highly these folks regard their fans. 

The fact that, yet again, actors with something else to do were allowed to leave that same door and go where they needed to without being bothered by the crowd at all is a huge testament to how cool theater fans are in general.

Adult Simba (Jelani Remy) came out and proved his acting range.  We’d just seen him embody the commanding and powerful aura of traditional manliness as he ascended pride rock with his new bride.  Then he came out to graciously and personably spend some of his precious time between performances with his fans, while wearing some fabulous flowered socks.

Adult Nala (Adrienne Walker) also came out, and let us know she’d only been in the role a couple of weeks.  All of us in attendance agreed this was in no way shape or form obvious or apparent.

Michael Alexander Henry, one of the ensemble singers, not only was as friendly as the others, but gave us all a bit of a crash course in how some of the shorter term or occasional players work in and out of the show.

We also saw the two young actors in our performance.  Young Nala, Mehret Marsh, was meeting some family or friends. While she didn’t sign anything, she stopped briefly to wave to all of us.

Young Simba (Cayen Martin) spent more time in the stage door area, chatting, signing, and carrying himself as a much older individual than he was. He looked kind of familiar.  I wish I’d read the Playbill in more detail before the show. Besides complimenting that day's singing and acting, we could have told him we enjoyed his role in Men in Black 3.

After seeing his green face pop out the door while checking his phone repeatedly, those of us who loitered around the door longer than most of the crowd were rewarded for our patience.  Timon (Jim Ferris) was waiting for someone to deliver his food, but kindly took the time for a couple of autographs and photos with us and the other stragglers.

The notion of how much longer the East-West Manhattan blocks are than the North-South blocks are really hits home after a long day.  We went up a couple before traversing the space between Fifth and Sixth to see Rockefeller Center. 
Even without the tree and skating rink, it was still impressive looking and filled with folks that were too busy looking at their phones to let other people know where they were rather than taking in their surroundings.

The future is stupid sometimes.

We heard a lot of noise coming from the direction of Fifth Avenue, and walked over to find it closed due to a Polish Catholic parade honoring General Casimir Pulaski. I learned later this was the same Parade my Mom walked in as a kid going to a Polish Catholic school in the Bronx.  It’s a small world all right, but an even smaller one when New York is involved.  I thought it pretty cool the Greatest City on Earth was willing to shut down one of its major streets for a parade about the size of the Denville Thanksgiving Parade.

I’ll say it again, New York is loud and fast, but it cares, darn it.

We could see Saint Patrick’s Cathedral across the way, but couldn’t reach it with the parade in the way. A little poking around amidst some group “tired and cranky”ness, spotted the cattle herding like crossing stations the police had set up to let folks cross between floats.

On the other side, we discovered and American Girl store.  I understand how fantastic it is for diversity to have the just like me dolls available in a mix of eye shades, skin tones and hair types for any child to have a doll that looks like them. However, racking thirty of them in a case, in a room with eight cases in it veered way too far into the Talky Tina meets the Weeping Angels vibe for my comfort.

Anabelle has some similar sized, but far less offensively priced dolls, and bought one of them a pair of glasses.  In some circles, buying corrective eyewear for an inanimate object might seem strange.  In a building that had a three floors dedicated to these things including a Doll Hospital, and a room to have tea parties with your toys, it was positively rational by comparison.

And the mini-Tina Turner was nifty!

At first it looked like the Cathedral was closed as the main doors were locked.  I thought this was odd for a Sunday afternoon.  We didn’t realize the parade went into it, and they must have locked the doors behind them to keep interlopers from disturbing the procession to the blessing.
We saw folks entering a side door and went in. The place was magnificent, but also a weird mix.  Half the people inside were devout worshipers moved by the holy ground they were on, and the other half were tourists who saw no difference between the art of this structure, and any other building in Manhattan.  The vertical flat screens on the columns, looking like monster sized cell phones do allow everyone to see the main altar, but the technology looked way out of place, adding to the odd mixture.

On leaving we figured out all the cool Miss Peregrine’s inspired windows were on the famous Sack’s Fifth Avenue.  It is a testament of how tiring a day in the City can be that my wife and daughter wanted no part of going inside of one of the most well known fancy stores in the world.

With the parade done and barriers gone it was much easier working our way back to the garage. To fight off crazy hungry interfering with her navigation skills, Rosa wanted to grab some fries at a McDonald’s near the garage.  As long as we were there, I was going to get a small grilled snack wrap to give me the energy to prevent a need to caffeinate on the way home.  With their location being only a half a block from Times Square, why should they have any experience or skill handling large crowds?  We exited the store several months later, after several “please fix this” conversations, and still ended up with fried snack wraps...

Pass the Mountain Dew.

We got the car, rescued the coupon, and paid the discounted rate.

Times Square traffic affected the start of our trip home, yielding three slow, painful and profanity filled blocks of driving while cabs passed less than a quarter inch from all sides of the car at once, as they attempted to squeeze three lanes of traffic into the half lane that was open due to some tie ups west of us.  We grabbed an ambulance as a blocker (Thank you Die Hard with a Vengeance.) made it onto 57th Street, and the rest of the way home was smooth sailing.

As with almost all of our New York adventures, we ended with dinner at On the Border: filling, festive and never too full.  It completely took over from Jose Tejas for being more Mexican focused, instead of Tex Mex, and not having an average wait time longer than most congressional committee meetings.

In fact, Jose’s had people still waiting outside that late Sunday night as we drove past it.  It was full of customers, but we were filled with amazing tribal style Broadway memories, and much more accessible Mexican food.

Hakuna Matata, Ole and Yay Ed!


Linda said...

Oh driving in Manhattan - it's a sport, like arena combat! The keys to driving in nyc - don't ever look behind you or to the side unless you're changing lanes - it will just scare the heck out of you. Your horn is your friend and the standard means of communication. And get out of midtown - pick a street you've never heard of - 34th? Nope, 37th? yep. That and avenues (those long east west blocks) are avenues, streets are blocks. Great post as always!

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx. I've played the game many times, but this was the first in that area. The "recognize rule" definitely applies there. Although in other sections of the city, the "recognize" is the assurance that it's a "good block." What a fun game. More about it in an upcoming travelogue, probably after the Treklets season one.

thanx again for reading and posting.